“There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women”- women empowerment embodies more than just catchy slogans. It is a prerequisite for social and economic success of nations. It’s been proven, time and again, that by denying rights of half the population of the world, development remains hindered. Fight for equal rights and achieving gender equality has come a long way, starting from women seeking suffrage rights in early 20th century. Almost every country, no matter how progressive, has a history of ill-treating women. In other words, women from all over the world have been rebellious to reach the status they have today. While the western countries are still making progress, third world countries like India still lack behind in Women Empowerment. The essay gives a brief history of women empowerment, the progress that has been made so far and certain shortfalls.
What does ‘empowerment’ mean and why do we need it?
Empowerment can be defined in many ways, however, when talking about women's empowerment, empowerment means accepting and allowing women who are on the outside of the decision-making process into it. Empowerment is the process that creates power in individuals over their own lives, society, and in their communities. People are empowered when they are able to access the opportunities available to them without limitations and restrictions such as in education, profession and lifestyle. Feeling entitled to make your own decisions creates a sense of empowerment. Empowerment includes the action of raising the status of women through education, raising awareness, literacy, and training and also give training related to defence. Women’s empowerment is all about equipping and allowing women to make life-determining decisions through the different problems in society.
In order to ensure a society that empowers women, we need to:
·Redefine gender roles that allows them to acquire the ability to choose between known alternatives whom have otherwise been restricted from such an ability.
·For one to be empowered, they must come from a position of disempowerment.
·Empowerment stems from self-respect.
·Entail women having the capability to make important decisions in their lives while also being able to act on them.
·Empowerment is a process, not a product.
·Women's economic empowerment
refers to the ability for women to enjoy their right to control and benefit from the resources, assets
and their own time, as well as the ability to manage risk
and improve their economic status and well-being.
·Women’s empowerment and achieving gender equality is essential for our society to ensure the sustainable development
of the country. Many world leaders and scholars have argued that sustainable development is impossible without gender equality and women's empowerment.
Brief history of women’s movements and progress made so far
The feminist movement or the women’s movement refers to a series of political campaigns
for reforms on issues such as reproductive rights
, domestic violence
, maternity leave
, equal pay
, women's suffrage
, sexual harassment
, and sexual violence
, all of which fall under the label of feminism
and the feminist movement. The movement has not remained static ever since it begun and has rather been transient, dynamic and has gone through several ‘waves’ of highs and lows. Feminism in the United States, Canada and a number of countries in Western Europe has been divided into three waves by feminist scholars: first
and third-wave feminism
. Recent research suggests there may be a fourth wave
characterised, in part, by new media
The history of feminism comprises the narratives of the movements
which have aimed at equal rights for women
. While feminists
around the world have differed in causes, goals, and intentions depending on time, culture
, and country, most Western
feminist historians assert that all movements
that work to obtain women's rights
should be considered feminist movements, even when they do not apply the term to themselves. While the roots of feminism are buried in ancient Greece, most recognise the movement by the three waves of feminism:
·The first wave (1830’s – early 1900’s) - women in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, realised that they must first gain political power (including the right to vote) to bring about change was how to fuel the fire. Their political agenda expanded to issues concerning sexual, reproductive and economic matters.
·The second wave (1960’s-1980s) - Coming off the heels of World War II, the second wave of feminism focused on the workplace, sexuality, family and reproductive rights.
·The third wave (1990’s – early 2000) - The main issues were prefaced by the work done by the previous waves of women. The fight continued to vanquish the disparities in male and female pay and the reproductive rights of women.
The Indian experience
Like their feminist counterparts all over the world, feminists in India seek gender equality: the right to work for equal wages, the right to equal access to health and education, and equal political rights. Indian feminists also have fought against culture-specific issues within India's patriarchal
society, such as inheritance laws
. The history of feminism in India can be divided into three phases:
·the first phase, beginning in the mid-19th century, initiated when reformists began to speak in favour of women rights by making reforms in education, customs involving women
·the second phase, from 1915 to Indian independence
, when Gandhi incorporated women's movements into the Quit India movement
and independent women's organisations began to emerge
·the third phase, post-independence, which has focused on fair treatment of women at home after marriage, in the work force, and right to political parity.
