The Government of India had ushered in the new millennium by declaring the year 2001 as ‘Women’s Empowerment Year’ to focus on a vision ‘where women are equal partners like men’. The most familiar account of ‘women’s empowerment’ is the capability to apply full control over one’s actions. The last decades have witnessed some major changes in the status and role of women in our society and nation. There has been a shift in policy approaches from the concept of ‘welfare’ in the seventies to ‘development’ in the eighties and now it is to ’empowerment’ in the nineties. This process has been further accelerated with some sections of women becoming increasingly self-conscious of their discrimination in several areas of family and public life. They are also in a position to mobilise themselves on issues that can affect their overall position. “The special attention is given to the needs and problems of women as one of the “weaker sections” of Indian society, and recognition of political equality was undoubtedly a radical departure from the norms prevailing in traditional India.”_1
Live examples to support such changes are:
- Indra Nooyi: CFO & President of PepsiCo
- Naina Lal Kidwai: Country Head, HSBC India
- Kiran Mazumdar Shaw: Owner, Biocon India
- Indu Jain: Chairman, Times Group
- Priya Paul: Chairperson, Apeejay Park Hotels
- Simone Tata: Chairperson, Lakme
- Neelam Dhawan: Managing Director, Microsoft India
- Meera Sanyal: Banking and Finance.
- Ekta Kapoor: Film and Television.
- Permeshwari Godrej: Industry, Fashion and Publication.
- Meenakshi Lekhi: Legal.
- Shyama Chona: Education.
- Shobha Dey: Novelist, Journalist, Columnist.
- Indu Jain: Print Media.
- Sushma Swaraj.
So the list goes on….
The latest disturbing news items regarding violence committed against women reveal that women’s position has worsened. Tulsidas’ verse from Ramayana ‘Dhor, janwar, shudra, pashu, nari ye sub taden ke adhikari’ although it was written in different context, highlights the discrimination and deep-rooted gender bias which still exists in all sectors of society on the basis of gender, caste, religious affiliation and class. Political leaders, intellectuals, and academicians etc., have aggravated the situation. All the males from all sections of society wants the reservation and other so-called positive preferences but when reservation and preferential treatments are extended to women, they all join together in denying these benefits to women.
The Constitution of India grants equality to women in all fields of life. But it is still only on paper. Yet a large number of women are either ill-equipped or not in a position to push themselves out of their traditionally unsatisfactory and unequal socio-economic conditions. They are still poor, uneducated and insufficiently trained. They are most often wrapped up in the struggle to maintain the family physically and emotionally and as a canon are discouraged from taking interest in affairs outside home and family matters. Oppression and atrocities on women are still rampant. Patriarchy continues to be rooted in the social system in all parts of India, denying a majority of women the choice to decide on how they live. The dominant magnitude of community in a patriarchal sense ensures that women rarely have an independent say even in community issues.
Female infanticide continues to be very common. Statistics show that there is still a very high preference for a male child in states like UP, MP, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, J&K., etc. The male to female ratio is very high in these states. Domestic violence is also widespread and is also associated with the dowry. Leaving a meagre number of urban and suburban women, Indian women are still crying for social justice. When it comes to empowering women through reservation and quotas, all the male groups unite in denying this to women. Even groups like SC, ST, OBC, Muslim etc., who have been enjoying quotas since decades, and even on zero merits in certain cases, oppose vociferously when reservation and quotas are planned to give women.
What national policies must now propose is, therefore, comprehensive and inclusive rather than exclusive. That would still require considerable affirmative and specific attention to the special needs of girls and women, without contradicting the fundamental point of equality in development and thus in motivation for development. Nor does it ignore the special challenges posed by culture, religion, and the allocation of duties and activities to one of the other sex. _2
A review of government’s various programmes for women empowerment such as Swashakti, Swayamsidha, Streeshakti, Balika Samridhi Yojana and other two thousand projects reveal that little has been done or achieved through these programmes. Most of the schemes are completed in files only and money is syphoned by corrupt individuals or groups. In the name of women’s empowerment, a large number of N.G.O.s and activist can be seen but all are making fast bucks and doing little. The discrepancy in the ideology and practice of the empowerment policy of women in India constitutes its continued social, economic and social backwardness. Women are almost half of the total population. Women make up around 49% of our country’s total population. Hence there can be no progress unless their needs and interests are fully met. If half of the total population is kept backwards country or society cannot progress. Empowerment would not hold any meaning unless they are made strong, alert and aware of their equal status and right in the society. Policies should be framed to bring them into the mainstream of society. It is important to educate the women. The need of the hour is to improve female literacy as education holds the key to development.
