Child marriage, domestic violence, female foeticide are issues widespread across India today – all of which challenge the notion of women empowerment. Sadly, women in the 21st century continue to face discrimination in both subtle and explicit ways owing to the manner in which society views women. Through helpless and frustrated instances of gender biased treatment sometimes in the office, outdoors or even at home, here is a reminder of the urgency to educate the masses on women empowerment and gender equality.
Power to Women
Women empowerment in India is a challenging task as we need to acknowledge, the fact that gender based discrimination is a deep rooted social malice practiced in India in many forms for thousands of years. The malice is not going to go away in few years or for that matter, by attempting to work at it through half-hearted attempts. Formulating laws, legislations and policies are not enough as it is seen that most of the times these laws and policies just remain on paper. The ground reality on the other hand just remains the same and in many instances worsens further. Addressing the malice of gender discrimination and women empowerment in India is a long drawn battle against powerful structural forces of the society which are against women’s growth and development.
Today, there are lots of things that are happening in the name of women empowerment in India and lots of resources are spent in this direction. Keeping this in mind it is crucial to have a reality check on what is happening on paper and what is the actual ground situation. In India, women are discriminated and marginalized at every level of the society whether it is social participation, economic opportunity and economic participation, political participation, access to education or access to nutrition and reproductive health care. Gender disparity is high; crimes against women are increasing and violence against women is high at all times and in most cases they go unreported. One of the major aspects of women empowerment in India is to change the attitude of society towards women. The problem in India is that the society never worked on the premise of gender equality for a very long time. Atrocities and discrimination against women is a way of life in Indian society. There is an attitude which still prevails in India where women are considered to be worthwhile of only household activities. The pardah system, child marriage, dowry system are testimonies of this truth. Women have never been a part of the mainstream society in India and they are still considered as a great liability. If we just look at the sex ratio, it will show the plight of women in India. Female literacy is just 54.16 % as per 2001 Census. In Indian parliament and assemblies, women have never represented more than 10%. Most of the women workers in India are outside the organized sector. Administrators, managers, professionals, combined together and technical workers on the other hand are the lowest at 2.3% and 20 % respectively. Now these figures give the real truth of the actual mentality of the society which has restricted, marginalized and discriminated women quite openly. As mentioned before, the government had declared 2001 as the women’s empowerment year but nothing much has happened even after that. Women even today are not able to exercise full control over their circumstances or actions. From a welfare society at the inception, India moved on to embrace the developmental model and now the latest trend is the empowerment model. But with all these initiatives, however genuine they are or might have been, nothing substantial has happened. Majority of women in India are poor, uneducated and insufficiently trained. They often end up in the daily struggle of managing an ill equipped family and are not in a position to propel themselves out of the oppressive and regressive socio-economic conditions. We need to accept the truth that there is a great discrepancy in the ideology and the actual practice of empowerment policy in India.
It has to be understood that unless we change the basic social attitude which cultivates gender inequality and gender bias, we would not be able to achieve much in terms of women empowerment in India. There are many laws and amendments that have been carried out to end the discrimination against women and empower women in all aspects of life. Gender equality is enshrined in Indian constitution and this empowers the state to end the gender based discrimination against women. There is reservation of seats in Panchayats and municipalities and another law is being envisioned for reservation in parliament. But the sad part is that all these laws and amendments have become toothless as the fundamental problem lies in the attitude of the society which is highly biased against women. The only solution is for women to come together as a unifying force and initiate self empowering actions at the ground level. Once we work towards self empowerment through small number of infinite actions, we become aware of the ground realities and then we can think about taking further recourse towards changing the mindset of the society which fosters gender inequality and bias.
To re-emphasize, women’s empowerment cannot take place unless women come together and decide to empower themselves. Once this happens, then we can think about stimulating the system towards the direction of better health facilities, nutrition and educational facilities for women on a very large scale. Self empowerment can begin by addressing day to day issues faced by individual women and tackling them with a mindset of improving the overall living conditions of women at every level and strata of the society. A movement has to be built which awakens the individual self for creative and generative action. In this regard, progressive and resourceful women in the society need to come forward to help the less privileged in as many ways as possible. This shall help women to sow the seed for real women empowerment in India.