Women Empowerment In India A Challenge of 21st Century
Overview Women’s empowerment is a new phrase in thevocabulary of gender literature. The phrase is usedin two broad senses i.e. general and specific. In ageneral sense, it refers to empowering women tobe self-dependent by providing them access toall the freedoms and opportunities, which theywere denied in the past only because of their being ‘women’. In a specific sense, womenempowerment refers to enhancing their positionin the power structure of the society . The principle of gender equality is enshrinedin the Indian Constitution in its preamble,fundamental rights, fundamental duties anddirective principles. The Constitution not onlygrants equality to women but also empowers thest ate to adopt measures, a position;indiscrimination in favour of women. Within theframework of democratic polity, our laws,developmental policies, plans and programmesare aimed at women’s advancement in differentspheres. India has also ratified various internationalconventions to secure rights of women. The women’s movement and a widespread network of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) having strong grass- root presence and deepinsight into women’s concerns have contributedin inspiring initiatives for the empowerment ofwomen. Women today are trying to understandtheir position in the society. Women have becomeincreasingly aware of sexual inequalities in everysphere of life and are seeking ways to fight them.
Overview cont . . . The Indian women have cast of their age-old shackles of serfdom and male domination. Shehas come to her own and started scaling theladders of social advance with proud and dignity.Women of India are now uplifted and emancipatedand granted equal status with men in all walks oflife-political, social, domestic and educational.They have a franchise, they are free to join anyservice or follow any profession. Free India has,besides her woman prime minister, womenambassadors, women cabinet ministers, womenlegislators, women governors, women scientists,engineers-doctors-space researchers-giant ITspecialists, women Generals, women publicofficers, judiciary officers and in many moreresponsible positions. No distinction is now madein matters of education between boys and girls.Their voice is now as forceful and important asthat of men. They are becoming equal partners inmaking or dismissing of a government.
Overview cont . . .Hindu law has been changed and modified.Far-reaching changes have been introduced in theHindu Marriage Act. Women have been givenright to divorce in certain cases. Besides this, theHindu Succession Act has given to the daughter;the right to the property of her parents. OurConstitution has given equal rights to women. Nodistinction has been made on the basis of caste,religion or sex. Their rights have thus beensafeguarded. Thirdly, three percent reservationfor women is apt to be enacted in the future.
Women Empowerment- still an illusionof reality: Not-withstanding the remarkable changesin the position of women in free India, there is stilla great divergence between the constitutionalposition and stark reality of deprivation anddegradation. Whatever whiff of emancipation hasblown in Indian society, has been inhaled andenjoyed by the urban women, their populationbelonging to the rural areas are still totallyuntouched by the wind of changes. They still havebeen living in miserable conditions, steeped inpoverty, ignorance, superstition and slavery. Therestill exists a wide gulf between the goalsenunciated in the Constitution, legislations,policies, plans, programmes and relatedmechanisms on the one hand and the situationalreality on the status of women in India, on theother. The human rights scenario in the countrycontinues to be dismal and depressing. Womenare being brutalized, commodified, materializedand subjected to inhuman exploitation anddiscrimination.
Women Empowerment- still an illusionof reality: (cont . . .) Although, gender discrimination has beenbanned by the Constitution and women have beenguaranteed political equality with men, yet thereis a difference between the constitutional rights and the rights enjoyed in reality by women. Evenafter half a century of independence, barring afew exceptions, women have mostly remainedoutside the domain of power and politicalauthority. Although they constitute about half ofthe citizen and over the years their participationby way of voting has increased, yet theirparticipation and representation in law making andlaw implementing bodies are not very satisfactory.No doubt the 73rd and 74th constitutionalamendment acts have provided access to womenin the decision making process at the grass-rootlevel but their representation in the Parliament andstate legislatures is woefully poor. Insecurity doesnot allow the women leaders to identify leadershipat the grass-root level. In politics when a manproposes, they themselves depose. In realitywomen representatives are ornamental in natureand political consciousness is found lacking amongthem. They are affected by the caste and classdivisions, feudal attitudes, patriarchal nature of thefamily and village-social, environmental, ethnic,religious separatism and the like. They aremembers on record only. Allegedly, they are notconsulted while taking decision. Thus, womenrepresentatives are not free from male dominancein the village administration and no significantchange in the power equal is observed in thevillages.
