The term gender is quite value
loaded term. When we discuss this word, often the context happens
to be women. Most often gender is being talked about in terms of
discrimination faced by the fair sexes.
In order to create an understanding of the term gender, a workshop
was organized by the All India Secular Forum (AISF) in Mumbai on
October 30, 2011. The female participants from Youth for Unity and
Voluntary Action (YUVA) and some students SNDT college, Mumbai
took part in the workshop.
Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, Dr. Ram Puniyani and Dr. Chandrakant Puri
were the resource persons of this workshop.
The participants were divided into groups and were posed certain
postulations were made and each group was asked to come up with
their own understanding of the hypothesis. Some very interesting
observations were made during the discussions that were moderated
by the resource persons.
Following postulations made were put up for discussion; 1)
Difference between gender and sexes 2) Biology makes women weaker
than men 3) Women who dress or behave in culturally inappropriate
ways are inviting assault 5) A woman who leaves the house because
her husband beats her up is over reacting 6) Women are better care
givers than men.
Difference between gender and Sexes
The explanation was given in repose to the understanding the term
‘gender and sexes were vague. Some said that gender is the sexes-
male and female, some mentioned gender is the discrimination that
women face, still other held the view that its discrimination
faced by men and women differently.
The resource persons corrected the understanding of the term
explaining that gender is a social construct and it’s essentially
the roles, opportunities and the expectations of the society from
the sexes. These can be changed. On the other hand, sex is a
biological construct which is not changeable.
Biology makes women weaker than men
Some of the points that emerged during this discussion were; women
are not biologically weaker than men. Some were of the opinion
that women were ‘naturally’ more tolerant. They were made in a way
that they get less angry and are calm. However, this view was
challenged by the other participants and the trainer since this
indicates towards bio determinism which is self destructive to
The point that was underlined was women and men are both
inherently violent and tolerant. What makes women more tolerant or
calm in certain situations is their socialization and upbringing
which essentially discourages women to question or disobey making
them submissive and meek.
Women who dress or behave in culturally inappropriate ways are
In this, there were also two opinions. Some felt that it was not
acceptable for women to outrage the sensitivity of her community
and dress in an outrageous manner. Others felt that it may depend
on the woman if she was comfortable in what she wore. This was
also debated. The discussion led to the larger issue of control
over the bodies of women and if deviance in any form is acceptable
and if it’s acceptable to oppose this deviance through violence or
assault. This discussion was enriched when the participants shared
their personal experiences and insecurities and how they all at
some level feel the city spaces to be unsafe for women.
A woman who leaves the house because her husband beats her up is
The next discussion saw less of debate where everyone accepted
that violence against women in any form was unacceptable. Here
interestingly, the general reactions of society and especially of
the police were discussed.
A patriarchal society normalizes violence against women and thus
mounts pressure on them to adjust with the abusive husband. Many
factors are cited for convincing the woman to put up with violent
husband like her economic dependence on the husband, no awareness
of legal options, social stigma for the woman’s family etc.
Women are better care givers than men
The last discussion was on women were better care givers than men.
There was general agreement on this theme but some participants
challenged this notion as swell, One participant cited the example
of her own husband who is often ridiculed by the neighbors for
doing all household chores like cooking, cleaning, washing etc.
In this context the concepts of masculinity and femininity were
explored and subsequently how patriarchy also deprives men of
their choices was discussed.
The next session was the film screening of ‘Bol’ a film based on
patriarchy in its various forms. The film depicts violence against
women. The discussion that followed the screening of the film was
It was an emotionally charged atmosphere where most of the
participants could relate to the oppression faced by the women
characters in the film.
The discrimination faced by a girl child in a household in terms
of education, opportunities and roles were discussed. It was
agreed upon that such discrimination should be studied in order to
understand gender based violence.
Also, how religious fundamentalism affects women adversely was
discussed, citing examples from personal experiences.
The importance of questioning and critical outlook as well as
listening or having an open mind to differences and other
perspectives was sufficiently agreed upon during the discussions.
The issues how women are penalized due to deviance is in society
was discussed. It was highlighted that women must have control on
their bodies and reproductive functions. The participants gave
examples of some of the cases they have witnessed where preference
to male child is so prevalent that the women are compelled into
having multiple pregnancies having detrimental effect on the
health and choices of women.
This was the second workshop in the series to consolidate the
understanding of communalism. The first workshop discussed the
concepts like communalism, religion, identity politics and caste,
The next workshop will focus on the theme social identity. This
topic will be further explored in terms of the understanding on
gender issues and consolidate the understanding of patriarchy.
This report is prepared with the help of the inputs provided by
the organizers of workshop who run a forum called secular
perspective. Any queries regarding this workshop can be addressed
to Mr Irfan Engineer (email@example.com) or to (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Needless to say that this is a very laudable attempt by some
concerned members of the civil society in Mumbai to create peace
and harmony in their city. This model is worth emulating in other
parts of the country as well.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be
contacted at email@example.com