Gen­der jus­tice should be the goal


ON THE United Na­tions’ Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals (SDG) in­dex, a NITI Aayog re­port ranks Ker­ala top of the heap, along with Sikkim, on gen­der-equal­ity – scor­ing 69 out of 100. Does this mean Ker­ala can beat Sikkim to se­cond place if women of all age are al­lowed into the Sabari­mala Ayyappa tem­ple? The an­swer is there is no com­par­i­son: Sikkim has moun­tains and snow, but it does not have a tem­ple such as the Sabari­mala Ayyappa to kick up a gen­der-row.

Right to wor­ship at any and ev­ery shrine is not an SDG nor a re­quire­ment for gen­der-equal­ity. Also, Malay­ali women do not con­sider Sabari­mala Ayyappa Tem­ple en­try a fac­tor con­tribut­ing to gen­der equal­ity. There is no blan­ket ban on women’s en­try. There is only an age restric­tion, which is ac­cepted by women devo­tees of Swami Ayyappa.

Chief Min­is­ter Pi­narayi Vi­jayan should fo­cus on the SDG goals for women and girls. The NITI Ayog re­port ranks states ac­cord­ing to ac­tion taken on the sus­tain­able devel­op­ment goals. A score of 100 means the state is an “achiever”. A score of 65-99 is a “fron­trun­ner”; 50-64 is a “per­former” and 0-49 an “as­pi­rant”. Ker­ala, Sikkim, An­daman and Ni­co­bar and Chandi­garh are the only “fron­trun­ners” and “per­form­ers” on gen­der equal­ity. The other States are “as­pi­rants.” What stands out is not one State/UT is even a “global” as­pi­rant. The over­all av­er­age score of all States and Union Ter­ri­to­ries is 36 out of 100. There are other in­di­ca­tors of gen­der-equal­ity. Avail­abil­ity of af­ford­able clean-cook­ing fuel is one. Women cook more at home than men. Clean en­ergy to cook food is a must for gen­der-equal­ity.

Ker­ala is not a “per­former” on this in­di­ca­tor. Still other in­di­ca­tors in­clude do­mes­tic spousal vi­o­lence, male-fe­male sex ra­tio; par­tic­i­pa­tion in work­force and pay-salary par­ity. Ex­cept in sex-ra­tio, Ker­ala is not a “per­former” on any of these ei­ther. One in three Malay­ali women con­tin­ues to face spousal vi­o­lence. In Ker­ala women in the work­force earn on an av­er­age 30% less than their male coun­ter­parts in the same work. On sex-ra­tio, Ker­ala scores 959, se­cond only to Ch­hat­tis­garh (963). In terms of ma­ter­nity ben­e­fits, too, Ker­ala is not top of the heap. Odisha takes that hon­our. There are lots of preg­nant Malay­ali women who need nu­tri­ents. It, how­ever, does well in ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity – 46 ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity against 100,000 live births. The In­dia av­er­age is 130.

Point is Pi­narayi Vi­jayan is ex­pend­ing en­ergy and time, his and that of the peo­ple, on achiev­ing an anti-com­mu­nist goal: the right to wor­ship. Link­ing Sabari­mala Ayyappa tem­ple to gen­der-equal­ity is the do­ing of out­siders who do not have a clue to the Ayyappa cult. These out­siders took the per­ceived gen­der­inequal­ity to court and got a favourable ver­dict. And be­cause it is a con­sti­tu­tional bench rul­ing on a fun­da­men­tal right, Pi­narayi jumped in and pol­i­tics tight­ened screws.

Didn’t mat­ter if it’s against the deeply in­grained faith/sen­ti­ments of the ma­jor­ity. Doesn’t mat­ter if fun­da­men­tal rights are de­void of faith. Didn’t mat­ter if the women who took Sabari­mala to court are gen­derequal­ity war­riors, not Ayyappa devo­tees. The dis­tinc­tion is cru­cial: Ayyappa devo­tees hon­our the unique sta­tus of Swami Ayyappa. Gen­der-equal­ity cham­pi­ons see only “con­quest”, “vic­tory” and “mile­stone.” Pi­narayi should fo­cus on im­prov­ing the state’s SDG scores on the other gen­derequal­ity in­di­ca­tors.

They are self-pro­claimed athe­ists and ac­tivists. Not dif­fer­ent from god­less hea­thens and cap­i­tal com­mu­nists, for whom the death penalty is so­lu­tion to ev­ery de­par­ture. Pi­narayi’s com­mu­nism is a re­li­gion much like Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam, both of which “make the choice” for ad­her­ents. The Hindu Way of Life “leaves the choice” to the con­science of in­di­vid­u­als.

Women ‘ready to wait’ ex­em­plify gen­der-jus­tice. Gen­der jus­tice, not gen­derequal­ity, should be the goal. Gen­der jus­tice means giv­ing women equal breaks in jobs and salaries.

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