Gender Beat: What Saudi Women Still Can’t Do; ‘Male-Dominated’ Indian Media
The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 – which is meant to “safeguard rights” of members of the community. These very people, however, have raised issues with the Bill, labelling Monday as ‘Gender Justice Murder Day’, The News Minute reported.
Activist Grace Banu told the portal that the Bill “is just an empty white paper” and “does not change the lives of trans people.”
The definition of a ‘transgender person’ in the Bill itself is problematic, indicating a stunted understanding of ‘gender,’ as Dhruva Gandhi and Unnati Ghia explain in The Wire. In its present form, the Bill is “still some distance away from allowing members of the transgender community to fully realise their identities,” they point out.
While the definition – “a person whose gender does not match with the gender assigned to that person at birth” – is an improvement over a previous version – “one who is partly female or male; or a combination of female and male; or neither female nor male” it still assumes ‘gender’ to be a fixed binary.
A contentious provision that criminalised begging by members of the community was removed from the Bill, and while it provides for penal provisions for crimes committed against transgender persons, they are “less stringent than those for crimes committed against women, which effectively renders transgender people as second-class citizens,” reasons Anish Gawande in Quartz, arguing how the community “may have been shortchanged” by the Indian parliament.
The Bill still requires the Rajya Sabha’s nod to become a law.
What Saudi women still cannot do
In what will likely be a “game-changer” for Saudi women’s rights, the Middle Eastern nation last week announced the end of a long-standing guardianship policy, publishing new laws that bring down restrictions on women.
According to the Associated Press, Saudi women will now be able to apply for a passport and travel freely without permission. Until now, adult women in the country have been treated like minors – requiring consent from a man to obtain a passport or travel abroad. Additionally, women will now be allowed to be legal guardians of their children, register a marriage, divorce or a child’s birth as well as obtain official family documents.
The changes drew a mixed response. While many have rightly celebrated the long overdue firming of women’s rights, conservatives have condemned the move.
A Saudi woman speaks on the phone as another woman walks past her in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Credit: Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser
A Saudi woman speaks on the phone as another woman walks past her in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo: Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser
Lynn Malouf, Mideast’s research director at Amnesty International, was quoted by AP as saying that the guardianship laws have been “a stifling system in the daily lives of women in Saudi Arabia.” Welcoming the reforms, Malouf said called them a “testament to the work of the brave activism and the suffering and the ordeals.”
However, as Joseph Hincks points out in a TIME report, some of the prominent activists who have campaigned for these reforms continue to be in jail or on trial.
Women in the country have been forced to take extreme measures to bypass the restrictive system. The AP report pointed out that to leave the country, some have had to hack into their male guardian’s phone and change the settings on a government app in order to allow themselves permission for the same.
Sever major obstacles to women’s freedom, however, remain, Umberto Bacchi has noted in a Thomson Reuters Foundation report. While they can now leave the country without a man’s consent, they still need permission from a male to live on their own or get marries. Disobeying their guardian can lead to a woman’s arrest.
Women are not allowed to file a lawsuit on their own, impeding their ability to report domestic violence.
While the Middle Eastern nation in 2017 lifted the ban on women driving, Bacchi notes that many continue to face obstacles in getting a licence. There are few driving schools that cater to women.
Women’s rights groups say that though Saudi women can now buy or rent property, social norms make it difficult for single women to do so in the absence of a male relative.
Acid attack cases down by half in Pakistan
Compared to the last five years, reported cases of acid attacks on women have dropped by around 50%, according to the Acid Survivors Foundation Pakistan (ASFP), which aims “to eradicate acid violence” in the country.
The South Asian country passed The Acid and Burn Crime Bill 2017, last year. The Bill offers free medical treatment and rehabilitation for acid burn victims. According to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Marvi Memon, who has been a vocal supporter of women’s rights, the aim of the Bill was to “support the victims and bring to justice the culprits at the earliest.”
In the years immediately preceding the passage of the Bill – 2016 and 2017 – there were 71 reported cases of acid attacks in total. Between 2018 and 2019, there were 62 cases related to acid throwing, 11 cases of burning and four about multiple burns, according to a Gulf News report.
Nearly 40 cases of acid throwing were reported from South Punjab, and 11 cases were from Central Punjab. Meanwhile, 54 FIRs were registered in 2018 to 2019 whereas 13 cases were prosecuted.
A majority of the victims in such cases are between 13 and 35 years of age and a bulk of acid attacks are by people known to the victims. The attacks, according to ASFP, “are often triggered by refusal to sexual advances or marriage proposals or failure to pay dowry or by land disputes.”
Indian media denying women a chance to ‘influence public opinion’
Both print and television media in India remain highly “male-dominated”, with a higher proportion of male writers and anchors, a United Nations report titled ‘Gender Inequality in Indian Media’ has found. The six English and seven Hindi newspapers surveyed for the report for six months till March 2019 found there wasn’t a single woman in a leadership position – editor-in-chief, managing editor, executive editor, bureau chief, input/output editor etc. The 13 newspapers were selected on the basis of their position in the Indian Readership Survey 2018, according to the report.
Even in magazines, TV channels and digital media portals, just 13.6%, 20.9% and 26.3% woman are in a leadership role, The News Minute reported.
Women in Indian media also continue to be assigned what is referred to as “soft” beats, such as lifestyle and fashion, whereas politics, economy, and sports are given to male journalists to cover.
“By thus marginalising women’s voices and perspectives, the Indian media essentially denies nearly a half of the population a chance to influence public opinion,” the report stated.
Writing for TNM, Geetika Mantri notes that while digital media organisations fare slightly better, with some employing a greater number of women journalists, the inequality still exists.
Among those surveyed, TNM and Scroll.in were the only ones with a majority of their contributors being female – 55.6% and 50.6% respectively. As per the survey, 64.1% of contributors to The Wire are male. When it comes to the number of articles, 68.3% are by male authors.
Courtesy : The Wire