Why are women denied justice even today in Ladakh?
Many a time we hear that women enjoy good status in Ladakh. Of course, they do as compared to others elsewhere in the country. We often hear people saying ‘no gender bias here in Ladakh’ which is a myth. The reality is different: Women’s empowerment has not come up to the desired expectations.
In spite of significant progress made by women, they are still confined to stereotypical gender roles, namely bearing significant responsibility for childcare and household affairs.
I remember two years ago some women had come to my office to ask me about the status of women in Ladakh. Initially I was surprised over the issue raised, but later I told myself: Of course, women enjoy good status in Ladakh. But unfortunately, the reality came out to be altogether different when I started digging deeper into the issue.
Since then I have been on a ‘check-out’ move and today I am surprised to find that women are underrepresented in many important areas like decision and policy making.
Yes, women are not burnt alive for dowry, and female foeticide does not takes place in Ladakh. But does that mean women enjoy equal status? Definitely not, deep down that stereotypical and male chauvinism still exists. Women are portrayed as weak and incapable of making smart decisions. They have been depicted across generations to be only capable of doing trivial matters, incompetent and less intelligent. Culturally, there is a belief that women are supposed to be led and not to lead.
Sheryl Sandberg, author and activist, says, "I want every little girl who's told she's bossy, to be told instead she has leadership skills.” That holds very true everywhere.
Women who have leadership skills are often tagged with bossy and arrogant, and on the other side the same attitude of male is given the name of leadership skill. Isn’t it sheer hypocrisy?
Women face prejudice as leaders because people tend to assume that leadership is a masculine trait. And when women do lead, they face problems. People evaluate autocratic behaviour by women more negatively. Thus, women face cultural barriers to participation in politics.
We should not forget that history is witness to women who have demonstrated unique leadership capabilities. Queen Parvati Devi was elected the first women MP from Ladakh in the year 1977. Despite these facts, the political arena in Ladakh remains largely dominated by men.
Unfortunately, since then there hasn’t been any elected woman representative, be it at the grassroots level or at the level the LAHDC, MLA and MP. Politics at the grassroots does not provide a fertile soil for a woman to contest elections and become leaders in order to stake claim for high offices. Politics is almost everywhere a male-oriented, male-dominated enterprise. Traits that are necessary in political office, namely confidence and competence, are traits that women are taught to keep away from.
Therefore, the need of the hour is that political parties, on their part, should give more space for women in contesting elections until a full-fledged legislation brought in. A society that is unable to respect, protect and nurture its women loses its moral moorings and runs adrift. However, the reality is that women remain seriously underrepresented in decision-making positions.
The whole issue is not meant to ignite a gender debate. Rather, it is to fuel a more pragmatic understanding that a society that excludes women in decision and policy making cannot be called a progressive society in the true sense. Ladakh will move ahead when we understand what is holding back half of its population.
What all of us need to question is why a woman’s worth is measured primarily through the institution of marriage.
Although women’s political representation has improved over the years, negative social perceptions about the leadership ability of women, their low socio-economic status, and lack of strong role models contribute to women’s low participation in decision-making positions.
So, the big issue is: How exactly to engage the entire populace in initiating a change in our mindsets? How can a conversation on this subject be leveraged into action?
The problem cannot be solved by the government alone but by involving the entire civil society. The time is now to turn our gaze to encourage women in every field.