In Focus 29th August, 2016

The sound of segregation.

The sound of the word segregation is mostly accompanied with a reminder of events in history where people were separated on grounds of their race, caste, religion, class etc.The ‘other’ was an identity created for those who were deemed inferior.A place, a status was allocated to them. It was a way of telling them how and where to exist if they wanted to be out of harm’s way. More often than not, the sound of segregation has been an isolating one and the same holds true for gender based segregation.

As a part of our campaign, with an aim to understand how we can create gender inclusive safer spaces, we will be spending the next two weeks engaging with the topic of gender based segregation. What we hope to do in the next two weeks is to blur the distinct lines between the white and black of the debate around segregation and understand it along with its complexities.

How does one understand gender based segregation? Is it okay to simply say that we should not have segregated spaces for men and women? What about girls/ women who can access educational institutions simply by the virtue of it being an all girl’s space? What about the daily lived experiences of women where travel is accompanied by a constant threat of sexual harassment? Should we then, be engaging with a different question? Should the issue of discussion be whether gender based segregation is a short term or a long term solution?

Having raised these questions, it must be stated that this is precisely the lens through which we intend on engaging with this theme to emerge with a nuanced understanding of what is it that is needed to make a space gender inclusive and safer.

Within a feminist framework, if someone says that the ladies compartment in trains and metros is a privilege, the response would be to state the years of oppression and exploitation women have been subjected too and how a ladies compartment is nothing but women reclaiming public spaces, a space they have been pushed away from to be segregated within the four walls of the acceptable ‘private’ sphere. What I want to cull out from the response is the difference between reclaiming spaces and being segregated to a certain space.

When the oppressed carve out a space for themselves through a struggle, it cannot be termed as a segregated space where they enjoy a certain form of exclusivity. A single ladies compartment is not a privilege when compared to a chain of compartments for the ‘general’ public in a world where the general is predominantly male.

In a patriarchal social order, what is the purpose that a segregated space serves? Being born into a world which tells you that you will like pink if you are a girl and you will not play with barbies if you are a boy? Or, understanding a world where jobs such as serving in the armed forces is purely a man’s job and home science is a course for women? Living in a house where the front porch is where the men of the house sit and the courtyard inside the house is where women ‘flock’? Or, while women are responsible for everyday worship of the deities, the ‘yagyas’ or the ‘havans’ are a prerogative of the man? Or simply, living in a world where you don’t know how to interact with a fellow human because all your life ‘he’ or’ she’ was constructed as the opposite sex where one is the superior and the other inferior; one is a threat and the other is an object?

How does it impact our construction of the world? Do segregated spaces sharpen notions of masculinity and femininity? Are segregated spaces a tool of control and power? Girls and boys are made to sit separately in educational institutions. The justification often given is the safety of girls. Is this safety or the ‘protectionism’ patriarchy uses to wage wars amongst men of different classes and castes to protect their women. Women being viewed as objects is a masculine construction which goes unchallenged in segregated spaces. Women being ‘ladylike’ is a notion which goes uncontested in an all girls space. What, then, is the purpose of segregated spaces? Is it to challenge oppressive structures or rather replicate the same. These are the questions which we wish to raise in a world where the sound of segregated spaces still echo.

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