From Bollywood to the workplace: gender equality rhetoric needs a revamp

India may have made massive progress, but things remain the same when it comes to gender equality and sensitisation. Isn’t it time we stop condoning movies, workplaces, policies, and people who fuel such rhetoric?

From Bollywood to the workplace: gender equality rhetoric needs a revamp

Wednesday November 06, 2019,

6 min Read

Ek akeli ladki khuli tijori kitarah hoti hai.” (A lone girl is like an open treasure chest). This dialogue from the blockbuster Jab We Met had us all, including me, in splits. 


Yet, all these years, as a woman, mother and a diversity consultant, I am not laughing anymore. Infact, it makes me cringe when such dialogues evoke laughter. 

As I work across organisations, speak at educational institutes and conferences, I find a continuum of impact and evolution of this statement. I also find the impact of Bollywood on society deeply disturbing even though I have been a Bollywood fan and continue to be one. Yet, I still can’t condone the supposedly romantic song in Baahubali-1, when the hero changes the appearance of the heroine without her consent.

Women and world
Unfortunately, a lot of people mistake stalking and pestering for romance. The concept of consent seems to be eluding Bollywood directors, and the population at large. If you think of movies made in the 80s and 90s, a typical masala blockbuster had to have an attempted rape scene, with the hero coming to the heroine’s rescue. The damsel in distress, or the coy maiden and the macho rescuer - scene complete. In more recent movies, an item song is a must!

All in all, complete stereotyping and slotting of genders continues to perpetuate gender inequality and divide. 

Gender divide prevails 

Just like children see and emulate what they see at home, they are strongly influenced by Bollywood, media and all other sources of information around us. If these mediums propagate “Ek akeli ladki khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai,” then we are all in trouble, because that is what they will learn! 


The implications are grave and very concerning: That young girls needed protection, and parents restrict them from relocating for education and career options, thereby not only limiting opportunities, but also driving a mindset among young women of being differentiated. And, they accept it as “normal”.

This mindset has ingrained itself so deeply in our social fabric that no one questions this discrimination, thus it becomes “normal”. The fact that women will need to work shoulder to shoulder with men on the shop floor makes parents wary of sending their daughters to manufacturing organisations; or that they will need to brave public transport and work the markets with salesmen and distributors prevents them from entering sales.

Safety is an issue 

The safety of female employees continues to be a deterrent while hiring women - particularly for roles that require them to step out of office. So sales, service, and procurement tend to remain male-dominated functions. There are recruitment managers who are given mandates that certain roles are not for women. You find several managers making gendered war cries to drive team motivation or driving sales incentives that include trips to Thailand (no offense to any country). This not only alienates the female workforce at these functions but also shows the mindset carried by leaders.


Male managers are also scared to hold back women after work hours due to “safety reasons”, and even if they do stay back because they are committed to their work, there is an additional cost associated with dropping them back home safe and sound. This makes a woman less “hire-able” “promotable” and “retainable”. 

That a woman’s dignity can be physically violated is an accepted fact. Efforts are made to prevent it by putting constraints and boundaries, not exposing women to situations that can be potentially dangerous, rather than addressing the very root of the issue. This is one of the main reasons for the low participation of women in the workforce.

Where we need to see the change 

What is needed are enablers that help women overcome these challenges rather than avoid them. For this, efforts are needed at the family, societal, and educational level. Also at the workplace policy level, with efforts by the government to make the streets safer, implement legislation and policies that are preventive, punitive, quick and clear. 


It all of course stems from the family - parents need to instill confidence and make girls bold enough to raise a voice and fight back, rather than overprotecting them. Gender-neutral parenting entails teaching children of both genders to respect each other. Driving “no means no” even while playing harmless games. Girls and boys should be exposed to equal opportunities and taught self-protection, respect for others, and social acceptance.

At the educational level, gender sensitisation should become a mandatory part of the curriculum, like “appropriate touch and inappropriate touch”. Unconscious bias training for teachers is increasingly becoming more important. Punishing a boy for being a rowdy at class by making him sit between two girls will not drive mutual gender respect! Listening to both boys and girls and demystifying cues as they transition from being children to adolescents and teenagers is another skill teachers’ across public and private schools need to work on.


Interestingly, a lot of focus is put on finding solutions at the workplace, while the educational and family foundation are where the seeds of gender divide are sown.


When it comes to workplaces, they can enable women participation through safety and security policies and infrastructure. Implementation of POSH in spirit and letter at the workplace is mandatory. Technological advancements need to be leveraged by employers to ensure safety outside office premises. Martial arts/self-defence training, though cliched, is a good idea. Pepper sprays, emergency apps, and mobile tracking are all enablers that are provided. Tying up with coworking spaces is important too. Conducting gender sensitisation sessions across organisations and encouraging discussions around gender stereotyping and bias is critical to being able to bring the deeper issues to the table so that they can be addressed. The sad truth is, budget cuts first happen in the training function, and there are still organisations that believe that they do not have a gender bias.


At the social level, the issue is more grave. “Teach your sons to respect girls”, “no means no”, “ladke bhi ro sakte hain” (even boys can cry) and several other campaigns are dealing with this issue. The media can, and does, play a pivotal and lead role in driving these campaigns to success. Opinion pieces by thought leaders are great conversation starters. 


The government needs to take cognisance of the extent of violence against women - on the streets or at home. There need to be strong policies, and timely implementation to address grievances of victims. The entire machinery needs to be lubricated and smoothened with sufficient women cops hired and trained. And please…. there is no dearth of talent. I recently read that two lakh women applied for 100 jawan openings. 

 Cases of domestic violence, stalking, acid attacks, sexual harassment at the workplace are all symptoms of one simple deep-rooted bias….”Ek akeli ladki khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai!”


Articles, conferences, debates, Ted talks, addas… what have you….can be leveraged. All we need is one person to stand and question the “normal”.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)