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Feminism has been getting a bad rap lately. Like a game of Chinese Whispers, the word takes upon a new layer of meaning each time it’s spoken, ranging all the way from witch­burning to bra­burning, until all we’re left with is yet another convoluted propaganda buzzword.

At its heart, all feminism is either a more exaggerated or underplayed version of the more nuanced school of equity feminism ­ a belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. Co­existing with the latest in evolutionary biology and psychology, equity feminism acknowledges that both sexes are not biologically identical ­ it recognizes these differences and calls for fair, impartial and equitable treatment of both sexes in all spheres of life.

This equity is a crucial ingredient for any society that aims to meaningfully contribute to sustainable economic growth, global peace and social justice. Unfortunately, it is an undeniable and morally reprehensible truth that the girl child, the young woman, the mother and the elderly lady, all have faced countless brutal forms of institutionalized discrimination for too long. Far too many women and girls are still denied an education, forced into early marriage or compensated at a much lower rate than their male colleagues. The rates of gender­ based violence against women are painfully staggering. There is also the issue of “gendered” sectors eg. STEM, which continue to restrict talent pools in certain job roles. Misogyny can creep into words, jokes and the media ­ both overt and benevolent sexism represent a significant problem that subtly but effectively undermine girls, and their self ­worth, from a young age.

In India, where the economy has been growing rapidly over the past 30 years, recent statistics appear to show that both, enrollment of female children in primary schools and women’s workforce participation rates have declined. A large portion of this can be attributed to successive governments not having given primacy to funding essentials like electricity, piped water and easily accessible and affordable cooking fuel, or the blatant corruption in the governing bodies. It’s always easy to point fingers, and yet, that does not show us the complete picture. A large part of the issue is our attitudes and biases (both conscious and unconscious) that systematically label girls as less valuable, inferior beings, which for years has gone unchecked.

More policy initiatives need to be rooted in this subtle understanding to singularly address these injustices to women. CRY’s School the Spark, for example, is a nationwide campaign that recognizes the value of a safe, educated girl child to break inter-generational cycles of poverty. It plans to ensure that 79,744 boys and girls continue going to school, are able to develop their abilities, complete their education and get an opportunity to turn their abilities into possibilities. When a young girl   is able to go to school, it sets off a cycle of positive change and is empowered to stand up against abuse and exploitation.

Consequently, reducing inequities, especially towards the female children and women, depends largely on a better understanding of how they are produced in each context, and on a commitment from policymakers to ensure that a country’s health system delivers acceptable, affordable and good quality care to all women, from early childhood throughout their entire reproductive lifespan. Men have a key role to play in demanding and supporting this societal shift.

Our education, health and legal systems are meant to give each of us a chance to succeed.. They should allow individuals, with a special focus on girls, to achieve their dreams while building a better future for our country. They not only hold up half the sky but also silently carry the world on their shoulders and still walk forward with an extraordinary resilience. Let’s listen to the  UN  when  they  say  that  girls  have  the  potential  to  change  the world – both as the empowered girls of today and as tomorrow’s workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, and political leaders.”

The time has come for the safety, economic security and political participation of women to be the norm, not the exception. We, as a nation and as a people, are making some progress, but let’s be honest, the situation is almost impossibly complex, and we need all hands on deck if we aim to truly change the lives of the girl child. At this inflection point, the possibilities are endless, the consequences, unthinkable. The sky’s not the limit. It’s time to get off our sofas and move from evidence to action.

So let’s get to it.

Nitisha Pande, CRY volunteer, Mumbai

CRY works towards creating a world where girl children are celebrated. Pledge your support to CRY at bit.ly/Pledge2CRY

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