Empowerment would become more relevant if women are educated, better informed and can take rational decisions. It is also necessary to sensitise the other sex towards women. It is important to usher in changes in societal attitudes and perceptions with regard to the role of women in different spheres of life. Adjustments have to be made in traditional gender specific performance of tasks. A woman needs to be physically healthy so that she is able to take challenges of equality. But it is sadly lacking in a majority of women especially in the rural areas. They have unequal access to basic health resources and lack adequate counselling. The result is an increasing risk of unwanted and early pregnancies, HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases. The greatest challenge is to recognise the obstacles that stand in the way of their right to good health. To be useful to the family, community and the society, women must be provided with health care facilities.
In a rapidly changing and culturally differentiated society, a slow process of adjustment in its social value system and rigidity of its institution results in various forms of incongruous behaviour. The changing social patterns without restructuring or redefine social values and norms always cause deviant behaviour. Structural changes in the socio-economic system are needed for a smooth process of adjustment._3
In agriculture sector too situation is very pitiable. Most of the women work in agricultural sector either as workers, in household farms or as wage workers. Yet it is specifically income in agriculture that has tended to become more unstable and insecure in recent years and women cultivators have therefore been negatively affected. The government’s policies for alleviating poverty have failed to make any desirable results, as women do not receive appropriate wages for their labour. There is also a 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. They are exploited at various levels. They should be provided with proper wages and work at par with men so that their status can be elevated in society. “While rural women have become marginally visible in the anti-poverty programmes, they have not been adequately recognised in agricultural development, land reform, or rural industrialisation. Non-recognition of women in agriculture has many implications.”_4
In recent years there have been open moves to increase women’s political participation. The Women’s reservation policy bill is, however, a very sad story as it is repeatedly being scuttled in parliament. In the Panchayati Raj system, however, women have been given representation as a sign of political empowerment. There are many elected women representatives at the village council level. However, their power is restricted, as practically, it is the men who wield all the authority. Their decisions are often over-ruled by the government machinery. It is crucial to train and give real power to these women leaders so that they can catalyse change in their villages regarding women. All this shows that the process of gender equality and women’s empowerment still has a long way to go and may even have become more difficult in the recent years.
The main reason for the contradiction is that targeted schemes tend to have the only limited impact when the basic push of development is not reaching an average woman, making her life more fragile and weak. To make a positive change basic infrastructure should be provided to women in every village and city. To begin with, providing safe drinking water supply and better sanitation not only directly improved the lives and health of women but also reduces their workload in terms of provisioning and ensuring such facilities. An access to affordable cooking fuel reduces the need to trek lengthy distances in search of fuel wood. Improved transport connecting villages with each other and with towns can also directly improve living conditions as well as unpaid labour time spent in transporting household items. It can also lead to access to a wider range of goods and services plus a better access to health facilities. Expenditure on food subsidy and improved provisions for public distribution services directly affect the lives of women and girl children in terms of adequate nutrition. The patterns of resource mobilisation by the government also have significant effects on women that are usually not recognised. When taxes are regressive and fall disproportionately on items of mass consumption, once again these tend to affect women more. This is not only because the consumption of such items may be curtailed but also because the provisioning of such items is frequently considered to be the responsibility of the women of the household. Also, credit policies reduce the flow of credit to small-scale enterprises thus reducing the employment opportunities for women. There is a need to have women-friendly economic policies that can enhance their social and economic position and make them self-reliant.
The concept of womanhood has greatly influenced in shaping the behaviour and the standard of values among the women of all classes and regions. So-much-so that even after the revolutionary changes in the social structure in India, one often comes to a traditional behaviour even among the women of upper classes. -5
There is no doubt about the fact that development of women has always been the central focal point of planning since Independence. Empowerment is a major step in this direction but it has to be seen in a relational context. A clear vision is needed to remove the obstacles to the path of women’s emancipation both from the government and women themselves. Efforts should be directed towards all round development of each and every section of Indian women by giving them their due share. But still, the outlook about women has not been changed. Even women themselves do not relish and support the idea of women empowerment. Recently central government raised a women unit of National Security Guards but no body was ready to keep them as guards. Even women politicians like J.Jaylalitha and Mayawati refused to take their services.
