We Live In Illusion


By Nandini Thokchom

“The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.”
—Gloria Steinem

Women….umm women you are here but you are never there. Somehow, somewhere you disappear within the folds of your phanek even though you may appear starched in your inaphee. See, your phee may be washed and starched by experienced hands but you are told never to soil your phanek especially mapan-naiba as it cannot be washed by the most experienced hands. These speak volumes for the illusion that we live in. And yes, I speak specifically for the Meitei society. Hindu cultural traditions portray women in contradictory ways. Just as on one hand, women’s fertility is given great value, and on the other, female sexuality is depicted as potentially dangerous and destructive. I still have to discover our indigenous beliefs and taboos as that has been systemically erased from our consciousness or rather infused with grains of vaishnavism, sown so articulately, woven so intricately that it is now the ultimate truth.

Today is International Women’s Day 2014 and several states around the world will be celebrating the achievements of women on the social, political and economic fronts in particular, while still shining a spotlight on areas for further improvement as we move towards the goal of attaining equality for women. It calls for challenging the status quo for women`s equality and vigilance inspiring positive change. The vast array of communication channels, supportive spokespeople, equality research, campaigns and corporate responsibility initiatives means everyone can be an advocate inspiring change for women`s advancement.

Each year International Women`s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8. The first International Women`s Day was held in 1911. Thousands of events occur to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. Organisations, governments, charities, educational institutions, women`s groups, corporations and the media celebrate the day. And this writer has also written in this daily on this day moons ago. Yes but so what. I still need to write and I still need to shout. And in this days of blaring horns on the roads, sirens of VVIPs, louder locking horns of Civil society organizations, satellite channels, ear plugs for every individual mobile phones, with the atmosphere fuming with suspended particles, I can barely shout with lips apart to the fullest and it reminds me of Yudisthira  mumbling that the elephant (Aswathama) is dead. Partly true, but the convenient truth…the politically correct truth. In this global village, we now speak only what will bring profit to us. But we – mortals as we are- have to bear the losses in its myriad forms. As complicated as we choose to live, the myriad forms will only quadruple even if we learn simplification in all its complexities.

The UN  Secretary-General`s Message for 2014 calls for the importance of achieving equality for women and girls not simply because it is a matter of fairness and fundamental human rights, but because progress in so many other areas depends on it.

Women have a relatively poorer access over education, skill training and health facilities as well as over labour markets despite having all potential to do quality work as efficiently as of men.

The home-based women workers living in almost every low-income urban locality in the country, as well as in remote rural areas, are amongst the most exploited group of workers.

This is despite the fact that they (the home based women workers) constitute a major segment of labour deployment in the informal sector of the economy. So today, as we celebrate the women in our lives, let us make a commitment to live our lives in a way to inspire change in others.

Born and raised in an indigenous society, a need for women’s agency, about the self-confidence and personal sense of power that’s needed before one can begin to contemplate doing challenging peace work has to be propounded for. It seems to me that the lack of agency and the lack of a public forum in which women can discuss and debate issues crucial to them and to the world, are two facets of a single problem. Women play a vital role not only in making and keeping peace, but also in alerting the world to the realities behind reported events. To do that, they need a voice. And to have an effective voice requires a public forum.

Girls around the world are now receiving the attention and recognition they deserve, thanks to amplification of their voices and concerns. But more work must be done to break down social and cultural norms — such as child marriage, trafficking, and limited educational opportunities — that prevent girls from growing into strong women. As we seek to nurture children into becoming responsible, caring citizens of the world, we must be sure to not leave girls and young women behind.

Can we see girls and young women inspiring change on a daily basis in hundreds of communities around the world? Across the globe, we have seen the power of education, mentoring, sports, the arts, leadership and job training to elevate the status and well-being of girls. Many of these programs are inspired by girls and young women who seek to improve their own lives and those of others. Ultimately, these girls do not just inspire change — they are the change. And they will grow into women who implement change, making their impact long-lasting. As we celebrate International Women`s Day this year, let`s resolve to elevate girls as they sow the seeds of greatness.

So much for the responsibilities trusted upon the ‘fairer sex’ for a better procreation and future: we have a role to make a ‘better society’. But when children learn to categorize themselves by gender usually by the age of 3, learn gender stereotypes and roles from their parents and environment, when boys learn to manipulate their physical and social environment through physical strength or other skills, while girls learn to present themselves as objects to be viewed, what is the role, then.

Religion can too play a significant part in how ideas of gender roles are created and perceived. Religions have a large impact on those who practice and follow them, and those practices and beliefs filters down into our everyday lives, which can inevitably alter our view on topics such as gender. Here are specific examples throughout different religions, which can be seen to create a basis of gender beliefs:

Societies can change such that the gender roles rapidly change. The 21st century has seen a shift in gender roles due to multiple factors such as new family structures, education, media, and several others. With the importance of education emphasized nationwide, and the access of college degrees (online, for example), women have begun furthering their education. Family structures are changing, and the number of single-mother or single-father households is increasing. Fathers are also becoming more involved with raising their children, instead of leaving the responsibility to the mother. An example of these gender roles would be that males were supposed to be the educated breadwinners of the family, and occupiers of the public sphere whereas, the female’s duty was to be a homemaker, take care of her husband and children, and occupy the private sphere.

In comparison to the contemporary sex and gender model, the standard sex and gender model correctly identifies gender as a social construct yet, it makes it very specific on what is seen as acceptable behavior/gender roles for males and females and almost makes it seem that gender is fixed. Therefore according to contemporary gender role ideology, gender roles have been and still are constantly changing.

Change as one and many says is the only constant thing in life…..we have learnt so many dos and don’ts in a gendered context. Can we unlearn them? Can a woman cook in her kitchen during her menstruation? If she can, we are ready to change and in sync with the world that is constantly changing or ‘developing’. If she can’t, let’s shut down our satellite channels, do away with our internet connections, and publish a white paper for women before the parliamentary elections that no woman should cast her vote if she has her monthly periods. Can we? I am sure we can if we want our women where we want her to be. Dictated upon – within the folds of her phanek.


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