Women Empowerment- still an illusionof reality: (cont . . .)What are the reasons for this sorry state ofaffairs ? Issues may be various and varied,however a few basic issues deserve specificmention : Lack of awareness Lack of social and economic empowerment Lack of political will Feebleness of accountability mechanisms Lack of enforcement by the police force Lack of gender cultureThe question arises, how great erparticipation of women in politics can beachieved ? Generally, the answer is suggested inthe form of reservation. However, merereservation will not solve the problem unless anduntil women are given commensurate powers tofunction effectively and they themselves becomemore conscious and aware of their rights andduties.
More steps to be taken There can not be any dramatic movementin the system just by including women membersin Gram Panchayat. At the same time, it is alsoessential to shed certain stereotyped prevailingnotions about role and importance of women insocio-economic development. Women should beencouraged to play a more active part. The malerepresentatives have to establish a rapport withfemale representatives and give due respect andattention to their views. In the process ofdevelopment and decision-making women haveto operate along with men. Of course, there is some awareness amongwomen due to reservation for them in thePanchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). But there isneed for appropriate training and education relatingto different aspects in functioning of Panchayatsto make women members conscious enoughabout their effective role and representation in thePanchayat Samiti. This kind of training can beorganized at the district or block level immediatelyfollowing the election. We have to understand that women representatives can play a vital role in theformulation and implementation of various womenand child development programmes. This wouldincrease the efficacy of such programmes. Forinstance, the women representatives and GramPanchayat should have sufficient control over theprimary education, primary health care and runningof the public distribution system.
More steps to be taken (Cont . . . ) The state must pass and enforce legislationso that the status of women in society is broughtto a respectable level through the long arms ofthe law. In 1985, a separate department ofWomen and Child Development was set up. Inthe Sixth Five Year plan, a separate chapter on³Women and Development´ was included. Thegovernment had started and implemented majorprogrammes like Support to Training-cum-Employment for Women (STEP), Mahilakosh,Women’s Development Corporation, etc.However, legislations and efforts of the state havenot made deeper in-roads into the rural and urbanareas. For example, sex determination of foetusstill continues in all the rural regions of the countrydespite the enforcement of legislation on Pre- natalDiagnostic Technique (Regulation and Preventionof Misuse) Act, which was passed in 1994. Thewomen of India must o ppose this sexdetermination of foetus, eve-teasing, brideburning, child marriage, exploitation in the offices,lower wages for labour etc. women from all walksof life must unite and must give priority to theireducation, growth and the prosperity of theirfamilies. Police should accept more female officersand constables so that they are able to deal withthe female victims of our society. Femaleinfanticide, female torture, Sati and dowry mustbe banned in the country.
More steps to be taken (Cont . . . ) Women must become literate, as educationis beneficial for them as well as their families. Thefamily web is woven around the women. She has to be up to the mark and educated so that shecould fend for herself and her family during thehour of crisis. The status of women would improveonly if they educate themselves and grab everyopportunity to become stronger and morepowerful than before. The discussion brings a major conclusionto light-the status of women could be improvedby women themselves and nobody else. It is themodern era of satellites, achievements andtechnology-based gadget. Why should women beleft behind ? There should be a better and fullerunderstanding of the problems peculiar to woman,to make a solution of those problems possible.As these problems centre round the basic problemof inequality, steps should be taken to promoteequality of treatment and full integration of womanin the total development effort of the country. The main stress should be on equal workand elimination of discrimination in employment.One of the basic policy objectives should beuniversal education of woman, the lack of whichtends to perpetuate the unequal status quo. Thepopular UNESCO slogan should come in handy:³educate a man and you educate anindividual; educate a woman and you educatea family.´
More steps to be taken (Cont . . . ) Women will have to empower themselves ’from below’ in order to compel the governmentto empower them ‘from above’. Further, there is a need for a change of values and behaviour inthe society, a need for positive socio-cultural andeconomic empowerment and above all the willpower and strong determination of women to joinpolitics. Education can play a vital role in bringingabout the desirable behavioural changes amongthe women and make them well equipped in termsof knowledge, competence and capacity to dealwith different political problems. It may be concluded that women haveshifted traditional assumptions about their rolesand capabilities. There has been a marked change,and it has been for the better. Many of its benefitshowever have yet to touch the majority and all ofus continue to experience various forms of genderdiscrimination. If laws designed to address theconcerns of women are to have a dramatic andpositive impact on women’s lives, they must besensitive to the social, economic and politicaldisempowerment of women throughout the world.The most important measure of their successshould be the extent to which they enable womanto interpret, apply and enforce laws of their ownmaking, incorporating their own voices, valuesand concerns.