‘My World’ A series of insights on gender issues by the people for the people

Preeti Murugan is an experienced educationist with abiding interest in early education and the creative arts. She is married to a serving Defence officer and has a young daughter.

Let my hopes and not my fears shape my daughter’s future.

As my 11 year old daughter grows under our family’s loving and watchful gaze, the worrying question that we keep coming back to is, what world will she be entering into when the time comes for her to step out as a young woman.

In the confines of the house forced upon us by the pandemic, my daughter and I have got into the habit of reading the morning newspaper together. And I do my best to keep her from the reading the never ending stream of news items reflecting the sorry state of women in society. For every Geeta Phogat bringing joy to our hearts, there are numerous Nirbhayas reminding us that the path to gender equality and gender safe society remains a distant dream.

After staying a few years in US, shopping with my daughter for clothes to take back as we prepared to return home, our choices reminded us of the restrictions she would face on return, in being unable to freely wear what she liked. Strong gender stereotypes still prevalent in our evolving society lead to questions at home on ‘how come a boy can walk around unaccompanied at this time?’ Even the journey to School would be preceded by daily advice to be alert and aware in the bus ride, never to be alone with anybody in the school premises and not to trust on face value.

These are the signs of our times and who can deny that there are good reasons to be careful, especially for a girl child. If a law is required and needs to be strictly implemented to prevent sex determination tests in pregnant women for the safety of the girl child, even before birth, then her plight in society as she embarks on her journey of life, can be imagined.

It is not all doom and gloom though. Progress is being made, albeit slowly and painfully. Some states are better than the others, some locations in these states, more enlightened.

As my daughter grows, my aspirations for her are what any parent has for their child. She should be safe, exercise her right of choice without fear for her safety, have the same opportunities that everybody else has without being subject to bias, prejudice or misogyny. But most importantly, her experience and social interactions should result in forming a character that is bold, empathetic, mature, thoughtful and fair. This can only happen when the negative forces that create our fears, insecurities, frustrations and fetter personality growth, are suitably addressed. Governance has a significant role in this however, equally, societal evils and prejudices also need to be dealt with by the people themselves. Thus, quality education, whether in school or at home, becomes critical in this endeavour. Families are the foundational unit of society and change needs to commence from there. Teaching our children, boy or girl, to distinguish right from wrong, to speak out against injustice or inequality, challenging stereotypes, showing empathy to those less fortunate, are all essential in bringing about the change we want to see.

Everyday, I am also grateful for the fact that being part of the larger Defence forces community, my daughter is exposed to the inherent advantages of living in a regulated and orderly environment. Safety is never an issue. Gender stereotypes are mostly non existent and the sense of right and wrong, commitment to a duty, living upto expectations, not tolerating discriminatory behavior or abuse, are all internalized by observation. If this environment can be proliferated to society at large, albeit incrementally, then some of my dreams for my daughter will likely come true.

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