At first sight, there is nothing common between Santiago, Hong Kong, Baghdad, Jakarta, Athens and a 16-year-old called Greta Thunberg. But dig a little deeper, and you are bound to hit a red-hot seam of youthful disaffection. Student protests are erupting across world capitals against rising inequality, corruption and a pervasive sense of alienation. Thunberg’s denunciatory speech at the United Nation’s Climate Action Summit, which found sympathetic echoes among students elsewhere, also reflects frustration with current rulers for forfeiting the future. It’s imprudent to ignore these uprisings, whether separated by geography or ideology.

There is something else that connects Thunberg with the widening global arc of student protests: Both have re-ignited latent fires of patriarchy. For example, critics of Thunberg’s speech have used different sticks to beat her argument, but they also revealed society’s dominant fault-line: An aversion to sharing power with women or younger citizens, including students.

Thunberg has triggered a predictable backlash from society’s dominant patriarchal system, especially the leadership of many countries. There is indignation at a young girl challenging the writ of the established male political order, repository of all wisdom and knowledge.

Patriarchy was originally a term used to describe social systems that had male authority or rule at its foundation. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology defines it thus: “Patriarchy is most commonly understood as a form of social organization in which cultural and institutional beliefs and patterns accept, support and reproduce the domination of women and younger men by older or more powerful men… sociologists view as patriarchal any system that contributes to the social, cultural and economic superiority, or hegemony, of men. Consequently, sociologists study the manner in which societies have become and continue to be patriarchal by investigating both social institutions and commonly-held cultural beliefs. At the same time, scholars investigate the consequences of patriarchy, i.e., differential access to scarce societal resources, including power, authority and opportunity by gender."

Then there is the developed-versus-developing argument, which posits that as a Swedish citizen, Thunberg cannot tell poor nations that they must forgo their development for the sake of climate change. Even Russian president Vladimir Putin, for example, dismissed Thunberg’s UN speech, citing her lack of understanding about special development needs of poor nations.

There is a smidgen of truth in what Putin says. India, as many other developing nations, lags behind developed countries on the basis of per-capita emissions. But then two other issues kick in. One, even though India’s per-capita emissions lag, the overall emissions might be significant, given India’s population. The second is a more ethical question: Even if we agree that India has a long way to go in playing catch-up, is it agreeable to keep emitting all the way up? There are no easy answers.

But, while dismissing her developed-world credentials, Putin also revealed his patriarchal self by suggesting that Thunberg is perhaps being manipulated. His statement, bereft of any proof so far, does betray a common failing: An inability to understand how young people can take an independent stand based on conviction.

This patronizing attitude speaks of a larger malaise in society: Misplaced expectations from students. The world is surprised by the Hong Kong students’ force of conviction and prolonged resistance. Chilean students have found bipartisan support in their month-long street protests against rising inequality. Police action has failed to deter Baghdad students demonstrating against corruption.

Student protests in India get people tied up in knots. The popular notion is students should be studying, not indulging in politics. This ignores a ground reality. Most college students are eligible to vote in general and state elections, which require thinking politics and taking a political decision. But, thereafter, they are then expected to repress their personal political belief system. Decades of emphasis on an employment-based education system has created a large technocratic base that privileges employability over political thought or awareness.

Society’s patriarchal attitude towards students, that youngsters are incapable of independent thought and are best kept yoked to textbooks and classrooms, save the occasional trip to the polling booth, is also at fault. This disregards the historical fact that student protests are capable of fashioning societal changes. The Indian independence movement may not have acquired the necessary mobilization without student participation. The 1968 student protests that erupted across the US, France, the UK, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere in the world—primarily against racism, authoritarianism and war—may not have succeeded in shaping a global political revolution, but did accomplish a cultural revolution.

Thunberg’s refusal to attend classes on Fridays, as a mark of protest, has inspired schoolchildren in many other countries to also eschew classes on that day. Interestingly, even adults are now organizing demonstrations and sit-ins on Fridays. It is, therefore, always sensible to heed student protests—because they contain the seeds of future unrest.

Rajrishi Singhal is consulting editor of Mint. His Twitter handle is @rajrishisinghal