Women's rights in Rwanda – where, 20 years ago, between 250,000 and 500,000 women were rapedduring the genocide that left more than 800,000 Tutsis dead – have progressedhugely. An impressive 64% of parliamentarians are women – the highestproportion of any parliament in the world – gender rights are enshrined in itsconstitution, and a swath of laws have given women the right to inherit land,share the assets of a marriage and obtain credit.

Germany on Friday approved a new quota that will force some of Europe’s largest companies to increase the number of women in their boardrooms to 30 percent by next year.
Women claim just 15.5 percent of boardroomseats on companies listed on the S&P 1500 -- an index of U.S. stocks --fewer than the combined number of positions held by men named John, Robert,William or James, according to a report from Ernst & Young.

I read the three news items today – the International Women’s Day. For the last few days, people around me have been discussing a documentary named “India’s Daughter”. The plight of women in India, their safety, security and well being is the common topic of discussion on social media over the past week or so. Everyone agrees that women in India don’t have a good life. They are discriminated against at home, at work, in public life and in economic arena. They are physically, mentally and socially abused – in metro cities and in villages. Female foetuses are killed. Women are victims of acid attacks, honour killings and paraded naked in streets with abandon.

This makes everyone angry. This makes people DEMAND a change. NO MORE…ENOUGH! Reactions range from immediate castration of perpetrators and death penalty to attacking mindsets. We have to change attitude of men…of families. We have to ensure better education. Create more employment opportunities for women. Improve law and order. Sensitize police towards women. Tighten the judicial system for delivering speedy justice in cases of rape and molestation. Make laws more stringent. We all agree. Perhaps, in a few decades, things might start changing.

In the meantime, I would worry about my daughter going out alone. Going out at night. Travelling un-escorted. Going to college, going shopping, wearing shorts, or jeans…or shalwar or saree or burqua. I would worry for her during daytime and at night. Inside home or hotel and in a city street or in public transport. I will keep worrying because India is an ancient civilisation but that 5000 years plus civilisation has still resulted in women feeling unsafe in India. Or men thinking they have absolute power over women and can express this power by inserting whatever they want into women, whenever they want. That the provocation always comes from women. If 5000 years hasn’t changed that, I worry what will change in the next 5 years?

Many women I respect as colleagues or friends shared their hurt and anger about the “Women’s Question” and the way things are in India. But I could not get a sense of any agenda. There is a wish-list, of course….that things SHOULD be this way. But no agenda. Perhaps, that is why things are not changing – at least not at the speed with which they should in India. If Rawanda can have 67% women legislators and Germany can reserve 30% seats in corporate boardroom, why can we not think in that direction?

Let me explain using an example. We know that rapes in police custody is a fact. Will it happen in an all women police station? Yes, I am also considering existence of lesbians. I personally feel an all woman police station will probably have no custodial rapes. So can we extend that thought? What if the entire police force is made up of only women? If we bring 100% reservation in police, what could go wrong? Will women be less efficient? Will they not be able to handle police work? Are they less capable physically and mentally to do police work? If not, why don’t we look at this as a solution?

Same applies to public service. Public servants are the arms of the state. What’s wrong with 100% reservation for women in all government jobs? What about legislatures and judiciary? And what about the Fourth State – press? Finally, as this world is moving rapidly towards corporatisation, where more and more power will vest in corporations – what about the German solution? At least 50% if not 100% reservation for women in bigger corporations – say those which fall in the mandatory CSR category? Why not come together as a society and agree for 50 years of this real CHANGE?

There are two “weaknesses” that women in general suffer with. One is their physical size, musculature etc and the other is their economic capability. The former is natural while the latter is a result of social process.

Having practiced martial arts for years now, I know that physical strength can be countered through training. Similarly, having been a student of economics, I also know that normally, wealth begets wealth.

Obviously, then, the solution in the short run is reduce (or remove) the physical handicap of women. At the same time, remove (or reduce) their economic handicap. Unfortunately, we cannot simply “wish” that men would stop misusing their physical superiority against women. In the short run, this has to be effectively countered through appropriate training. Just as educated parents today are giving their daughters good nutrition, education and encouraging them to have a career, so also they must start ensuring their daughters get some training to deal with physical assault. This also gives extreme inner sense of confidence.

As regards the economic handicap, let us try 50 years of suspension of wealth ownership by men. They can work earn a living but the amassed wealth cannot be in their name. Initially, this will not change much as men would still control the real purse strings. But as judiciary, executive, executive, media and corporations become women oriented, the change will be real and rapid.

I know, this sounds too Utopian. Most women friends / colleagues I spoke of were extremely reluctant to even look at these solutions. They agree this would work but are too skeptical and in-confident to even think of demanding this. When Emmeline Pankhurst started demanding right to vote and get elected for women, towards the end of 19th century, no one would have believed the Suffragists could achieve it. But it happened. It was only because the movement became a political plank.

Perhaps now is the time to take the women’s question to a political plank. Make 100% reservation in all important spheres of public life a demand. Maybe 30% will happen. Maybe 50%. That would be a vast improvement.

Will majority of men be happy with that? Obviously not. Will they GIVE it to women? No. That change will have to be extracted. For millennia of dominance, some enlightened men might even start supporting that political movement. There is need for a political intervention and women require to create a political plank of their own to press their demands. If a 10 year horizon is what we want, then that is the only solution. Otherwise, we can pray for judicial reforms, more legislation, more sensitive policing…but our women will continue getting abused and discriminated against.

So the question is, what do the mothers, sisters and daughter-in-laws of India want? Should they wait for society to change through education, awareness and sensitization? How long will it take? In the meantime, should a political plank be created? I hope some politically active women start reflecting on these solutions and looking at Rawanda and Germany. Or come up with an alternative that will work in 5 - 10 years.

It’s International Women’s Day today.

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