Let’s have a look at some of the headlines published in the newspapers of late: “Women Empowerment is necessary for the economic development of the country-PM”, “Women Empowerment Bill introduced in the Parliament”, “Court approves reservation for women in Panchayats”, “Give big boost to women empowerment: Information and Broadcasting Minister”, etc. Why is it that we have been talking too much about women empowerment recently?
To answer this question, we must, first, understand what exactly is meant by women empowerment, why there is any need to empower women and what possibly can be done to achieve this feat. Women Empowerment is the ability of women to exercise full control over their actions. This means control over material assets, intellectual resources and even over their ideologies. It involves, at the psychological level, women's ability to assert themselves which has, so far, been constricted by the 'gender roles' assigned to them especially in a culture like India which resists changes.
Gender inequality has been part and parcel of an accepted male-dominated Indian society throughout history. It was embedded within the social hierarchy and this affected how women and men were perceived in leadership roles. Women were expected to be bound to the house, while men went out and worked. This division of labour was one of the major reasons why certain evils like 'Sati Pratha', ‘PardahSystem', 'Child Marriage', 'Dowry System', etc. took birth in our society. The traditional Indian mentality assumes that the place of women is mainly concentrated to the household activities like kitchen work and upbringing of the children. They have been considered as the sex-object and inferior to men in every sphere of knowledge.
Even after 63 years of our independence, women are still one of the mostpowerless and marginalized sections of Indian society. The 2001 Census shows that the sex ratio for India is 933, which is among the lowest in the world. Percentage of female literacy is 54 per cent against male literacy of 75 per cent. Women's representation in Parliament and in the State Assemblies has never gone beyond 8 and 10 per cent respectively. Most of the working women remain outside the organized sector. Mere 2.5 per centwomen are administrators and managers. Violence and atrocities against women are on the rise. Gender discrimination is the major problem, which the Indian women face in the present day society.
One concurrent example of gender discrimination is glass-ceiling effect. The term “glass ceiling” is used to describe an invisible barrier where women are deprived of opportunities at all levels of employment and are discriminated only because they are women. No doubt women have the potential to achieve an equal footing with men. But, it is the social practices and male attitudes that are making an effective and invisible barrier preventing women from rising above a certain point. One consequence of sex stereotypes is that women's achievements tend to be devalued or attributed to luck or effort rather than ability or skill, and therefore this stereotype has the potential to reduce the organizational awards that they deserve to receive. Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses but women for their strengths.
In fact, the emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, "It's a girl." Even this stage is a favour to them as it indicates that they have survived the probable stage of foeticide. When a boy is born, friends and relatives exclaim congratulations. A son means insurance. He will inherit his father's property and get a job to help support the family. When a girl is born, the reaction is very different. Some women weep when they find out their baby is a girl because, to them, a daughter is just another expense.
This attitude has resulted in the widespread neglect of baby girls. In many communities, it's a regular practice to breastfeed girls for a shorter time than boys so that women can try to get pregnant again with a boy as soon as possible. As a result, girls miss out on life-giving nutrition during a crucial window of their development, which stunts their growth and weakens their resistance to diseases. The neglect continues as they grow up. Young girls receive less food, healthcare and fewer vaccinations than their male siblings. Tradition calls for women to eat last, their meal often reduced to the leftovers from the male members. A girl can't help but feel inferior when everything around her tells her that she is worth less than a boy. Her identity is forged as her family and society limit her opportunities and declare her to be second-rate.
Even after childhood, extreme poverty and deep biases against women create a remorseless cycle of discrimination that keeps girls from living up to their full potential. It also leaves them vulnerable to severe physical and emotional abuse. But the threat is more severe for girls and women who live in societies where women's rights mean practically nothing. Mothers who lack their own rights can offer little protection to their daughters from male relatives and other authority figures. The frequency of rape and violent attacks against women is alarming.
The government's policies for alleviating poverty have failed to produce any desirable results, as women do not receive appropriate wages for their labour. There is also significant amount of unpaid or non-marketed labour within the household. The increase in gender disparity in wages in the urban areas is also quite marked as it results from the employment of women in different and lower paying activities.
Now that we know the condition of women, the question arises as to how to empower them. The emancipation of women is not a simple matter. Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their oppressors. The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it. Empowering Women thus aims to inspire women with the courage to break free from the chains of limiting belief patterns and societal or religious conditioning that have traditionally kept women suppressed and unable to see their true beauty and power.It requires the attitudinal change of the husband, other family members and society as a whole to the women.
Empowerment of women could only be achieved if their economic and social status is improved. This could be possible only by adopting definite social and economic policies with a view of total development of women and to make them realize that they have the potential to be strong human beings.
The first and foremost priority should be given to the education of women, which is the grassroot problem. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate an entire family.” Our predominant patriarchal system doesn’t provide enough chances for women to have higher education even if they wish. Girls should be motivated to take up higher education. Universal education for all below 14 years should be strictly implemented. Gender sensitive curricula should be framed at all stages of primary education to address sex-stereotyping menace. It is also necessary to sensitize the other sex towards women. It is important to usher changes in the societal attitudes and perceptions with regard to the role of women in different spheres of life. The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.
Women should be allowed to work and should be provided enough safety and support to work. Legislations such as Equal Remuneration Act, Factories Act, etc, Constitutional safeguards such as maternity relief, and other provisions should be strictly followed. Macroeconomic policies would help in this drive. Through economic empowerment women’s emancipation could be realized. They should be provided with proper wages and work at par with men so that their status can be elevated in society.
Political empowerment of women is necessary for their emancipation. In recent years many steps have been taken so as to increase the participation of women in the political system. The Women's reservation policy bill is however a very sad story as it is repeatedly being scuttled in parliament. Further, there is the Panchayati Raj System, where women have been given 50% representation as a sign of political empowerment.
Apart from these, strict implementation of programs and acts should be there to curb the mal-practices prevalent in the society. Strict measures should be taken for the implementation of Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act 1994, which prohibits any prenatal diagnostic techniques and sex selective abortions. Dowry prohibition acts and other legislations pertaining to woman emancipation must be implemented strictly.
The struggle for gender justice will be slow, strenuous and protracted, as the change cannot be brought about easily. It has to be fought at emotional, cognitive and action levels. Swami Vivekananda had said “That nation which doesn’t respect women will never become great now and nor will ever in future” and in pursuit of making India a great nation, let us work towards giving women their much deserved status.