James Baldwin couldn’t have phrased it better when he mused, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” I could say the same for Indian culture and a new finding by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development doesn’t make things any better. In one of their reports on gender equity, the OECD found that the average minutes per day that Indian men spend on housework is one of the lowest in the world (19 minutes per day as opposed to 82 in the U.S. or 114 in Slovenia).
My gut reaction, and the reactions of my fellow Indians here in the United States, would likely be something akin to…..duh! I’m not one to use anecdotes for justifying societal observations but because the statistic came first on this one, I’ll indulge myself by saying it’s true; it’s true; it’s so painfully true.
And it’s always been like this. Indian boys, and my own experience bears similarity, are usually just not taught to do or expect much housework as they grow older. Lower income households in India have wives or daughters handle the housework. Middle class and wealthier families can generally hire cheap labor (for which domestic housework is usually done, once again, by women) while the men are entirely free from such expectations.
Now, I will acknowledge right now that there are over a billion Indians and so, obviously there are exceptions. In no way do I wish to single out anyone’s own experience or family and tie their characters to the number 19. The statistic put out by the OECD is an average so half the cases in reality will indeed see an average number of minutes worked by men higher than 19. But no one can deny that an average of 19 minutes worked, in which half the cases will be lower than 19 minutes or at zero minutes worked, is so pitifully low that it brings necessary shame and derision upon Indian culture and its treatment of women. The problem is systemic, pervasive, and allows us to easily grasp, among other reasons, why India ranks 132 out of 148 on the United Nations Gender Equality Index.
However, the Atlantic article does bring in an interesting point. If India will not address this problem because of the obvious moral grounds, then perhaps the response by activists should be to highlight the economic benefits of female empowerment. The idea that female empowerment is a boon to economic development has long been a widely credit mainstream hypothesis among development experts. Not only are social and moral goals addressed overtime, but nations benefit immensely when half their populations suddenly see increases in education levels, employment, access to social mobility, healthcare, etc.
The obvious problem is that it’s impossible to fix the treatment of women in India overnight. With India ranked so abysmally, I’m also skeptical of any claims that the situation is improving, particularly considering that most people claiming improvement are looking towards the urban youth while ignoring the vast majority of rural practices. What then is to be done?
If we know the solution to be female empowerment, addressing gender violence, tackling societal and cultural discrimination, etc. then all that’s left is to figure out a way to reach that goal. This is the step where research oriented policy advocates (including yours truly) get stuck. If you have potential solutions ready, how then do you put them into practice where societal, political, and cultural headwinds seem to mute your every move? Besides increasingly aggressive campaigns both within India and in the international community on behalf of Indian women, it’s an answer that I regret to say I don’t have a sufficient answer to….at least for now.
The Source Article: