WLP Film Screening Stimulates Discussion on Gender Justice, Democracy, and Education in India

April 10, 2014
 
 
 
On December 17, 2013, WLP’s affiliate in India, Asmita Resource Centre for Women, held a screening of WLP’s documentary, Because our Cause is Just in Hyderabad. Following the screening, audience members had a lively conversation about the parallels between challenges to women’s rights and democracy in the MENA region and in India. In particular, participants focused on rampant gender-based violence, rising fundamentalism, and education’s impact on gender norms and rights in India. One of the female participants said: “Though the laws are in place here for women, culturally, one can still connect with the women in the film. The situation in terms of political participation is different in India, however there are many commonalities.” 
 
Participants pointed out that MENA countries are perceived differently than India, in terms of women’s rights and extremism, though this perception is not necessarily justified. Participants felt that while countries influenced by Islamic law are seen as more regressive towards women, the rising conservatism in the MENA region is similar to what women are experiencing in India. The audience also discussed the film’s theme of democracies in transition, noting that although India is a secular nation, radical fundamentalism is on the rise, including Hindu and Islamic fundamentalism. A discussion followed on how religious fundamentalists are curtailing women’s rights in India. 
 
A male discussion participant raised the point: “How then do we problematize and politicise rape within marriage? There is also a contradiction with legal age of marriage.” The legal age of marriage in India is 18, but rape within marriage is only considered rape if the bride is below 15 years of age. Asmita noted that although this is a contradiction, the law has not been amended, despite the 2013 Criminal Law Amendment Act. Participants called for rape within marriage to be criminalized, but noted legislators’ lack of interest in reconciling this contradiction. There is also a reluctance to take a stand on child marriage, which is at 47% in India. One participant shared her legal experience in handling a case of child marriage and the reluctance on the part of police to file the case.
 
The conversation then turned to the importance of education in changing the way people think about these issues. Participants noted that although education plays a crucial role in changing society, studies have shown that textbooks contain numerous gender stereotypes. Through stories, books, and what a teacher says indirectly and directly, messages are given to girls and women that they are the weaker sex. Only recently has this trend begun to change, with chapters on child marriage and domestic violence in the textbooks. They also noted that within educational institutions teachers have poor or no gender training. Furthermore, adolescents are discouraged from openly talking about sex, which is considered a taboo topic. The conditioning is deep-rooted, making it difficult for women to even acknowledge that discrimination and violence is part of the larger structure. Participants agreed that all this disempowers women and they tend to undervalue themselves. 
 
Finally, one participant asked how men can become part of the movement. Another participant responded that men should and can be part of the movement towards equality. Since it is not a battle of the sexes, participants agree that they must mobilize men to be part of the movement.
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