Jaya, Maya say no to women commando: New Delhi: The National Guard on Tuesday for the first time showcased its women commando unit –trained in all forms of combat and ready to take on all contingencies. The government, however, is in a fix on how to use these commandos after former U.P., C.M. Mayawati and Tamilnadu C.M. J.Jayalalitha refused to have women as their ‘shadows’. -6
According to some estimates, women stand for 70 percent of the world’s poor. Our leaders should implement a clear and focused measure for implementing sustainable development in the world. The potential for women’s leadership in the protection, management, and recovery of the natural environment is the key element for a sustainable world.
Economic empowerment and environmental sustainability
Sustainable existing has become the new trend in way of life choices that involves a person’s relationship to the Earth and the natural resources used by that person. Sustainable living has a different definition for each of its adherents, but the basic concept is living in the way that leaves natural resources for future generations. To accomplish this goal, people must not demand to consume more resources than are available and, in some cases, even have a positive effect on natural resources by helping to replenish them. By not overusing resources, they are given the opportunity to naturally refill themselves. As women are first mothers, hence they are the first teacher of a child. So they can develop a very sensitive awareness about protecting the environment in a child’s mind and behaviour.
The policy on sustainable development calls for the movement to take action in building just and sustainable communities, taking into account a gender and human rights approach, and acknowledging that social equity and care for the environment are critical elements in the development process. Sustainable development, including women’s economic justice and the environment, should be a global priority. But our country is far behind in this approach.
‘Women in India least empowered”- Melbourne: India has been ranked at a poor 115 by a global survey which looked into the level of economic empowerment of women in 128 countries.
The list was topped by Australia and followed by three Scandinavian countries- Norway, Sweden and Finland. At the bottom of the list were Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan and Chad. The research done by a global consulting and management firm Booz & Company ranked India at 115 and noted with the second largest population of the world, India generates 14 percent of the global talent pool, among which are the 5.5 million women entering India’s workforce each year; all driven to succeed. -7
The eight Millennium Development Goals touch every aspect of this work. In addition to holding our governments responsible, women must build the political will to be part of the solutions. We must ensure for a society where the right of entry to education, health and clean water, and the care for the environment is ensured. Women’s leadership can also help identify any hindrances to achieving these goals, and campaign for the removal of these obstacles. For example, if school fees hinder girls from staying in schools, then we must insist that countries work towards providing free education. Around the world must begin to tell our stories within the framework of the goals so that our efforts will combine with others to make a difference.
Girls given the back seat: ….The study shows that at age nine, 41.2 percent boys were attending private schools as compared to 28.8 percent girls. Parents spend up to Rs.1,932 per annum on boys but the spending comes down to Rs.1,228 in case of 8 years old. But the gap increases with age. A family spends about Rs.3,384 on a boy when he is 15 year of age but only Rs. 1,717 on 1 girl in the same age group.
The lack of proper toilet facilities remains a major reason for girls being absent from schools and even dropping out. The Supreme Court earlier this month all States and Union Territories to ensure basic toilet facilities, particularly for girls, are provided in all schools within six months. The survey found that girls may be absent each month during menstruation period because of lack of adequate sanitation gender segregated toilets at schools.-8
Violence against Women: Ending stigma and discrimination
As per the experience in my country India, violence against women prevails everywhere. But the women of the poor countries are the worst sufferer. The elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls should always be a priority. It is our responsibility to reinforce efforts on advocacy and services that would ensure women and girls can live lives free of violence. At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Violence against women is a global problem and women and girls are susceptible to abuse and violence at every stage of their life.
A society that understands the impact and effects of violence against women is better versed in addressing the issues at government and policy level. Education on violence against women must be integrated with programs that reach different sectors of society including men and boys. Programs such as the World Week Without Violence should be celebrated around the world help educate communities on the types of violence women in their country face.
