Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai famously quoted “I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”, and that sentiment precisely outlines the basis of new age women empowerment. Discrimination against women is rampant all over the world even in this 21st century. Patriarchal societies in most countries are adept at exploitation as well as victimization of women. Even though about 50% of the world’s population consists of women, but unfortunately most of them are denied basic rights education, freedom of speech, voting power and even independent identity. Crimes directed specifically against women are reported from all over the world. There still remain questions about acceptance of women empowerment in the most advanced of countries, while developing nations and nations under political duress are far from achieving the desired status.
In India, in theory, women enjoy a status of equality with the men as per constitutional and legal provisions. Arguably, our country has taken enormous strides towards inclusion of women with the fairer gender excelling in diverse fields, from literature to astrophysics to finance. But with headlines about dowry killing, female foeticides and domestic violence still making the newspapers, put a silent question mark behind the two words. Here, in this current age, true development and growth can only be achieved by taking successful strides in eliminating deep-rooted ideologies of gender bias and discrimination like the confinement of women to the private domestic realm, restrictions on their mobility, poor access to health services, nutrition, education and employment, and exclusion from the public and political sphere
Meaning of Women Empowerment
If it is to be elucidated beyond the two self-explanatory words, ‘Women Empowerment’ refers to complete emancipation of women from socio-economic shackles of dependency and deprivations. Often made synonymous to gender equality, the term women empowerment encompasses a much larger set of principles that needs whole-hearted attention. The concept of empowerment flows from the word power. Empowerment of women would mean encouraging women to be self-reliant, economically independent, have positive self-esteem, generate confidence to face any difficult situation and incite active participation in various socio-political development endeavors. The growing conscience is to accept women as individuals capable of making rational and educated decisions about them as well as the society, increasing and improving the economic, political and legal strength of the women, to ensure equal-right as men, achieve internationally agreed goals for development and sustainability, and improve the quality of life for their families and communities. The various facets of women empowerment that needs to be addressed for a rounded out development are listed as:-
Human Rights or Individual Rights: A woman has the right to express her thoughts and opinions freely, without any restriction. Individual empowerment may be achieved by imparting self-confidence to articulate and assert the power of independent decision making. Women should be aware of their rights and social positions that they are entitled to constitutionally.
Social Empowerment of Women: The most critical aspect of social empowerment of women is the promotion of gender equality. Gender equality implies that in society women and men enjoy the same opportunities, outcomes, rights and obligations in all spheres of life.
Educational Empowerment of Women: It means enabling women to grab the knowledge, skills, and self-confidence necessary to participate fully in the development process. Giving preference to the girl child for educational opportunities is a start.
Economic and Occupational Freedom: It means reducing the financial dependence of women on their male counterparts by making them a significant part of the human resource. A better quality of material life, within the family as well as for the overall society, can be achieved through promotion of sustainable livelihoods like cottage industries, small entrepreneurial efforts owned and managed by women.
Empowerment Through Legal Knowledge: Not only does it suggest the provision of an effective legal structure which is supportive of women empowerment, there also is the need to spread awareness among women about their legal rights and laws preventing their exploitation. It means addressing the gaps between what the law prescribes and what actually occurs.
Political Empowerment of Women: The existence of a political system encouraging the participation of women in the political decision-making process and in governance. Indian constitution has provided the bulwarks for gender equality in the country in the following articles:-
Article 14 – Equality before law “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”
Article 16 (2) – Equal Opportunities “No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect or, any employment or office under the State”.
Article 23 – Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour.
Article 39(a) – The citizen, men & women equally have the right to an adequate means of livelihood.
Article 40(after the 73rd Amendment) – 1/3rdof seats in panchayats shall be reserved for women.
Article 42 – State shall make provisions for just and humane working conditions & maternity relief.
Article 51 A (e) – One of the duties of every citizen is to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of woman.
Government Laws and its subsequent amendments have seen larger inclusion of women with respect to their standing in the society. The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005 stating that women get equal share in the ancestral property or the Equal remuneration Act, 1976, has contributed towards a better footing in the society. The Dowry prohibition Act, 1961, Child marriage (prohibition) Act, 1929, The indecent representation of women (prohibition) Act, 1986 and the Hindu marriage Act, 1955, preventing polygamy and bigamy, and their strict enforcements has to a large extent contributed towards lessening women exploitation. Various government schemes like Rastriya Mahila Kosh and STEP (Support to training cum Employment for women) have managed to bring financial development of rural women through self-sustainable employment. The recent Beti Bachao and Beti Padhao scheme as well as the SABLA scheme has been aimed at reducing female infanticide and promoting the importance of educating the girl child. A number of councils and bodies have been established for the well-being of women such as the National Commission for Women, Department of Women and Child Development and the Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women which has reviewed various laws and recommended amendments. The National Policy for Empowerment of Women (2001) is aimed at addressing all forms of violence against women including physical, mental and that arising from customs and traditions.
