Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai famously quoted “I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”, and that sentiment precisely outlines the basis of new age women empowerment. Discrimination against women is rampant all over the world even in this 21st century. Patriarchal societies in most countries are adept at exploitation as well as victimization of women. Even though about 50% of the world’s population consists of women, but unfortunately most of them are denied basic rights education, freedom of speech, voting power and even independent identity. Crimes directed specifically against women are reported from all over the world. There still remain questions about acceptance of women empowerment in the most advanced of countries, while developing nations and nations under political duress are far from achieving the desired status.
In India, in theory, women enjoy a status of equality with the men as per constitutional and legal provisions. Arguably, our country has taken enormous strides towards inclusion of women with the fairer gender excelling in diverse fields, from literature to astrophysics to finance. But with headlines about dowry killing, female foeticides and domestic violence still making the newspapers, put a silent question mark behind the two words. Here, in this current age, true development and growth can only be achieved by taking successful strides in eliminating deep-rooted ideologies of gender bias and discrimination like the confinement of women to the private domestic realm, restrictions on their mobility, poor access to health services, nutrition, education and employment, and exclusion from the public and political sphere
Meaning of Women Empowerment
If it is to be elucidated beyond the two self-explanatory words, ‘Women Empowerment’ refers to complete emancipation of women from socio-economic shackles of dependency and deprivations. Often made synonymous to gender equality, the term women empowerment encompasses a much larger set of principles that needs whole-hearted attention. The concept of empowerment flows from the word power. Empowerment of women would mean encouraging women to be self-reliant, economically independent, have positive self-esteem, generate confidence to face any difficult situation and incite active participation in various socio-political development endeavors. The growing conscience is to accept women as individuals capable of making rational and educated decisions about them as well as the society, increasing and improving the economic, political and legal strength of the women, to ensure equal-right as men, achieve internationally agreed goals for development and sustainability, and improve the quality of life for their families and communities. The various facets of women empowerment that needs to be addressed for a rounded out development are listed as:-
Human Rights or Individual Rights: A woman has the right to express her thoughts and opinions freely, without any restriction. Individual empowerment may be achieved by imparting self-confidence to articulate and assert the power of independent decision making. Women should be aware of their rights and social positions that they are entitled to constitutionally.
Social Empowerment of Women: The most critical aspect of social empowerment of women is the promotion of gender equality. Gender equality implies that in society women and men enjoy the same opportunities, outcomes, rights and obligations in all spheres of life.
Educational Empowerment of Women: It means enabling women to grab the knowledge, skills, and self-confidence necessary to participate fully in the development process. Giving preference to the girl child for educational opportunities is a start.
Economic and Occupational Freedom: It means reducing the financial dependence of women on their male counterparts by making them a significant part of the human resource. A better quality of material life, within the family as well as for the overall society, can be achieved through promotion of sustainable livelihoods like cottage industries, small entrepreneurial efforts owned and managed by women.
Empowerment Through Legal Knowledge: Not only does it suggest the provision of an effective legal structure which is supportive of women empowerment, there also is the need to spread awareness among women about their legal rights and laws preventing their exploitation. It means addressing the gaps between what the law prescribes and what actually occurs.
Political Empowerment of Women: The existence of a political system encouraging the participation of women in the political decision-making process and in governance. Indian constitution has provided the bulwarks for gender equality in the country in the following articles:-
Article 14 – Equality before law “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”
Article 16 (2) – Equal Opportunities “No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect or, any employment or office under the State”.
Article 23 – Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour.
Article 39(a) – The citizen, men & women equally have the right to an adequate means of livelihood.
Article 40(after the 73rd Amendment) – 1/3rdof seats in panchayats shall be reserved for women.
Article 42 – State shall make provisions for just and humane working conditions & maternity relief.
Article 51 A (e) – One of the duties of every citizen is to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of woman.
Government Laws and its subsequent amendments have seen larger inclusion of women with respect to their standing in the society. The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005 stating that women get equal share in the ancestral property or the Equal remuneration Act, 1976, has contributed towards a better footing in the society. The Dowry prohibition Act, 1961, Child marriage (prohibition) Act, 1929, The indecent representation of women (prohibition) Act, 1986 and the Hindu marriage Act, 1955, preventing polygamy and bigamy, and their strict enforcements has to a large extent contributed towards lessening women exploitation. Various government schemes like Rastriya Mahila Kosh and STEP (Support to training cum Employment for women) have managed to bring financial development of rural women through self-sustainable employment. The recent Beti Bachao and Beti Padhao scheme as well as the SABLA scheme has been aimed at reducing female infanticide and promoting the importance of educating the girl child. A number of councils and bodies have been established for the well-being of women such as the National Commission for Women, Department of Women and Child Development and the Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women which has reviewed various laws and recommended amendments. The National Policy for Empowerment of Women (2001) is aimed at addressing all forms of violence against women including physical, mental and that arising from customs and traditions.
Why Women Empowerment is Important
A strong patriarchal society with deep- rooted socio-cultural values continues to affect the progress of women’s empowerment in the country. The need of the hour is an egalitarian society, where there should be no place for gender superiority. Aim of Government policies should be to identify and eliminate forces that are directed towards keeping the tradition of male dominance over its female counterpart alive.