Startling statistics: The country’s alarmingly skewed child sex ratio continues its distributing trend with a decline in the birth of nearly three million girls as opposed to 2.06 million boys during 2001-11, according to the ‘Children in India – 2012. a statistical appraisal report recently released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme. -9
Governments, international organisations and civil society must ensure that laws and policies that uphold women’s human rights are implemented in order to protect women from violence. Socio- economic factors and legal challenges that put many HIV-positive women at risk of violence must be addressed. The World is particular concerned about recent laws some countries are adopting that criminalise HIV. These laws have a particular impact on women and leave them vulnerable to violence. If poverty makes women more vulnerable to HIV and AIDS then we must insist on more programs which promote the economic empowerment of women and also the macro programs which remove countries from cycles of poverty.
Invest in women and girls:
Organisations running programs such as shelters for women in the violent relationship, help-lines and counselling facilities must be adequately financed to ensure their services remain reliable and accessible. Adequate and accessible funding must be provided for services that provide holistic care for survivors of violence. Women’s right to information must be upheld. Lack of information prevents many women from accessing services that would support them to regain dignity in their lives.
But, it will be said, the rule of men over women differs from all these others in not being a rule of force: but it is accepted voluntarily; women make no complaint, and are consenting parties to it. Noted 19th-century philosopher James Stuart Mill very rightly said:
All causes, social and natural combine to make it unlikely that women should be collectively rebellious to the power of men. They are so far in a position different from all other subject classes, that their masters require something more from them than actual service,. Men do not want solely the obedience of women, they want their sentiments. All men, except the most brutish, desire to have, in the women most nearly connected with them, not a forced slave but a willing on, not a slave merely but a favourite. They have therefore put everything in practice to enslave their mind. The masters of all other slaves rely, for maintaining obedience, on fear; either fear of themselves or religious fear. The masters of women wanted more than simple obedience, and they turned the whole force of education to effect their purpose. All women are brought up from the very earliest years in the belief that their ideal of character is the very opposite to that of men; not self-will, and government by self-control, but submission, and yielding to the controls of others. ….And by their affection are meant the only ones they are allowed to have- those to men which whom they are connected or to the children an additional indefeasible tie between them and a man. -10
I don’t like the word ‘feminist’. I don’t think a woman trying to be men is (sick) feminism. I also don’t believe in being outspoken for the sake of it, or just to prove a point. Feminism is just an overused term and people make too much noise about it for no reason. Women have given these bodies to produce children, and the spirit and tenderness to take care of people around us. It’s fine to be an outspoken and working woman. I don’t want to be a man. One day I look forward to making dinner for my husband and children. I don’t want to be a career feminist. -11
Women should have the spirit of the famous tennis star Serena Williams,
“She turns her disappointments into triumph. Her grief into joy. Her rejection into approval. If no one believes in her it does not matter. She believes in herself. Nothing stops her. No one can touch her. She is a woman.”
So, said Serena Williams via loudspeaker on Monday as part of a female-power soundtrack for runaway show of her. Serena Williams Signature Statement collection for HSN during New York Fashion Week. Williams interspersed with music from women only, including her buddy Beyonce’s “Lemonade.”
“I wrote it right after Wimbledon and during the Olympics, and I just was in this moment of I want to empower women.”
She explained in a backstage interview.
“It was right around the time I was asked, ‘How do you feel about being the greatest female athlete?’ And I was like, they never ask men that, I wanted to give women strength. I played it for Beyonce and she loved it.”
The idea, said the tennis great, was to carry that strength and unity into the clothes in her third show. Her older sister, Venus was on hand front row to cheer Serena on. So how does Venus feel about some friendly sisterly competition?
“We give each other confidence, so if your sister likes it you know it’s going to be OK.” Venus said, “Your sister always tells you the truth. We definitely help each other out and give suggestions. And that’s the way sister should be.” -12
Indonesian campaigner Firliana Purwanti is on a unique mission to tell women in her largely conservative nation that insisting on equality in the bedroom can help them achieve equal footing in boardrooms and in politics.
Purwanti’s approach is unconventional in the country with the world’s largest Muslim population where open discussion of sex is largely frowned upon.
