Sheryl Sandberg, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton are amongst others ranked in the list of Forbes Most Powerful Women in the world in 2015, proving that women can be as successful as men. Yet, in many parts of the world socially constructed obstacles still exist for women, and sadly women empowerment continues to be a topic widely written and debated about in this 21st century, even in Nagaland. Despite this, a “new woman” is emerging changing the way society and the world works. So, who is this “new woman”?
The New Woman
In recent times, the world has seen the emergence of a new kind of woman. Cutting across classes and nations, this woman is reconstructing traditionally established notions of feminine and female behaviour, redefining female adulthood as an indomitable force to be reckoned with, and reorganizing class structures in society. This furtherance has been the culmination of a protracted two hundred and fifty-year struggle, starting from the fight for suffrage in the 19th century- pay equity, minimum wage, to the more recent movements pertaining to civil and domestic violence rights. We, as a race, are living in an era where women are no longer defined by their spouses or by their other halves, because today, women have agency. The agency of opportunity: professional, economic, social and familial. Among these, the most powerful type of woman that has been the source of a major restructuring of our citizenry, and whose presence carries with her vast implications in social and political consciousness is the rise of the single, working woman. Women are no longer dolls.
Today, to a large extent, women in developed countries have the freedom to choose and decide their own destiny; be it marriage or career. Such freedom is possible partly because, in these countries, men from a young age are made aware and sensitized to women’s rights. Thus, the education system dispels the traditional notions of what constitutes female etiquette and the assumptions of femaleness that are internalized by previous generations.
Last year in Canada, the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau who considers himself a feminist, was asked by a journalist why half his cabinet members were women. His reply was “because it’s 2015”. Similarly, in Sweden, Margot Wallström Isabella Lövin, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, envisioned a ‘feminist foreign policy’ that “will help to achieve concrete results that enhance both gender equality and the full enjoyment of human rights by all women and girls”. Such changes have also had an impact in policy making where women empowerment is an important aspect of the political agenda and a crucial factor in establishing what a ‘progressive’ nation is made of. Issues which were deemed too risky, or non-conformist in the past are now being addressed by the courts, parliaments and civil society.
Having said this, how do we fare in our part of the world? Women empowerment is still a burning issue that is catalyzed by evils (dowry, domestic abuse, gender discrimination, rape and sexual assault) still plaguing our nation. As far as Nagaland is concerned, indeed, Naga women do in fact enjoy many societal, cultural and familial privileges denied to women in other parts of India. However, for some reason, it has not been able to translate itself into the grammar of the electorate. If we as a society consider men and women to be equal partners, with no gender biases, the fact that women are without representation in the electorate itself speaks volumes about the attitude of the electorate towards women in Nagaland. Women are still, in several ways, deemed inferior in Nagaland.
This is especially evident in the predicament of women who want to be involved in decision making at the highest level. Their opinions are often trivialized (not by every man) and their candidature itself is viewed as preposterous by those who still believe in the bastion of man > woman. This has resulted in the public space becoming exclusively the domain of the male, endorsed and defined by patriarchal notions. Within the domestic sphere, we might take pride that Naga society doesn’t practice many of the evil practices that are prevalent elsewhere. We might even take pride in the fact that women do not face violence in our society as the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures indicate (only 67 cases of crimes against women were registered). If these figures are to be believed, Nagaland is the safest state for women in India. But how much do the figures reflect reality? Are we sweeping our dusts under carpets, afraid that the language of taboo would render us stigmatised? Is the ideal of women empowerment in Nagaland a lived reality, a figment of the imagination or something that exists only in the realm of paper and pens?
Having said that, recently, there has been a slight paradigm shift. The role that women play in diverse fields – as managers, academicians, police, accountants, administrators, entrepreneurs, doctors, workers, artists etc – (domains that were before essentially a male preserve) is a testament to this. Education, exposure, and a creation of awareness of the Rights of women have brought about a radical upheaval in social and political consciousness, and the hierarchical and authoritarian nature of the male-female relationship is starting to get debunked. In fact, women are now attending village council meetings in some villages in Nagaland.
Suppressed under customary laws that had a litany of dos and don’ts for so long, Naga women are only now breaking the mould and shaping an identity of their own making. The struggle is still at a nascent stage because the shackles have not completely come off. Like women elsewhere, Naga women are the carriers of a legacy and a heritage that tried to suppress, silence and subdue them. The more pertinent question that needs to be addressed today is whether we as a society are treating women equally in all aspects of experience? Are we allowing them to express the rattle of their vocal chords, independently, without fear or favour? If not, why?
“Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought delves into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr. Hewasa Lorin, Anjan Behera, Nivibo Yiki, and Kvulo Lorin. For feedback or comments please email:firstname.lastname@example.org”.