Why Women Empowerment is Important
A strong patriarchal society with deep- rooted socio-cultural values continues to affect the progress of women’s empowerment in the country. The need of the hour is an egalitarian society, where there should be no place for gender superiority. Aim of Government policies should be to identify and eliminate forces that are directed towards keeping the tradition of male dominance over its female counterpart alive.
Women constitute roughly 50% of the nation’s population and a majority of them remain economically dependent, without employment. Many of them are even unaware of the fact that they are eligible for positions that men enjoy. The result is that the economy of the country is skewed due to underutilization of available human resources. Women are generally considered less competent, both intellectually as well as physically as compared with men. As a result the opportunities extended towards them become biased and obtrusive without actual evaluation of their competencies. While scientific data proclaims women to be more adept at multi-tasking than men, they still remain the second choice for employers in the country.
In major parts of India as well as the world, women are still denied basic education and are never allowed to pursue higher education despite possessing the acumen needed. This colossal waste of talent is definitely holding economies backward.
Women empowerment in its actuality is synonymous with complete development of the society. An educated woman, with knowledge about health, hygiene, cleanliness is capable of creating a better disease-free environment for her family. A self-employed woman is capable of contributing not only to her family’s finances, but also contributes towards increment of the country’s overall GDP. A shared source of income is much more likely to uplift the quality of life than a single income household and more often than not helps the family come out of poverty trap. Women aware of their legal rights are less likely to be victims of domestic violence or other forms of exploitations. Their inherent aptitude towards organization and well-rounded maintenance of home makes them uniquely suited for political and civil leadership roles. The 73rd & 74th Amendments (1993) to the constitution of India have provided some special powers to women – reservation of seats(33%) and the ‘New Panchayati Raj’ – to empower women at least at the village level, is a prime example of the point in discussion. Participation of women in political and social positions of power has seen marked reduction in corruption in those specific areas which adds another advantageous point in favor of women empowerment.
Women empowerment is currently a burning issue on the minds of nation’s policymakers as it commands a lot of media attention and international focus lately. It is a fact that women are built different than men by nature yet this difference cannot be translated to mean inferiority. In the few last decades, India has witnessed some changes in the status and role of women in our society. There has been shift in policy approaches – what was focused on ‘welfare’ in the seventies, ‘development’ in the eighties and ‘growth’ in the nineties, has now been tagged with the contemporary term of ’empowerment’. Empowering women socially, economically, educationally, politically and legally is going to be a Herculean task. It will not be easy changing the deep-rooted perception that women are inferior, dependent and dispensable, resulting in a culture of disregard for women in Indian society. But it does not mean that change is implausible. Time is needed to eradicate the perception. But with the push towards the right direction and a lot of effort directed, this task might just be achievable. All we need is an organized approach from the Government and law enforcement agencies of the country focused in the right direction that would rest only with the liberation of women from all forms of evil.
Essay on Women Empowerment in India!
The subject of empowerment of women has becoming a burning issue all over the world including India since last few decades. Many agencies of United Nations in their reports have emphasized that gender issue is to be given utmost priority. It is held that women now cannot be asked to wait for any more for equality.
Inequalities between men and women and discrimination against women have also been age-old issues all over the world. Thus, women’s quest for equality with man is a universal phenomenon. What exists for men is demanded by women?
They have demanded equality with men in matters of education, employment, inheritance, marriage, politics and recently in the field of religion also to serve as cleric (in Hinduism and Islam). Women want to have for themselves the same strategies of change which menfolk have had over the centuries such as equal pay for equal work. Their quest for equality has given birth to the formation of many women’s associations and launching of movements.
The position and status of women all over the world has risen incredibly in the 20th century. We find that it has been very low in 18th and 19th centuries in India and elsewhere when they were treated like ‘objects’ that can be bought and sold. For a long time women in India remained within the four walls of their household. Their dependence on menfolk was total.
A long struggle going back over a century has brought women the property rights, voting rights, an equality in civil rights before the law in matters of marriage and employment (in India women had not to struggle for voting rights as we find in other countries).
In addition to the above rights, in India, the customs of purdha (veil system), female infanticide, child marriage, sati system (self-immolation by the women with their husbands), dowry system and the state of permanent widowhood were either totally removed or checked to an appreciable extent after independence through legislative measures.
