Expert’s views on ‘Women Empowerment’

COO-Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development

 

“That nation which does not respect women has never become great, nor will it ever be in the future”. —Swami Vivekananda

India with its diversity and rich heritage has an ugly side with its subtle and inbuilt patriarchal society subjugating women. If women have been worshipped as Goddess, there has been sati and teen talak too.

Post independence India continues to witness the highly patriarchal past. In India, women are more likely to be poor and illiterate with little or no rights to property ownership. They often face violence and suffer from lack of education, employment, medical care as well as a lack of control over their own destinies. Women are discriminated and marginalised at every level of society whether it is social, economic, governance, political participation, economic opportunities, access to education, nutrition or reproductive health care. Women are still considered by many as commodities and sex objects. Gender disparity is high, crimes against women are at an all time high. Dowry-related problems are also evident among the well-educated urban populace. Workplace harassment is yet another phenomenon that is increasingly common as more women join the workforce.

Incidences of early age marriage go unreported. Girls’ enrolment in school remains low. Female foeticide and infanticide is one of the biggest social crises with 10 million baby girls having been killed in the last 20 years alone.

It is one of the biggest crimes against humanity and pushes back all efforts of multiple agencies and stakeholders working toward women empowerment.

Many women in India are poor and uneducated. The existing patriarchal system encourages a male child and considers a female child a liability. The journey from womb to tomb for women is full of struggle. We need to accept the truth that there is great disparity in the ideology and the actual practice of empowering women. The time has come for an actionable path at the ground level for real and measurable change.

This is not to say that the status of women is not changing in some areas. It was in the year 1975 that UNESCO dedicated one day of the year to International Women’s Day bringing greater awareness of the problems women face. The Government of India has taken several steps to equate the status of women with men. The Indian Government declared 2001 as the “Year of Women’s Empowerment”. In 2001, the National Policy for Empowerment of Women was adopted which includes—social empowerment, economic empowerment and gender justice. Constitutional provisions for empowering women in India include a number of articles/provisions that ensure women’s empowerment in several spheres.

In spite of the various measures taken by the government post independence, women still have a long way to go before being empowered in intent and spirit. The government’s efforts alone will not be sufficient to achieve this goal. The society must take the initiative to create a climate where gender discrimination ceases to exist. As per the Global Gender Gap Report 2011, released by the World Economic Forum, India ranks pathetically at 113 out of 135 countries.

As substantiated by the World Bank Report 2012, collective action is a potent force to bring change in and around women’s agency. Empirically, collective action through community- based organisations helps organise livelihoods and effect institutional change. There are about 7.3 million Self Help Groups in India, 0.5 million Village Health and Sanitation Committees, about 1.4 million School Management Committees and several other functional community-based organisations like Mahila Mandals, mothers’ groups etc.

An integrated multi-pronged approach that keeps women at centre-stage needs to be practiced more than just merely advocated. Community-level collective action is critical if women are to be empowered en masse and should include:

  • Initiating change in the mindsets of not only women but also men. Further, child rearing practices should consciously treat both boys and girls equally. Boys should learn to respect girls from the beginning. Girls should be given the right to choose without coercion or violence and have the freedom to participate fully and equally in society.
  • Ensuring the same opportunities, rights and obligations for women in all spheres of life.
  • Unlike the medieval times, roles played by women and men are not biologically determined, but are more interchangeable and are socially determined. Therefore, for a stronger social fabric, it is important that women’s potential contribution is harnessed.
  • Multiple roles and responsibilities women undertake need to be recognised. Pro-active men’s partnership in this endeavour should be sought with the active participation of men.
  • Education of girls should be non- negotiable for anyone working toward women empowerment.
  • Granting women an equal say in determining family size, education, employment.
  • Women’s empowerment deals with the entire gambit of day-to-day life which includes the right to education, health, an equal status in the work environment. It should also include political empowerment and equality in basic human and legal rights, control of resources, land etc.

Nand Ghars facilitated by the Government of India with the support of Vedanta can act as a key change- maker at the grassroots level by bringing women to the centre of the stage in development.