Indian feminists face certain obstacles in Indian society that are not present or as prevalent in Western society. While Indian feminists have the same ultimate goal as their Western counterparts, their version of feminism can differ in many ways in order to tackle the kind of issues and circumstances they face in the modern-day patriarchal society of India. Indian feminists attempt to challenge the patriarchal structure of their society in a variety of ways. Indian women negotiate survival through an array of oppressive patriarchal family structures - age, ordinal status, relationship to men through family of origin, marriage and procreation, and patriarchal attributes. Examples of patriarchal attributes include dowry
, community, village, market, and the state
. The heterogeneity of the Indian experience reveals that there are multiple patriarchies, contributing to the existence of multiple feminism. Hence, feminism in India is not a singular theoretical orientation and has instead changed over time
in relation to historical and cultural realities, levels of consciousness, perceptions and actions of individual women and women as a group.
The emerging debates that surround the concept of ‘empowerment’ have had considerable effects on the well-established roots of the institutions that provide support to the existing power structures such as family, state etc. Women have started to become aware of the limitations and confines of the territories within which they have been placed all these years. They have demanded control over their own bodies, equal spaces in the social institutions and an acknowledgment for their identity. Last few years have witnessed a sharp increase in the strategies of women’s development by the state in order to eliminate the gender gaps in the work opportunities, political participation, health facilities and distribution of resources.
India as a nation has taken significant steps to fill the gender gaps existing in the societies here:
·The Constitution of India provides equality of employment opportunity, voting rights and equal pay for equal work. It lays great emphasis on the dignity of women and constitutes several pro-visions like maternity reliefs to maintain a gender-sensitive environment at the workplace.
·Government schemes like Beti bachao-Beti padhao, janani suraksha, intend to ensure better healthcare and education facilities.
·Policies like New National Policy for Women endeavour to follow the socially inclusive rights-based approach for the women empowerment.
·Apart from this, the introduction of Gender Budget Statement promises a just distribution of resources in the country across gender divisions as well.
The past decade has also experienced an expansion of the definitions of terms like ‘rape’ and ‘violence’ in the legal context. Law has enlarged its frame in order to bring exploitation of women in private and public sphere through the formulations of laws like Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act, 2013. Institutions like the National Commission for Women have been formed to identify and register the cases of oppression faced by women. Ministry of Women and Child Development is specifically dedicated to addressing the issues, policies and their implementations related to the women and children in the country.
Transformations seem to be insignificant when compared to the number of issues that continue to degenerate the conditions of women in the society. Also, new challenges have emerged that impede the holistic development of women. Crime against women has been on the rampant rise in the country. Cyber-crimes such as sexual harassment and molestation of women through the internet and mobile devices have gone up along with the technological development in the country.
As the nation basks in the various scientific and economic achievements, half of its population writhes under the fear of rape, trafficking, domestic violence, honour killing, acid attacks, and sexual harassments. Child marriage, dowry demands, and female infanticide remain a harsh reality even after the strict attempts of their prohibition through the law. These practices are the major reasons behind the skewed sex ratio in the society. The dropout rates of female students also remains high. Inadequate safety measures, coupled with limited access to educational and hygiene resources force female students, especially those in the rural areas to dropout. Gender sensitised pedagogy is needed for the subversion of these roles. Instilling sensitivity towards the dignity of women, emphasising the development of ethical stand towards the equality in the boys can provide the society with responsible and sensitive individuals.
A large path toward empowerment has been covered and yet there’s a longer way to go. Identification of the problem areas and weaknesses is the first step towards their eradication. In India, women empowerment is needed more than ever. India is amongst the countries which are not safe for women. Only with constructive planning and comprehensive changes at various levels in society the new emerging ‘women power’ shall be soon able to realise its complete potential in India.