“I am happy that Bangladesh Prime Minister, despite being a woman, has declared zero tolerance for terrorism,” said India’s PM Narendra Modi, while lauding Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s zero tolerance on terror policy, in a speech on June 7 in Dhaka, eliciting a flurry of commentary on social media networks and fervid opinion pieces.
The remark was an error of judgement by an otherwise astute politician in a speech which, on the whole, spoke very favourably about women in Bangladesh.
Still, two observations – the unfortunate reality – that women, in all positions, are constantly judged in their respective fields through a gendered lens; and the more heartening one- the outrage the comment garnered from diverse sections is an indication that things are changing, albeit slowly. For most people following the subsequent outrage over the comment, one did not need to point out what is wrong with the statement, and that itself is a triumph of feminism. Realizing the problem is the first step towards fixing it, after all.
Why the short-lived controversy is relevant, beyond the humour, ire and political mileage it garnered (the Congress cried sexism, happily overlooking their disregard over Indira Gandhi being called the only man in her cabinet several times, as pointed out by Shobha De) is that it adds to the bigger picture – one more in a series of events, big and small, which have been leading to heightened gender sensitivity slowly becoming a new norm. Only in the past few months, outrage over the Moga bus incident, the My Choice video and Pads against Sexism campaign, among others, spawned lively debates about gender at various levels. In fact every day social media platforms run content- much of it light-hearted (like the Aunty Acid wisecracks) and some serious, on a wide range of issues regarding gender in/sensitivity, desire, sexual freedom, reproductive health, and gender based discrimination, making such ideas accessible in the public forum for a variety of audiences.
This remark, coming from India’s much-esteemed leader, has just strengthened the still nascent understanding that gender stereotyping and associated binaries (weak/ strong; docile/ touch) are not welcome. The work and worth of an individual should not be associated with ascribed gender, no matter how good the intentions are. And while this remark shall be forgotten by most in a couple of days, it shall endure as the drop amongst the many that fills the ocean in our move towards equality for all genders.
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