The international conference on women organised by the United Nations at Beijing in September was a follow-up of summits in Nairobi, Cairo and Rio de Janeiro. At Beijing, apart from government representatives, a large number of non-governmental organizations participated. Nearly 30,000 women from various countries attended. Going by media reports, the deliberations have been compiled into a declaration of principles and a 140-page report which is the platform for action PFA.
It is baffling that neither the Indian Govt.'s official delegation nor the NGO participants felt it necessary to have discussions on the outcome of this highly publicised summit. Leave alone a national discussion, women in India have not even had the benefit of being enlightened about the details of the summit. A few reviews were produced by the media. But people are keen to know the issues discussed by the official delegation, the views advocated on Indian womanhood and the attitude towards the PFA.
The available information has given rise to doubts. First, the issues discussed at Beijing sprang mainly from Western consumerist culture. The values of the East - the concept of a life-long relationship and the respect a husband and wife have for each other - were not even mentioned. There were no deliberations on issues relating to women's liberation and its solution. The role of women in society and cultural evolution did not get proper attention at Beijing. Nonetheless, the Western delegates highlighted new morals and the universal role of women in protecting human rights.
The vital question is the nature of the views of the Indian women's delegation regarding women's problems, especially when the so called emancipated Western women propagated feminist movements and free sex, physical relationships with men regardless of marital status, the growth of lesbianism and artificial insemination as universal human rights. What was the delegation's opinion on gender discrimination?
What directions were given by the GOI to the official delegation? One would like to know the role, duties and rights of a woman in a healthy, balanced, progressive, and developing social order, whether any meaningful discussion was conducted by the delegation in Beijing and what concrete proposals were offered by the delegation on the physical and the economic exploitation of women in Indian society? The key issue is whether the Government's approach is the same as that of those advocating women's liberation led by the Group of Seven nations or different from it.
The NGO's meet had been organised 40 km away from the main venue. There were two types of NGOs, completely autonomous women's organisations and those chosen by the secretariat of the UN. Among the Govt. representatives, the women of the G-7 countries dominated the proceedings of the summit. They obviously did not discuss oppression and exploitation arising out of social injustice and gender discrimination. The purpose of the UN secretariat was in fact to support women from the G-7 countries.
Apparently, the Beijing Summit aimed at highlighting the morality - or the lack of it - of the Western feminist woman. One wonders why issues relating to human rights, including those of women, were discussed in a peripheral manner while free sex constituted the core of the discussions. Matters relating to reproduction were discussed in a naive manner, more in connection with problems of population than a woman's convictions, feelings, attitudes and physical fitness.
The West is keen to keep its consumerism alive. Hence its concern with the rise in population that might affect standards of living. It is not felt necessary to discuss the oppression of women in Western society. Neil Malamath's research in 1986 indicated attitudes towards women in the West. Thirty percent of the male students in the US stated if they were not afraid of being arrested they would go ahead and rape. When "rape" was substituted with "forcing a woman into sex", 58 percent replied in the affirmative. The National Institute of Mental Health of the US had stated nearly 25 percent had to face a situation which could be termed rape.
The rampant sale of pornographic magazines in the West has been analyzed by Noami Wolf in her celebrated work, "The Beauty Myth". According to her, pornographic magazines have recorded sales of nearly 50 million pound sterling in the UK, and 40 million kroners in Sweden. In 1993, 25 percent of this came from blue films and the sale of pornographic cassettes. One wonders how high the sales are at present.
In the US nearly 2 million men buy pornographic publications, numbering over 165, spending almost 5 billion dollars annually. In Italy, the annual sale of pornographic cassettes is worth 6 trillion liras. Governments in the West are in a panic over crimes related to sexual abuse. Crimes against women occur less often in the East, particularly in India, when in societies of the West which cry themselves hoarse over women's (failed) lib.
Today, with the excuse of secularism, young people are not inculcated with moral values. Did the women's representatives from India gather the courage to tell the women from the G-7 nations to do some introspection and not teach their non-existent morality to the Third World? Unlike in the West, Indian womanhood is not a mere "womb." It is neither an instrument for procreation nor a toy to be physically abused. The Indian woman is intellect and soul, not a mere body.
In India, social relationships and institutions are patterned in such a manner that an evolving structure of balanced social amity is created. The family is an important institution. It is only through a happy family that an aware society is born. In this society woman has an important role to play. She is not merely a domestic community. At all times she has made an overall contribution to the growth of the social order. Right from the vedic period the Indian woman has made a sincere effort to keep the home protected. The family has fallen apart in the West and has created a society where all relationships are founded on selfishness. The growth of the single parent family in the West is a direct outcome of this.
Did the Indian delegation put forth its views on women's role in maintaining world peace? How can the fragmented and emotionally hollow society of the West propagate any role for women in world peace? The concept of women's emancipation in countries where Eve is believed to have been born from Adam's rib cannot compare with the Indian concept of "Ardhnarishwar." According to this belief, a diety is conceived of as partaking equally of male and female natures. In India alone it is said, "Yo mam jayt sangrame, Yo me darpan vyapohati, Yo me pratibalo loke sa me bharta bhavishyati" -- "Durga bhavishyati".
In the Hindu pantheon only the goddess Durga rides on a lion. This symbolises
that it is woman alone who can control the beast in man. Do Indian feminists realise
their potential? Staying in touch with their own history and culture would serve
Indian women better than imitating Western women libbers. Indian womanhood epitomises
an individualistic, distinctive personality. It has little to gain by imitating
the failures of the West.