Women’s Discrimination and Struggle for Equality


Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

21 Jan 2019 – Discrimination of women is common in all societies – rich western countries or poorer countries of Asia, Africa or Latin America. The level of discrimination of course varies – it can be subtle in the former countries and more pronounced in the latter. Even most religions discriminate against women in some areas or the other. A Church normally would have male pastors or bishops and the Sunday service is generally carried out by men.

Similarly, women feel the brunt of discrimination in other major religions — Islam, Hinduism. There is a very cruel practice that women face – divorce in the form of what is called triple talaq in several Islamic countries including India. In India, there is a very famous temple — Sabrimala in Kerala in South India which does not allow women to enter for fear that it will pollute the temple despite the Indian Supreme Court ordering the that this practice is discriminatory and should be done away with.

There are many tribal societies all over the world including India where tribal people called Adivasis numbering about 10% of the population. They are scattered all over the country especially in some states – Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and in most islands of Andaman and Nicobar in the eastern coastline of India. These tribal people are also located in some northern eastern parts of the country – in Manipur, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh etc.

I am especially mentioning the state of Meghalaya because it is largely inhabited by two tribes named Khasi and Jaintia who have been converted into Christianity from the nineteenth century. The other feature of these tribes is the fact that they are considered to be matrilineal with women having dominant powers in matters of ancestral properties. However, scholars such as Amena Passah (Professor, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong Meghalaya) hold the view that despite these rights that women possess, they usually subjugate themselves to the males in their families. In that sense, socially the situation is not too different from the patriarchal societies of the neighboring states.

She also writes that although women in both the Khasi and the Jantia societies are treated well in their families for contributing economically to their families, the religious rituals in their society are still carried out by male priests. She also refers to the attitude of traditional Khasi society by the expression “It is a bad omen if the hen crows”; it is only the rooster that crows loudly implying that women should not air their views publicly which would be considered a bad omen.

However, women have an important role both in ancestor worship as well as at the time of cremation of a dead person of their family. Women are expected to prepare food – rice and fish for the departed soul at the time of worship of their ancestor. They are also expected to wail loudly, not weep silently to express their grief at the time of cremation.

A positive feature of the conversion into Christianity is that this has helped them in the field of education both at the school and tertiary levels. And as a result some women are occupying high positions as Heads or Deans of Departments in some Universities of the State. But like in earlier times, conversion to Christianity has not opened up the opportunity of becoming a Priest or Bishop in the Church.

A Post-Doc scholar of India Utsav Kumar Singh writing about the development goals after studying the situation in South Africa and India writes:

“On issues of women empowerment, the measures of development must not only focus on reserving seats for women rather the focus of the policies should be to bring women to the forefront in power relations. Women should not be assisting the men in development whereas they should be equal partners and more. The key is to bring them on the decision making platform. All social policies must reshape themselves to cater to the needs of the subjugated and the left outs in the society…”

In USA all Presidents have been men and it is often said that it is almost impossible to have a woman President of the country, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton almost made it in their last election.

A relatively new area of feminine ethics has emerged especially in western countries that highlight issues of justice, equality and the role of women in society. In particular, issues concerning male biases towards women’s subordination in society, disregard of women’s moral experience and absence of women’s voice in many current social, political problems, are being stressed.

Many women feel that traditional ethics is male biased and needs to be considered in the light of modern perspective. A book published in 1982 by an American professor Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory, Women’s Development, has raised concerns of male attitudes and their behaviour towards women in society and even in academic discourse.

Many women are working in the area of environmental protection and sustenance of the earth. They feel that women are more concerned about this aspect due to their intrinsic nature whereas men are more interested in exploitation of the earth’s resources and maximization of economic profits. These concerns are being labelled as ecological concerns and the women are generally being known as eco-feminists.

These Eco-feminists are protesting against the discrimination women face in all walks of lives – in politics, in business, in the social structure, in general.

Thus we get a glimpse of subordination suffered by women in many parts of the world but we are also encouraged by the emerging voices against discrimination and injustice.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. ravipbhatia@gmail.com


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 21 Jan 2019.

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