Indian Women Fuel Widespread, Silent Revolution

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The prominence of Indian female politicians has attracted plenty of media attention. Less obvious, says Jael Silliman, is the broad, silent social revolution that is changing gender roles. Recently, it has reached into the Catholic Church.

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Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.

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The reading public increasingly demands gender sensitivity from the media. Last month, an article in a major national newspaper was accompanied by a cartoon that portrayed leading politicians wearing saris to indicate indecision and weakness of the leaders. Readers sent scathing letters and the editors issued a public apology.

Women Fly High

In mid-September, the graduation of two female fighter pilots from a flight school in Pakistan made headline news on BBC, South Asia.

But public and private institutions have opened their doors to women for years in India, which makes such stories no longer newsworthy.

Last month, for instance, a national daily featured a female flight lieutenant in the Air Force who flies an AN-32. The story was not about the fact that she was a successful flight lieutenant. The human interest derived from her flying the same aircraft and route that her husband had flown until eight years earlier, when an accident paralyzed him.

Female fighter pilots have established their place in India, but they keep challenging gender-role stereotypes. Recently, 30-year-old Suman Sharma became the world's first woman to fly a MIG-35 fighter jet at an international air show. Sharma is a flying instructor at the prestigious Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun.

Yugratna Srivastav, a 13 year old, represented the youth of the world in her address to global leaders at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in New York City in September. She drew attention for becoming the first Indian member of the U.N. Environmental Program Junior Board. But her gender elicited no commentary in India . The fact that she was a female child in a country where so may girls are still vulnerable indicates the vast differences of expectations and opportunities that exist among and between girls and women in India.

Just as in the United States, women in India have claimed an integral place in mainstream political and professional life and are now changing the rules of religious bodies.

Also as in the United States, this has not decreased violence against women or many common forms of discrimination.

There's plenty of work ahead for women in India. (Just read Women's eNews' story about Indian maternal mortality published a few weeks ago.)

Lawsuits Used to Shrink India's Maternal Deaths

However, the acceptance of women's equality in powerful institutions across the social spectrum is driving enough social change to lift the prospects of women still trapped inside the fort of gender inequality.

Jael Silliman, based in Kolkata, India, is a feminist activist, scholar and the author of several books on feminist topics.

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