Women constitute roughly 50% of the nation’s population and a majority of them remain economically dependent, without employment. Many of them are even unaware of the fact that they are eligible for positions that men enjoy. The result is that the economy of the country is skewed due to underutilization of available human resources. Women are generally considered less competent, both intellectually as well as physically as compared with men. As a result the opportunities extended towards them become biased and obtrusive without actual evaluation of their competencies. While scientific data proclaims women to be more adept at multi-tasking than men, they still remain the second choice for employers in the country.
In major parts of India as well as the world, women are still denied basic education and are never allowed to pursue higher education despite possessing the acumen needed. This colossal waste of talent is definitely holding economies backward.
Women empowerment in its actuality is synonymous with complete development of the society. An educated woman, with knowledge about health, hygiene, cleanliness is capable of creating a better disease-free environment for her family. A self-employed woman is capable of contributing not only to her family’s finances, but also contributes towards increment of the country’s overall GDP. A shared source of income is much more likely to uplift the quality of life than a single income household and more often than not helps the family come out of poverty trap. Women aware of their legal rights are less likely to be victims of domestic violence or other forms of exploitations. Their inherent aptitude towards organization and well-rounded maintenance of home makes them uniquely suited for political and civil leadership roles. The 73rd & 74th Amendments (1993) to the constitution of India have provided some special powers to women – reservation of seats(33%) and the ‘New Panchayati Raj’ – to empower women at least at the village level, is a prime example of the point in discussion. Participation of women in political and social positions of power has seen marked reduction in corruption in those specific areas which adds another advantageous point in favor of women empowerment.
Women empowerment is currently a burning issue on the minds of nation’s policymakers as it commands a lot of media attention and international focus lately. It is a fact that women are built different than men by nature yet this difference cannot be translated to mean inferiority. In the few last decades, India has witnessed some changes in the status and role of women in our society. There has been shift in policy approaches – what was focused on ‘welfare’ in the seventies, ‘development’ in the eighties and ‘growth’ in the nineties, has now been tagged with the contemporary term of ’empowerment’. Empowering women socially, economically, educationally, politically and legally is going to be a Herculean task. It will not be easy changing the deep-rooted perception that women are inferior, dependent and dispensable, resulting in a culture of disregard for women in Indian society. But it does not mean that change is implausible. Time is needed to eradicate the perception. But with the push towards the right direction and a lot of effort directed, this task might just be achievable. All we need is an organized approach from the Government and law enforcement agencies of the country focused in the right direction that would rest only with the liberation of women from all forms of evil.
Women empowerment is all about making them self-dependent on taking the decisions of life irrespective of the fear of the people and the society. In today’s time, the condition of the women is deteriorating day by day with less attention paid to them. Though a lot is being said about women empowerment but nothing is done and that is why the women are becoming weak. It is high time that we understand the power of the women and help them to come out with flying colors. If we treat them with respect, this will automatically boost their confidence.
Today is the time when women empowerment is a must and there is a need to give equal importance to them. The problem of being biased towards men should come to an end as women are the basis of our lives and it is difficult to imagine success without them. Whether it is your mother, wife, sister or daughter everyone contributes towards your success and hence they should be respected by one and all. Women empowerment can make a lot of difference to our society in a number of ways.
Also read:Importance of education
Help in better decision-making power
Women empowerment gives every woman the right to take her decisions whether it is related to the family or to their work. They are free to decide what they want to do. Just like men do everything they wish to, similarly, the women too should share equal right to do things as per their wish. This is only possible if we women understand our powers and utilize it to the fullest. Taking that very first step is necessary and it comes when one gets the power.
Establish their Self-image
Even women have their own identity and it is important to maintain the same. In the olden times, the women were given the name of their husbands but today time has changed and women love to carry their own identity in every walk of life. Whether they are a housewife or working professional, their identity means everything for them. This is definitely a good sign that women are finally moving out of the four walls of their home and taking a big step.
Move ahead in their life
Women need to change their mindset that they are not just meant to remain within their home but move outside to live their own life. They have the choice to decide whether they like to work or indulge in other activities. Even the men should understand this and help the women around them to move ahead in life. This will fill the gap between men and women and offer them an equal status which was never given to them.
Lay a strong foundation of the society
Every child learns from their mother so the foundation of the society is laid down by none other than the women. By educating them properly we can certainly ensure a well-educated family. Gone are the days when women were not taught but today a lot of revolution has come and women are now learning and exploring life. Still, the women from the developing and under developed countries are not getting enough opportunities to grow and therefore they are lagging behind in everything.
So if you want the foundation to be strong, it is essential to empower the women as this will bring a huge revolution. They will be able to stand on their feet and play a crucial role in their family and outside both. This will help to build a better society where everyone is equal.
Active participation in country affairs
There is no denial to the fact that a woman has the ability to transform the lives. So if they actively participate in the outside activities it will have a huge impact on the overall development of the country. As we all know that women are very efficient in whatever they do so if the same is utilized in the right direction, they can do wonders for the nation. So it is important to bring them forward and encourage them to work and show their participation.
So if women are empowered there is no doubt that they can achieve anything they like. Rather than talking about women empowerment, it’s time to take an initiative that actually works only then the difference will be visible. You cannot sit back to let things happen on their own and even the women should come out to support themselves. This can bring a revolution for which we are waiting for a long time.