Many years ago, I learnt that every individual has the right to act according to his or her own choices. I strongly believe that my life should not be dictated by others and unless I permit, no one has the right to choose for me. However, what I was also taught is that, an individual should take responsibility of the consequences of his or her decision and remember not to hurt people in the process. Also, choices need to be made keeping in mind “values” and “ethics” – words that have probably lost relevance in today’s result-oriented, performance-driven fast life.
The common saying these days is that, when a woman can choose for herself, she is empowered. Unfortunately, a lot of people attribute those choices to just the ability to wear clothes of her choice, travel at wee hours of the night or choose her partner. As a feminist and someone who advocates “women empowerment” both personally and professionally, I feel “empowerment” is a lot more serious business. Celebrities and media in our country definitely need to be much more responsible in their communications. They set examples – examples of lives that the younger generation will aspire for. Heard someone say, being able to wear a bikini to office is empowerment. Even more unfortunate, thought-leaders are preaching such concepts to young minds. Can you tell me what role does the choice of clothing play in empowering someone for whom education after school may itself be a dubious proposition? She will be dependent for that piece of cloth on her father, brother or husband for the rest of her life, so where is empowerment? Does just being a rebel and breaking rules makes one empowered? Then what role does education and self-reliance play in the process of empowerment?
At work, every time I meet these really bright girls from indigent backgrounds, I feel scared for them. Unfortunately, the world they are living in today, is teaching them a completely different meaning of “empowerment” and I just hope they figure out how to make the right choices. Their parents are oblivious to a lot of challenges and if not guided well, these girls will just remain names with no identity. The role that media and technology (read, smart phones) are playing in shaping their lives is alarming. It is surprising to see how the questions these young girls ask, have started changing in the past 3 years at work - from career aspirations to carnal desires; I hope you see the variance. I agree, every individual has the right to choose; but one must choose right. By right, I don’t mean something that is socially acceptable, but something that your conscience will agree with. The problem is that, for a lot of people that conscience is nothing but a dumb spectator. Dishonesty, disrespect, infidelity, insurgence, are these the values that our girls need to inculcate to feel empowered? If so, I would like for them to stay disempowered.
Also, gender equality and women empowerment does not mean copying “men”. Women need to realize that they are different from men, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. Aping their behavior and attributes in all spheres of life does not make women empowered; it means wasted potential. Men and women need to coexist; one cannot dominate the other. Many women activists, or “pseudo feminists” (as my husband refers) who fight for women-centric causes have actually taken the fight to a whole new level – the fight is now for supremacy not equality, and in the process have framed a whole new meaning of empowerment.
I firmly believe, the one true thing that can empower men and women alike, is education. Read, education, not literacy. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.” We definitely have a task at hand – we ourselves need to first make the right choices in life - choose “Education”, choose “Values”, choose “Integrity”, choose “Respect” and choose “Tolerance”. To be truly empowered, we women not only need the ability to choose, but choose well.