Two Acts have also been enacted to emancipate women in India. These are: Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and the Compulsory Registration of Marriage Act, 2006. The Domestic Violence Act recognizes that abuse be physical as well as mental.
Anything that makes a woman feel inferior and takes away her self-respect is abuse. Compulsory Registration of Marriage Act can be beneficial in preventing the abuse of institution of marriage and hindering social justice especially in relation to women.
It would help the innumerable women in the country who get abandoned by their husbands and have no means of proving their marital status. It would also help check child marriages, bigamy and polygamy, enable women to seek maintenance and custody of their children and widows can claim inheritance rights. The Act is applicable on all women irrespective of caste, creed or religion. It would truly empower Indian women to exercise their rights.
To what extent legislative measures have been able to raise the status of women in India? Are women now feel empowered in the sense that they are being equally treated by men in all spheres of life and are able to express one’s true feminine urges and energies? These are the important questions to be investigated with regard to women’s empowerment in India.
We all know that girls are now doing better at school than boys. The annual results of Secondary and Higher Secondary Board examinations reveal this fact. More women are getting degrees than men, and are filling most new jobs in every field.
There was a time when women’s education was not a priority even among the elite. Since the last quarter of the 20th century and more so after the opening up of die economy, post-1991, a growing number of women have been entering into the economic field, seeking paid work (remunerative jobs) outside the family.
Women are playing bigger and bigger role in economic field: as workers, consumers, entrepreneurs, managers and investors. According to a report of The Economist, ‘Women and the World Economy’, in 1950, only one-third of American women of working age had a paid job.
Today, two-thirds do, and women make up almost half of American’s workforce. In fact, almost everywhere, including India, more women are employed, though their share is still very low. Manufacturing work, traditionally a male preserve, has declined, while jobs in services have expanded, reducing the demand for manual labour and putting the sexes on equal footing.
We can now see women in almost every field: architecture, lawyers, financial services, engineering, medical and IT jobs. They have also entered service occupations such as a nurse, a beautician, a sales worker, a waitress, etc.
They are increasingly and gradually seen marching into domains which were previously reserved for males (police, driver’s army, pilots, chartered accountants, commandos). In spite of their increasing number in every field, women still remain perhaps the world’s most underutilized resources. Many are still excluded from paid work and many do not make best use of their skills.
The rapid pace of economic development has increased the demand for educated female labour force almost in all fields. Women are earning as much as their husbands do, their employment nonetheless adds substantially to family and gives family an economic advantage over the family with only one breadwinner.
This new phenomenon has also given economic power in the hands of women for which they were earlier totally dependent on males. Economically independent women feel more confident about their personal lives.
Hence, they are taking more personal decisions, for instance, about their further education, marriage, etc. More and more women want freedom of work and control their own reproduction, freedom of mobility and freedom to define one’s own style of life. It is contended that freedom leads to greater openness, generosity and tolerance.
This new pattern of working wives and mothers has affected the status of women in many ways. Women’s monetary independence leads them to the way to empowerment. Sociologist Robert Blood (1965) observes, ‘Employment emancipates women from domination by their husbands and secondarily, raises their daughters from inferiority to their brothers’ (Blood and Wolfe, 1965). In brief, economic independence of women is changing their overall equations, perspective and outlook.
Economic independence of women has also affected the gender relationships. New forms of gender relationships (live-in relationship are challenging the long-rooted conception of marriages as a permanent arrangement between families and communities.
In traditional marriages the relationships were hierarchical and authoritarian. The modem conjugal relationships are based on freedom and desire rather than convention. People’s attitudes about marriage are also changing.
Educated women now feel that there is more to life than marriage. They can get most of the things they want (income, status, identity) without marriage, while they find it harder to find a suitable accomplished mate. This is why their marriage is delayed.
With increasing literacy among women in India, their entry into many types of work, formerly the preserve of men, women can now look upon the bearing and raising of their children not as a life’s work in itself but as an episode. It women have started taking men’s work, it could be said that men have taken over women’s.
Young fathers could be seen wash up and making beds, caring of the young and doing many other domestic works. The division of labour between sexes has changed somewhat. They do similar work and share both household activities and tastes. Women wear trousers, jeans, suits and put on ties.
The facts about working wives suggest a basic change in Indian family. The traditional (nuclear) household, in which the husband works and the wife remains at home to care for the children, though still a dominant pattern, is changing gradually but steadily.
A new pattern is emerging in which both partners work outside the home but do not share equally in housework and child care as we see in Western families. In India, the paternalistic attitude of the male has not undergone much change.
In spite of such drawbacks and hurdles that still prevail, Indian women (especially educated) are no longer hesitant or apologetic about claiming a share and visibility within the family, at work, in public places, and in the public discourse.