Women’s empowerment: Challenges and Prospects
The National Commission for Women has recently completed 20 years of successfully empowering women, which includes the launching of “Mahila Adhikar Abhiyan” in Rajasthan in 2011. Now, we need to reflect on the constitional mandates and the real achievements made for uplifting the women so far.
The Constitution of India guarantees to all Indian women the Right to Equality (Article 14), No discrimination by the State (Article 15(1)), Equality of Opportunity (Article 16), Equal pay for equal work (Article 39(d)). In addition, it allows special provisions to be made by the State in favour of women and children (Article 15(3)), renounces practices derogatory to the dignity of women (Article 51(A) (e)), and also allows for provisions to be made by the State for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief (Article 42). From the Fifth Five Year Plan (1974-78) onwards there has been a marked shift in the approach to women’s issues from welfare to development. In recent years, the empowerment of women has been recognized as the central issue in determining the status of women. The National Commission for Women was set up by an Act of Parliament in 1990 to safeguard the rights and legal entitlements of women. The primary mandate of the commission is to review the constitutional and legal safeguard provided for women, recommend remedial legislative measures, facilitate redressal of grievances and advise the government on policy matters affecting women. The 73rd and 74th Amendments (1993) to the Constitution of India have provided for reservation of the seats in the local bodies of Panchayats and Municipalities for women, laying a strong foundation for their participation in decision making at the local levels.
But let’s now discuss what exactly ‘empowerment’ means? It consists of all those buzz words around like authorization, agreement, permission, sanction etc. And what is ‘women empowerment’? It precisely means giving them the above powers so that they can enjoy their freedom at their best, without any discrimination.
From the very beginning women were dominated and suppressed in the Indian society. But if we look into the Ancient India, women enjoyed equal status with men but during the medieval ages the condition of women started to deteriorate. When the purdha system, sati system, child marriage, dowry became prevalent and other evils like the jauhar in Rajasthan, the devdasis in temples who were sexually exploited, polygamy etc made women the most vulnerable section of the society. And since then, women are struggling to fight these evils which have degraded their many generations.
There are several programmes by the Indian government and state governments like the Prohibition of Sexual Harassment of Women in Workplace Bill 2010, Domestic Worker Welfare And Social Security Act 2010, Scheme for Relief and Rehabilitation for Victims of Acid Attacks, Schemes of relief and rehabilitation of Victims of Rape, ‘Stree Shakti’ initiative and many more. But is “she” able to enjoy all these rights?
Even today there are many such practices in our Indian society where women are harassed limitlessly. Female infanticide cases from different parts of the country are in headlines almost every day in some or the other corner of India. We hear cases of newly born baby girls being thrown or left in miserable conditions very frequently. Even in literate families, enough importance is given to a boy in the family. As per the latest Census in the year 2011, the female sex ratio in India is 940 per 1000 males. So, does this ring the bells? Why is the sex ratio declining?
In many parts of the country, even in major cities, women are treated brutally when they give birth to a baby girl; she is even forced to desert from her home. Dowry is another misfortune for our Indian society as it is still practiced all over the country. When a girl’s parents are unable to meet the greed of money their in-laws, their daughters are treated tyrannically. The girl is tortured physically and mentally, many a times they are even burnt alive. Many women are still not allowed to work outside home, so there is no option left for the girl except to suffer. Women are still dominated by their husbands and in-laws. Even dismal the situation is that in many parts of the country girls are not allowed to attend the school even. Sometimes we still come across the cases of child marriages.
The already miserable condition of women has become even more gruesome. If at all they are working they are not fairly treated and discriminated in one or the other form. Even sometimes they are sexually assaulted at the workplaces. As per the 2001 census, India had a female population of 496million. India accounts for 15% of the world’s women characterized by vast regional differences and a variety of cultures. But, social discrimination and economic deprivation on the basis of gender remains common to all, irrespective of religion, cast, community, and State. According to the National Crimes Records Bureau of the Government of India, there were over 32,000 murders, 19,000 rapes, 7,500 dowry deaths and 36,500 molestation cases in the country in the year 2006. ‘Rape’ is the rapid growing crime in the country today and as many as 18 women are assaulted in some form or the other every hour in India. The psychological pressure of all this can easily lead a woman to quit her job.
The “Shramshakti Report” on self-employed women and women in the informal sector which was published in 1988 was a crucial report. As, the report shows that women are extremely vulnerable to working conditions across diverse occupations, suffering high levels of discrimination, as well as a variety of health hazards. To be young and in love has proved fatal for many young girls and boys in parts of north India as an intolerant and bigoted society refuses to accept any violation of its rigid code of decorum, especially when it comes to women. Many such killings, which are carried out in the name of honour killings, happen regularly in parts of Punjab and Haryana. Trafficking has also become a very common instance across the country, in its widest sense it includes the exploitation of girls by forcing them into prostitution, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery and the trade in human organs.
The Government of India has taken all efforts to abolish the difference between men and women. According to the Constitution of India, men and women are equal before law. The government is laying special emphasis on the education of girls. The Hindu Widow Remarriage Act, 1856, the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act 1937 and the Hindu Women’s Right to Separate Residence and Maintenance Act 1946 were some of the measures that sought to improve social and economic status of women to a very limited extent. Besides the provisions in the Constitution, the following legislations were passed since 1950:
– The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
– The Hindu Succession Act, 1956
– The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act
– The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
– Equal Remuneration Act, 1976
– The Maternity Benefits Act.
These policies and acts also have some success laurels to their name. As, today women have secured a respectable position in all sectors of work. The employment opportunities for women are increasing day by day and they are preferred more than men. Today women are in no way inferior to men. India has a remarkable history with women from being the Prime Minister to the Governor and then to the President. There are many able doctors, lawyers, and top bureaucrats. Even in business they are occupying the highest positions. Women are in police force, air force and even scaling the Mount Everest is not beyond their capacity.
The need of the hour for the women to realise their rights and being vigilant and aware. Women are the present and the future of INDIA. At the international level, the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) sought to guarantee better legal status to women. Different NGOs are also working for the upliftment of women and girl child, such as the Foundation to Educate Girls Globally (Education), Rajasthan, Prajwala (Economic Security & Livelihoods), Andhra Pradesh, The Hunger Project (Governance), New Delhi, STEPS Women Development Organisation (Socio-Cultural Rights) Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu, Adarsh Samaj Sahyog Samit, SHIS, National Council of Women In India, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, National Commission of Women.
“A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform” is rightly quoted by Diane Mariechilss. As Women’s empowerment doesn’t happen in a vacuum. So, from adolescence only, boys also need to be sensitized to gender equality and teamwork among the sexes so as they grow older and become husbands and fathers they understand and respect women as equally capable in the family and society.
Women are part of society, part of the family as daughter, sister, wife, mother and she is present in different forms in our life. Without her it’s difficult to imagine life. Our Society and Nation can only progress when we give them the right to live freely, allow them do make their independent decision; give them equal opportunity in every aspect.
Let us give them wings to fly high. Let her be happy, so that she can give her best to family, society and nation.