[Model Answer QP2020 GS4 Ethics] What are the main factors responsible for gender inequality in India? Discuss the contribution of Savitribai Phule in this regard.

Gender inequality represents a violation of fundamental principles such as fairness, justice, equality, and human dignity.

Main Factors responsible for Gender Inequality in India

1. Fairness and Justice: which requires that everyone should have an equal opportunity to develop their potential and to benefit from the results of their efforts. Gender-based discrimination in education, employment, or political representation denies women fairness and justice in the society.

2. Sociocultural Norms and Stereotypes: Traditional beliefs about the roles of men and women often relegate women to domestic duties and discourage them from pursuing education or careers. This not only limits women’s economic opportunities but also their social, political, and personal freedoms.

3. Human Dignity:  Practices such as gender-based violence, early marriage, or sex-selective abortions degrade the value of women and are ethically unacceptable. Thus, it violates women’s rights, undermining their dignity.

4. Autonomy: Autonomy involves the capacity to shape one’s own life according to one’s choices. However, gender inequality often restricts women’s autonomy, particularly when cultural norms or legal systems limit their freedom to make decisions about their education, career, health, or personal life.

5. Non-Maleficence and Beneficence: From the perspective of these principles, it’s unethical to harm others (non-maleficence) and we should aim to benefit others (beneficence). Gender inequality often leads to physical, emotional, and economic harm for women and girls, and also deprives them of potential benefits such as educational and economic opportunities.

The contribution of Savitribai Phule towards gender equality

1. Savitribai initiated the notion of women’s education in India. She has been popularly called the ‘Crusader of Gender Justice.’

2. Between 1848 and 1851, Jyotirao, Sagunabai and Savitribai opened three schools for girls. Together, the three schools had a hundred and fifty students. It was the first time in the history of the country that education of women was taken up as a cause.

3. Savitribai initiated a movement that enabled women to stand out in society as equals. Savitribai met Fatima Begum Sheikh, who was the first Muslim woman teacher in India. In 1849, Savitribai and Fatima Sheikh started a school in the Sheikh’s residence.  

4. Along with her husband Jyotirao, Savitribai established two educational trusts. One was called the Native Female School of Pune, and the other was The Society for Promoting the Education of Mahars, Mangs and Etceteras.

5. In a poem titled ‘Go, Get Education’, she urges women to acquire an education in order to free themselves from the pains of subjugation.

6. One of the biggest examples of her reformist views was her lighting the funeral pyre of her own husband. She went against social norms that demanded only a son or male relative to light the flame. She went against that tenet and performed the ritual herself.
Gender inequality represents a significant ethical issue. Addressing it requires acknowledging and respecting the equal worth of all individuals, regardless of their gender, and striving to create societies and systems that uphold these ethical principles in practice.

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