A few days ago while hosting a game of Tambola (housie) in the customary fun segment of an engagement event, as I announced – King’s corner: first and last numbers of top row; and queen’s corner: first and last numbers of the bottom row, something suddenly hit me. I stopped and re-defined the prizes – top row as the Queen’s corner and bottom one as the King’s corner, much to the amusement of my audience. Too much of symbolism here, and it doesn’t even qualify as a token gesture towards a cause; but what it stirred in me was a stream of thoughts, about the casual ways in which we perceive and propagate the gender (in)equality norms.
Rape, as has been often repeated (and cannot ever be overemphasized), is not about sex. It is about a gravely misplaced sense of power, superiority and control – over the other gender. Prima facie, and undeniably so, people who commit such acts are in themselves particularly vicious. But at the same time, as a civilization we need to analyze the roots of that sense of power, superiority, control and inequality. A society is like a person in the way its ethos and values manifest themselves and grow with time. In its collective view of people, issues, ideas it forms a certain set of beliefs and morals. These, when averaged over time intervals emerge as the accepted societal norms, which are not easy to change. These norms get so deeply ingrained in each and every aspect of the society, that we get accustomed to them as the normal way of life. This, my friends, is nothing but culture – something which we as Human Resource professionals obsess with day in and out, and for all the right reasons. In an organization, we define culture as the inherent values, practices and the way of doing things; for a society culture defines the way things happen. Rape – a grave offence against humanity, may not be directly linked to such token gestures, but this and various other components of the culture are responsible for nurturing and breeding a mindset which when combined with a lack of human spirit, manifests itself in ugly forms such as rape. So, when I talk of rape and how to sensitize our society to it and prevent any such occurring, I look at rebuilding the culture, carefully modifying, monitoring and developing a culture of equality everywhere – in my home, in my workplace and in my mind.
A casual glance at any aspect of society (not specific to ours) will yield clear observations – of how a subtle dominance of a gender has been hinted at. Workplaces are no exceptions, since they are more or less a simulation of the larger society we live in, just that in most cases our consideration set gets limited to the supposedly privileged set of people – educated and intellectuals. But does that mean they are devoid of such biases? Not really.
From the symbolism inherent in naming certain positions as male by default (e.g. chairman), to designing work spaces and practices without taking consideration of the comfort of both the genders, it exists. In all those times, where a woman riding high on the corporate ladder is often doubted upon, or the success is attributed to her gender, it exists. Things are changing, but is that change widespread? Can that change be attributed internally to our conscious or is it just something we are expected to do? As the answers to these questions will reveal, a lot is still left to be done. As the architect of the workplace policies and processes, it is on us to ensure the intent behind them is right, and more importantly, they are not seen as a favor or a benefit but a very natural part of an organic ecosystem. Every time, while looking for a suitable candidate for a job we come across this line – this work isn’t suitable for a woman – the bias persists. Instead of taking into account this apparent fitment, why can’t our efforts be directed towards making the work conditions suitable for everyone? This is where again, the external (to workplace) society comes into picture, where sadly the bias exists to a greater extent. It is right there, when we tell young boys not to ‘cry like a girl’, or when we complement our daughters by calling them ‘son of the house’. It is right there when we associate courage with ‘having balls’, and it is glaringly and disgustingly out there when we define a victory or failure as ‘raped/got raped’. It is right there when our movies translate rape into ‘losing honor’ (izzat lootna), and propagate victim shaming without a thought. This casual sexism, is in fact so deeply ingrained in most aspects of our society that it is mostly passed off as the norm and becomes acceptable. This affects most the workplaces which are not as regulated or sophisticated – the unorganized sector. But no, none of these are why rapes happen exactly. As said earlier, it an act of an unfit and disfigured mind, but all these aspects of the culture do feed that mind. That’s exactly where we need to begin the change.
Yes, we must talk about rape. But before that, we must wake up and shake away this delusion that we are not a part of this problem. We must, as professionals, as citizens, as parents, as students and most importantly as humans – take a conscious call to redesign the culture of the society we live in. It doesn’t really require much of us – just the belief in the cause will do for starters. We must talk about equality and act on it – in our life decisions, of marriage, of children, of career and sharing responsibilities, credits and even blames. We must tell our young generations in no uncertain terms what equality is, how it should manifest itself in their day to day activities – from sharing their food, toys, books to respecting each other’s choices, bodies and consent. We must teach our girls, but before that convince ourselves that women (or for that matter, men) don’t ‘have to’ be a certain way, they can be who and what they want for themselves.
Let’s take this as a project – perhaps the most important one ever – to remove this menace from the very root. As the flagbearers of culture, we have to make a start, right now – in our workplaces, in our homes, in our families, but most importantly, in ourselves.