Point of View

Women’s Constituencies

Bharat Jhunjhunwala

All political parties have expressed support to the Women's Reservation Bill yet it has once again lapsed with the tenure of present Lok Sabha having come to an end. It seems there is an inner resistance to this Bill. There is need to revisit the matter. The underlying issue is that of equality between men and women. An athlete and a musician cannot be equal in running or in singing a song. They can, however, become equal if both are awarded Padma Bhushan. The situation of men and women is similar. Men cannot equal women in providing emotional support to children while women cannot equal men in a number of fields. The equality between them has to be secured by providing equal respect to their different roles.

The straight-jacketed division of roles between men and women of the yesteryear is no longer relevant. The responsibility of homemaking was onerous and exhausting in the past. Women had to carry water from kilometers; spend much time collecting fuel wood and in washing clothes. Piped water and gas supply and stoves and washing machines have much released her from the drudgery of daily housework. Contraceptives have released her from 'forced' childbearing. She has much time free now. The physical limitation of bodily strength has also been much overcome. Women are plying buses and airplanes today. There is a clear cut need to use this new found freedom for the self development of the woman.

At the same time the emotional needs of homemaking has increased. In their book The Imperial Animal anthropologists Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox point out that among primates man alone divided labour of breadwinning between males and females. The complexity of human society required a long period of learning. Human beings "developed a system of non-genetic mode of transferring information from one generation to another. There was a premium on an animal which could learn a lot and learn it quickly and which did not depend too heavily on direct instructions from the genes for each item of behaviour." The mother was the crucial actor in this non-genetic learning. She taught the child. Animal experiments have shown that the softness and texture of the mother-even her smell-are more important to the child than simply her milk supply. This period of breast feeding allows the brain of the human child to grow deeper and imparts an ability to deal with more complex issues, say Tiger and Fox.

Deprived of this mother care children become misfits in the society: "Anyone who has seen the grief, the listlessness, the obvious and heart-rending despair of infant monkeys deprived, in an experiment, of maternal care, will echo the sentiments of the man who performed the experiment. He declared: 'Thank God we only have to do it once to prove the point."

Motherhood, they say, is, then, not merely about the physical role of providing nourishing milk. It is about teaching the future generations of the species about behaviour that they have to adopt in order to survive. This teacher role of the woman will get more pronounced with the increasing stress that children are being subjected to and the increasing complexity of human society.

Why should the male dominate politics all over the earth, so regularly and so predictably, ask Tiger and Fox. They dismiss the theory that the men have conspired to keep the women in subservience: "We are talking here about so many different cultures, with so many different kinds of religion, economy, ecology, political structure, tradition, ways of raising children, that it would be statistically inevitable that a fair number of these different systems would throw up a genuinely female-dominated political system... if men all over the world have always been able to keep women subdominant all over the world and under all conditions-perhaps they are politically superior to women." Note the stress on 'political' superiority. Political superiority does not have to translate into a general superiority of the male; just as the athlete's superior ability in running does not make him a 'superior' person than the musician. Men and women are superior in different fields. Given the natural responsibility of homemaking cast upon the woman by mother nature, it must follow that man is superior in the task of breadwinning and politics.

The upshot is that the male-female differences of social roles have a deep biological and social purpose. Moreover, the superiority of human species rests, in part at least, on precisely this division of labour. If human beings have to further evolve, then these differences will further increase rather than decrease. The human species also gives the greatest attention to homemaking. A yet more developed human society would, it seems, see yet more attention being given by the women to the child. The emotional stress in the post-modern society may be much greater. Women's empowerment, therefore, would have to be done in a way that allows them to give greater attention to childbearing. It would have to be built on the celebration of the different roles of men and women rather than their equalization.

Western society has tried to liberate women from their natural responsibility of homemaking by inventing the concept of 'quality time.' Idea was that woman can earn and do politics and the reduced time given to children can be made up by 'quality time'-that is focused attention given to children for a short time. This is not working out successfully as seen by increased incidences of shooting of innocent school children being perpetrated by juveniles in the United States. Rabbi Shmuley dismissed the idea of quality time. On the Oprah Winfrey program he says children do not benefit from, nor do they desire to spend "quality time" with their parents, which he says averages around 5.5 minutes per day in the United States. Children who are neglected by their parents-despite their parents' best intentions-grow up to feel insignificant, insecure, unloved and-more than anything else-angry. To make children feel important, loved and safe, parents should be physically and emotionally available to their children for a few hours everyday.

On the one hand woman has been liberated from drudgery of homemaking. On the other hand the emotional demands of homemaking have increased. The solution will, therefore, not come by removing the woman from home. Instead the solution will come from providing much greater respect to the emotional homemaking role of the mother. At the same time the special needs of women must be reflected in the political dialogue. The society must consider making separate constituencies of men and women for this purpose. Instead of forced election of women; it is better to consider election by women. Let women chose either a man or woman to present their case in the political dialogue. Electorate must elect a man or woman who supports the women's causes; instead of a woman who remains uninterested in these causes.

Vol. 46, No. 47, Jun 1 - 7, 2014