Women Empowerment In India: Not There Yet, Nor Where We Used To Be

Women Empowerment In India: Not There Yet, Nor Where We Used To Be
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This essay on women empowerment in India highlights women empowerment programs, activities, laws, organisations, and inspiring role models.

What does women empowerment in India mean? The definition of women’s empowerment is different for different people, but there’s an underlying base that cannot change regardless of nationality, caste, colour, or profession.

Look at a simple example. A young working professional who stays with her parents in law says, “We were planning to take a family vacation together, and when it came deciding where and when I wasn’t even asked by my parents-in-law. I thought my opinion and convenience would matter too, but maybe I was wrong.”

The example above is a common scenario in a so-called empowered urban woman’s life. When you consider a 13-year-old girl who was raped in a village in UP by her own uncles, you start to wonder what the definition of women’s empowerment would mean to her.

After her father’s death, her mother had planned to take her to and live in the nearby town, so that she could send her to school. But financial troubles meant fate had something else in store.

So you see what I mean? To this little girl, women’s empowerment would have meant going to a primary school, and plain escaping rape.

Remember how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be. ~ Rick Warren
Remember how far you've come, not just how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be. ~ Rick Warren

Physical empowerment is something that many Indian women can only hope for. It’s ironic to see prostitution on one hand, and slut-walks being planned on the other. One cries out “empower us” while the other cries out to prove that we are empowered.

From butt-pinching, cat-calls and whistles in a bus, to the extreme case of rape and murder while stepping out at night in a city like Delhi or Bangalore, are all proof of the fact that we have a long way to go to be assured of even basic safety.

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Intellectually, we may be more empowered than women in many countries. Indian women are choosing to study and carve out their own niche in various fields. There is scope for enormous improvement in the field of education for the girl child.

Emotionally, the definition of women’s empowerment is again very blurry. Today, a lot of women choose their own partners and marry for love, but do we see a fall in the number of horror stories being reported about dowry-related suicides or murders?

What is women empowerment? What does it stand for? Whenever you ask this question to someone, you’re likely to get mixed responses, as the answer may vary from one perspective to another.

A homemaker, who works day and night to take care of her family, feels that women empowerment should stand for the freedom to take your own decisions about what will be best for you and your family.

On the other hand, for a professional woman, say for example a woman CEO in India, women empowerment may embody complete freedom from gender bias, ensuring freedom of thought and expression.

To a public servant, women empowerment could primarily stand for the safety and security of women, while a writer may think all of the above are valid. So, what is the actual meaning of women empowerment in India?

Mary Kom, the popular and much-loved Indian boxer once said, “Never buy gold, simply earn it.” Her statement, against the backdrop of the traditional custom of buying gold while getting Indian daughters married, carries huge weight.

Never buy gold, simply earn it. ~ Mary Kom via @naareeindia

She may never have implied it directly, but you could take her words to mean that women need not depend on their parents or their husbands to support them. Indian women are capable of earning their livelihood through honesty, hard work and diligence.

That is exactly what women empowerment in India stands for – giving power to women, so they’re able to become self-sufficient in every possible way; giving them the right to choose and a voice to express their opinions authentically. That is the definition of women empowerment in a nutshell.

“Women empowerment means giving power to women, so they’re able to become self-sufficient in every possible way; giving them the right to choose and a voice to express their opinions authentically.”

In this essay on women empowerment in India, we hope to provide you with a clear idea of the current economic and social status of Indian women, the initiatives being taken to improve that status, and also why women empowerment is so important for the overall development of the nation.

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The Cultural, Economic And Social Status Of Women In India

According to 2017 World Bank statistics, the female population in India is at 48.18% of the total population – less than half of the total population of the country – largely owing to female foeticide and other contributing factors.

However, the laws of abortion based on gender have become stricter than before, and the Indian Government is committed to taking action against those killing female infants.

Our honourable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, has introduced women empowerment programs like the Balika Samriddhi Yojana and Dhanalakshi Scheme, to provide monetary resources to parents of girls to support them in providing for their daughters effectively.

As far as the socio-economic status of Indian women is concerned, statistics claim that the labour force participation rate for women in India has gone down to 29.97% in 2018, as compared to the global rate of 48.47%, according to a World Bank report.

However, since these statistics don’t take into account the contributions of women in the unorganised sector, the status of working women in India is still unclear.

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The reduction in the Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) is greater in rural areas, with an increase in the number of school drop-outs on attaining puberty, owing to commuting issues, poor infrastructure of schools and inadequate teaching facilities.

Another report by the Annual Status of Education Report – Rural 2018, shows that 13.5% of girls within the age group of 15 to 16 do not attend schools at all. This rate is even higher in the states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

Thus, it can be said that parents are not very interested in women’s education in India, probably because they believe they have to marry them off at some point in time.

