Women had, since long, been viewed as the weak sex in India-which resulted in their subordination throughout the times. Deprived of their rights, Mahatma Gandhi induced women to stand up for their freedom which revived women’s position in that orthodox society resulting in women distinguishing themselves as: teachers, nurses, air hostesses and also, increased participation in politics and administration work. Women have break the boundaries restricted to house-hold work and have flourished throughout the different sectors with flying colours. The encouragement of women, definitely, helped with the new innovative ideas for the implementation in various spheres of life. However, while going deeper in this study of Women’s rights in India, we will also learn more about the evils of illiteracy, dowry, child marriage and ignorance.
In India, women’s subordination has long been considered as a social norm. Families are male-dominated (patriarchal) therefore, girls have been raised to accept violence as part of their destiny. They assume that their purpose on earth is merely for reproductive roles and labor. Furthermore, “In India, women and girls continue to be sold as chattels, married off as young as 10, burned alive as a result of dowry-related disputes and young girls exploited and abused as domestic slave labor.” said Gulshan Rehman, a health program development advisor at Save the UK. Why despite the great advancement in women’s right around the world, India is still considered as the worst place to be female? Why in spite of having numerous laws to protect girls, they are still being ill-treated within the family or outside the home? Why although the Indian law says that marriage of a girl below 18 years old is a crime they are still forced to marry at younger age?
Indian society is hypocritical. They worship female goddesses and yet fail to protect Indian women from daily atrocities they face and on top of that, they blame them too for their condition. Traditions in India serves as a veil, a “burqua”, to cover up the awful reality that, far from being goddesses, women are less than even fully human in India. Moreover, traditions still cast women as hopeless victims rather than free-thinking individuals in control of their destiny. Let’s take the dowry tradition as an example. Much of the discrimination against women arises from India’s dowry tradition, whereby the bride’s family gives the groom’s family money or gifts. Despite the fact that, Dowries were made illegal in India under the Dowry Protection Act (1961), the practice persists for most marriages. The fact that India has female chief ministers means very little. India hates women and that is the ugly unvarnished truth! With the influence of the Muslim society on India, it has caused considerate deterioration in the status of women as in Muslim societies; women are regarded as captive and saleable commodities. Women are relegated to a plaything of man or like an ornament to decorate the drawing room.
As Dr. Jawaharlal Nehru said, “You can tell the condition of a Nation by looking at the status of its Women.” Daughters are regarded as a liability and are conditioned to believe that they are inferior and subordinate to men, whereas sons are idolized and celebrated. This is because, men are capable of providing to the needs of their parents and also, they play an important role in death rituals in Hindu religion, which ensure that the soul is released from the body and can, go to heaven. While on the other part, women are seen as economically and emotionally dependent on men and also the fact that after marriage, they go to their husband’s house resulting in lesser help in the household of their own family and most importantly, loss of money due to dowry tradition. This might also explain why, the birth of a daughter may not always be perceived as equally blissful as the birth of a son and why “May you be blessed with a hundred sons” is a common Hindu wedding blessing.
It is a fact that women are intelligent, hardworking and efficient in any work they undertake. They put their heart and soul together in what they do but in India since early ages, they are expected to learn and fulfill domestic duties amongst others, they are also expected to obey rather than to make their own decisions. Furthermore, the name of Mother Theresa cannot but be mentioned; she brought the Nobel Prize for India by her selfless services to the poor, destitute and suffering people in India and Worldwide. Women play a role of vital importance. They have to feel and realize this at every step of their life that they are builders of the fate of India’s nation. There are few amendments brought in the Indian law to protect women like: The Hindu CodeBill which gives the daughter and son equal property share, The Marriage Act (1939) whereby women are no longer regarded as the property of man and The Right to Divorce.
Even though India is moving away from the male dominated culture, discrimination is still highly visible in rural as well as in urban areas, throughout all strata of society. While women are guaranteed equality under the constitution, legal protection has a limited effect and patriarchy traditions still prevails. India should understand that no nation can progress unless its women are given equal access to opportunities and adequate safety and security.
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.