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Patriarchal mindsets lead to violence against women: Dr Sharada

Thursday, March 08, 2018
Photographs by Trupti Arekar

Perched atop along with a panel, dressed in a pretty sari, this modest samaritan speaks passionately to a room full of scribes about the cause she has long been associated with, 'Gender Sensitivity', as she and a few other panelists proudly announced the launch of the 2nd South Asia Laadli Media and Advertising Awards for Gender Sensitivity 2017. As the World celebrates  International Women's Day today, DEV KOTAK caught up with DR A. L. SHARADA, Director of Population First, who has spent more than a decade researching and educating people on how and why one must possess sensitivity towards women. She talks about celebrating women, bridging the gap between the two sexes, the positive role of advertising and media play in spreading awareness on the issue and the Laadli Award.

Partnering with powerful agencies and stake holders such as International Advertising Association (IAA), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Global Compact Network India, she feels that the awards act as a catalyst in inspiring more members of the mainstream media and advertising world to write on and cover issues through which gender sensitivity is highlighted and as a result more people  are educated on the issue.

The shy Sharada, Director  of Population First, is reluctant to strike a pose for my photographer, but agrees after much prodding.

“I can either do the interaction or give you a good photograph. I am really not used to being clicked,” she jokes with my camerawoman.

“The current divide stands at 15 per cent, the amount by which we need to bridge the gap and it is of utmost importance to do so in a time-bound manner. There is a role for everyone in the society so we must apply our minds collectively to bridge the gap. Parity is not even discussed. Opportunities and partnerships must be created to make our women better,” she says with a sense of concern.

Active in the developmental sector for the last 26 years as a trainer and having been associated with Population First for the last 13 years, she has been offered roles with international agencies like UNICEF, UNFPA.

The theme this year encompasses rural and urban activists transforming the lives of women and comes in the wake of global movement for women's rights, equality and justice.

Deeply committed to the cause of bringing women on the same pedestal as men, the insightful leader was invited by the State Department of US to represent India under the International Visitors Leadership Programme (IVLP) on the role played by NGOs in Global Gender Issues.

A teacher par excellence, keen on educating several students about her core subject of research and spreading awareness and sensitivity, she has been a visiting faculty at some of the most reputed educational institutes in India.  

“9.6 per cent women are left to live alone as they age. Discrimination prevents women from decision-making. Policies, programmes and schemes must be analysed to see how they affect men and women differently. It is important to address these discriminatory practices. Limiting options for them and gender stereotypes is a form of subtle discrimination,” Sharada insists.   

A clear gender and sex bias exists, owing to a skewed ratio, where there are 898 girls for 1000 boys as per 2015 SRR (Sex Reversion Ratio) figures. Men and women, who are placed differently in society, enjoy different roles and responsibilities. Coverage of established women must be highlighted in order to inspire more women.  

Video games, believed to be played only by boys, is a myth and is untrue.

“We don't talk about women playing video games. People think of only guys play it, but a lot of women don't disclose their gender on online gaming platforms, fearing backlash, embarrassment and social stigma. We must question them on how they feel and react to women playing,” says the researcher.

“Patriarchal mindsets lead to violence against women. Women are growing alarmingly fast so then men naturally feel threatened,” she adds.

There needs to be a change in mentality and understanding and mechanisms to strengthen security must be viewed with utmost seriousness. Conditions must be made safe, inclusive and liveable for everybody.

Media and advertising are largely responsible for forming opinions in the minds of the consumers. Press being one of the most powerful watchdogs in our democratic setup, it is the duty and role of mainstream media to ensure progress and become a positive influencer. With the introduction of the Laadli (cherished daughter) campaign, media is being educated on how everything can be viewed under a gender lens. It is necessary to know what sells versus what is right. Sensationalism is giving way to sensitivity and gender issues are far more better researched and reported. The change has been mammoth.     

“Social media is equally powerful and influential. They influence the mainstream media, who pick up issues like these. This is a must for diversity and inclusiveness,” explains the programme manager.

Earlier, advertising professionals worked on a brief from a client, without any knowledge on gender sensitivity. There is a happy change and a good projection of women and not as per stereotype. Now whether the character featuring in the ad is a male or a female, no longer matters in the sale of products.

The advertising community has taken it upon them to project the issue in good light, exhibiting compassion and consciousness.

Women in ads are now being portrayed in powerful roles compared to their male counterparts, who are more than happy to play deputies. This enables a shift in attitude amongst viewers, who are exposed to these kind of ads repeatedly.

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