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6 Mar 2020 | Blog

Thinking beyond Each for Equal

Vishwas S. Chitale

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When I opened the newspaper in early February, a news article immediately caught my eye – “India’s top court orders equal roles for women in army”. First of all, I was quite surprised to learn that this was happening for the first time in India – the largest democracy in the world. Then I began to think about all the other professions where there are hardly any women in top positions. And most importantly, how much of the decision-making power do these women have? The answer is “negligible” – most likely because we do not acknowledge the importance of being inclusive and involving all genders in the decision-making processes.

In the Indian Army, women were allowed to opt for combat roles only very recently, with sexist perceptions barring their entry. However, in a historic moment that broke stereotypes, the all-men contingent during this year’s Republic Day parade was led by Capt. Tanya Shergill. This was a ray of hope, a symbolic act of women’s empowerment that we all should observe, acknowledge, and nurture. This is a decade of action, so we should commit ourselves to bringing “Each for Equal” into practice.

With this thought, I began to reflect upon the women who have played important roles in my life. The first, of course, is my mother, who is a homemaker and played an important role in shaping my life. Whatever I am today is completely because of her confidence in me and her constant guidance, which boosted my own confidence to face any failure or difficulty in life. My father and mother frequently have discussions where she expresses her thoughts very openly. This makes me think about her equal footing in the relationship and in our family’s decision making.

Another strong woman in my life was my MSc professor late Dr. Vrushali Deosthali, who was a trailblazing pioneer who inspired countless women and men, me included. She worked relentlessly to receive approval for the very first MSc course on remote sensing and GIS in Maharashtra. Very few universities in India offered such a course in the early 2000s. Prof. Deosthali and her team worked hard to initiate courses for our first batch of MSc Geoinformatics in Pune University. She was an important representative for women in the STEM field in India, playing a crucial role in taking India’s space science to the next level. While completing her studies in remote sensing, she was the only woman in a batch of 30 students. Understanding the importance of women’s involvement in STEM, she pushed for equal gender representation in our batch.

My grandmother was also a great influence in my life. She was a freedom fighter who followed the Gandhian philosophy and spent several years in jail for opposing the government during the British rule in India. Whenever she came out of jail, she would rejoin the movement to oust the British rule. When I used to hear stories from her about those days, I always wanted to live in that era to see my grandmother in action. My grandfather, who was also a freedom fighter, used to say, “When it came to combat, she was no less than us men.” She was rewarded with a memento in the early 1980s by Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, for her active role in India’s struggle for independence. If women fought shoulder to shoulder with men to secure India’s independence, why did it take so long for independent India to give them their rightful place in the armed forces?

We have to acknowledge the fact that women have not been given equal opportunities, and we must act to close this gap. The first International Women’s Day was observed almost 100 years ago in 1911, but actual progress in achieving gender equality has been very sluggish. I think we should go beyond the “Each for Equal” push; we should be aiming for “better for equal”. There should be better opportunities for women to lead, better efforts to bring this in action, better inclusiveness to inculcate this thought, and better acceptance of the reality of inequality and the need for change.

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