Dubbed the “Orgasm Lady”, Purwanti said if women are empowered enough to voice their demands in the bedroom, they are more likely to take the fight for equality outside the home.
By speaking up about sex, she hopes to spark discussion on issues such as virginity tests on women who want to join Indonesia‘s military or police force and the ritual of female genital mutilation (FGM).
“Your body, your sexual pleasure is your autonomy. The state has nothing to do with it,” said Purwanti, 39, who wrote “The O Project”, a 2010 best-selling book documenting the sexual experiences of 16 Indonesian women.………………..
As well as virginity tests and FGM remaining prevalent, Indonesia’s top court is currently hearing a petition from conservative Islamic activists lobbying to outlaw sex outside marriage.
Purwanti – whose day job as a development worker includes tackling natural disasters – said her campaign is to push back against Indonesia’s obsession with virginity.
Her approach has also attracted the attention of men.
“All this while we have been trying to engage men in women’s movement, it’s very difficult. But when it comes to sex, they are engaged immediately,” laughed Purwanti, who is working on a second book about sex and politics.
Purwanti, who is also active in the Democratic Party – one of Indonesia’s largest political parties led by ex-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – said her party colleagues have called her campaign “bold and wonderful”. -13
Aristophanes presented very revolutionary ideas about women’s liberation and empowerment in his famous drama “Lysistrata.” He advised women to use their sexual powers to tame and enslave men.
LYSISTRATA (pointing off): A man? There is a man coming – and by the look of him, he’s been driven half mad by the mystic power of Aphrodite! O Lady of Cyprus, Paphos and Cythera, stay with us on the long hard road! p-174.
CINESIAS: By Zeus, I don’t need one! All I need is a fuck!! p-186. -14
Global strategy to fight SRHR, HIV and VAW
- Develop leadership and build capacity, especially with young women as champions and leaders of SRHR, HIV and an end to VAW
- Create a safe and inclusive space for women and girls: Safe spaces can refer to actual physical space and/or a gathering of women and girls where they feel safe to learn and disclose their sexual and reproductive health challenges.
- Provide comprehensive prevention including -Comprehensive condom programming (CCP), Integrated information on SRHR, HIV and VAW that leads to empowerment and behaviour change at community level.Address stigma and discrimination of women and girls living with HIV.
- Provide reservation and preferential treatment to females in education and employment fields.
- Establish fast-track courts to punish the perpetrators of crime and violence against women.
- Special funds should be allocated for the schemes related with the women’s development and empowerment.
- Special concession should be given if any property is purchased in the name of women or any industry is started by women.
- Social evils like veil system, burqa, dowry, polygamy system etc., which oppress women, should be eradicated with tough laws.
- More and more women’s hostel must be opened for working and studying women for their safety.
- Physical and martial training should be given to women to face the violence bravely and boldly. Women should be armed with chilly sprays.
- Parents who have only girl child should be encouraged and honoured with special benefits.
- There should be the free and compulsory education for girls. Parents who deny education to girls should be punished.
- Emphasis should be on small families because in big families women are more stressed and oppressed.
- Two children norm must be made compulsory to ease pressure on women.
1-S.K.Pamdit, WOMEN IN SOCIETY, RAJAT PUBLICATIONS, Delhi, 1998, p.39-40.
2-Maya Majumdar, Social Status of WOMEN IN India, Dominant Publishers and Distributors: NEW DELHI-110002. p.292.
5- A.R.GUPTA, WOMEN IN HINDU SOCIETY, p.7.
6-The Times of India, New Delhi: Wednesday, October, 17, 2012, p.8.
7-Idem.,p.9. and Danik Jagran, New Delhi, 17 October 2012, p.15.
8-THE HINDU, TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2012, p. 6
10- James Stuart Mill in THE SUBJECTION OF WOMEN.
11-Lisa Haydon, The Huffington Post (E-Newspaper), Friday, 16, June 2016.
12-Quoted from The Times of India, New Delhi, Wednesday, September 14, 2016. P-28.
13-Indonesia’s ‘Orgasm Lady’ uses sexual empowerment to champion women’s rights,’ Quoted in Reuters | Sep 13, 2016, 11.17 AM IST.
14- (Aristophanes, “Lysistrata”, (trans.) Alan H. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics, Penguin Books, London, England, 2002.