Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fixing Our Broken Windows

See a broken window in our society? Do something about it.

Spin the globe and what do you see?  Women are in charge—whether it's Angela Merkel in Germany driving the rescue of the Euro, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf implementing sustainable development policies, Chile’s Michelle Bachelet introducing literacy and social security programs, or Sonia Gandhi in India leading democratization in the era of globalization.
What’s more, Hillary Clinton's strong 2008 primary performance against Barack Obama was certainly a clarion call to many women to seek higher office as a means of effecting change. However, have we really reached a stage where it is simply a question about reaching beyond Hillary, Sonia and Margaret to a new generation of female leaders?

I believe that as laudable as this task may be, we still need to emphasize more general social and economic equality by focusing on the so-called “Broken Windows” problem. As described by Caitlin Moran in her recent best-seller, How to Be A Woman: “If a single, broken window on an empty building is ignored, and not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may break into the building, and light fires.”

Now let's examine these countries again, only this time looking through a gender lens. Despite women at the helm, female foeticide, infanticide, domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace, remain alarmingly prevalent in each of these countries. As the current focus is on tracking upward economic growth and downward unemployment rates, I can't help but feel that within this climate of jobs, jobs, jobs, we are surrendering our attention to social growth. Is equal attention being given to the growth of social indicators such as the health and education of women? Sadly, the answer is no. Our solutions do not have the multi-layer approach required to effect real social change.

In India, we have many ambitious laws on our statute books that protect against gender-based violence. However, the implementation of these laws fail because many lawyers and judges are too deeply enmeshed in our current society—one which has accepted and normalized gender discrimination. What we have before us is this: a window with a giant crack that will continue to deteriorate until we do something concrete to fix it.

Our social mannerisms (heavily influenced by the media) are shaped in ways that run counter to achieving gender justice. It is not the “negative influences,” but rather the lack of positive ones that are to blame. Leafing through the newspaper, I see stories of injustice and violence leap from the page, and yet somehow stories about when justice is attained are never printed. This selective approach to the dissemination of information leads to many feeling as though they exist in a hopeless state.

Yes, problems created in an instant usually take ages to solve, but that should not be a reason to look away from them and not hunt for a solution! Due to our hopeless state, our first reaction is rarely to endeavour to find a solution. As a result, stories of failure attain a larger acceptance than those of success. Eventually, we start believing that all we deserve are windows filled with cracks.

We need to repair the broken windows around us and push back against things that cause further deterioration. We should approach this systematically. Why not focus on prevention rather than looking at “post-action intervention” (our standard approach)? Pass by a cracked window, fix it properly and suddenly you can see the world from a whole new angle.

In school we learn about planets, historical battles, and microorganisms, amongst other things, but what about gender equality? Are we ever taught how to be a gender-sensitive member of society? Are we ever taught how to be proactively part of the solution? Are we even made aware of the problems that exist?

If young minds are the foundation of nation-building, shouldn’t our focus be on creating catalysts for social change who develop into gifted doctors, lawyers, scientists? If we could introduce the necessary methodologies to engage with social issues on an individual basis we would not only create an outlet from the present state of helplessness but also invest in a future. This path promises a future of improved social equality. Maybe then, with a few more windows fixed, we can reach beyond Hillary, Sonia and Margaret to a whole new generation of leaders.

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