Although the reasons may differ from one culture to another, the reason for this huge percentage of illiteracy is a lack of awareness. We may celebrate International Women’s Day in the media every year, but we need to do more than that to improve women’s position in India today.

We need measures to ensure women empowerment through education and make the parents realise the significance of the same. Only then can we bring about a drastic change in the socio-economic status of women in India.

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Laws For Women Empowerment In India

Although statistics state otherwise, the Indian government has always been a pioneer of women empowerment. The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru said, ‘You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women’.

The current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has also contributed his opinion about women empowerment, stating that, “Women empowerment is crucial to India’s growth. The days of seeing women as homemakers have gone; we have to see women as nation builders!”

Moreover, women’s rights have always been considered primary rights by the government. Let us take a look at some of the fundamental and State laws in the Indian constitution that contribute to women empowerment in India:

  • Article 14 gives equal rights to women in India.
  • Article 15 (1) prohibits gender discrimination, while Article 15 (3) gives the State the power to take actions in the women’s favour.
  • Article 16 allows equal employment opportunities for all citizens, irrespective of their gender.
  • Article 39 (d) prohibits gender bias regarding work and payment.
  • Article 42 empowers the State to ensure appropriate working conditions and maternity relief for women.

Time and again, the Parliament of India has introduced laws to ensure that women get equal opportunities to earn a living and live peacefully without any societal pressure. Some of these laws include:

  • The Equal Remuneration Act in 1974
  • The Maternity Benefit Act of 1961
  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in 1971
  • The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act in 1987
  • The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act in 2006
  • The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961
  • The Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace (Prevention and Protection) Act in 2013

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Women Empowerment Programs And Activities In India

Apart from these laws, both the government and NGOs have launched several women empowerment activities and schemes for women in India, some of which are listed below:

This social campaign by the Indian Government aims to reduce the incidence of female foeticide and increase the ratio of educated women in India.

This scheme aims to provide safe and conveniently located women’s hostels for working women in both rural and urban centres.

A marketing campaign launched by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Mahila E-Haat supports women entrepreneurs by promoting products and services offered by them.

Also known as the One-Stop Centre scheme, this safety program allows women, who have been subjected to or are being threatened by any kind of violence, to avail emergency responses, medical assistance, counselling, and assistance in lodging police reports, access legal aid and all types of help through a 24-hour helpline number.

This is yet another program by the Government of India to support women, who have been deserted by their families, who are victims of domestic violence, former prisoners and survivors, by providing them with temporary shelters, employment training, counselling and legal aid.

The ‘Women Power Award’ is a prestigious civilian award, which is presented by the President of India every year on the 8th of March to women, from public and private institutions, for their notable contribution to the cause of women empowerment.

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The Contribution of NGOs towards Women Empowerment in India

Several Non-Governmental Organisations have also contributed immensely to the empowerment of women in India.

While some of them aim to achieve financial freedom for self-employed women, others help them fight socio-cultural atrocities and become aware of their fundamental rights.

Here are some of the NGOs that are working hard to improve the status of women in the country.

Founded by Ela Bhatt, SEWA believes that women empowerment and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. Today, the organisation is globally recognised for its unmatched contribution towards self-employed women.

They also raise awareness of women’s worker rights and promote the use of non-violent modes of demonstrations. The SEWA Bank, one of the sister organisations of SEWA, also provides women empowerment loans to female informal workers in India.

This institution works to reduce abuse against poor women, who live in urban areas and help them stand on their own feet.

The foundation offers a six-month course to these women to develop self-awareness, avail defence training, and recognise the sexual and reproductive rights needed to lead a life of dignity. They have recently collaborated with Sakha – a women-led cab service for female clients in the urban centres.

Having completed 30 years of service in 2017, this institution works towards developing socio-economic conditions of destitute women or former criminals by training them in the skills they require to make a living and providing necessary legal assistance.

This Bangalore-based women empowerment NGO helps women find jobs as well as counter sexual harassment in workplaces through proper legal aid.

They also arrange shelters for children whose mothers are not able to look after them because of financial issues and work against domestic violence.

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Women Empowerment in Politics

The former President of India, Late Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, believed that “If women get into the Assembly, they would bring some order. We can also hope to see developmental politics instead of political politics if more women enter the scene.”

Therefore, not only should our country aim to provide women empowerment through jobs and financial assistance to women, but also help them realise their rights in taking leadership positions in the electorate.

In most cases, the women’s eligibility to participate in politics is completely ignored, because of the existing socio-cultural conventions.

Political participation does not necessarily mean the right to vote but encompasses the entire sphere of political leadership including, power-sharing, electoral campaigning, contesting elections and holding leadership positions.

According to the economic survey of 2018, the political participation of Indian women is quite low compared to their population. The factors hindering their progress in the field of politics are domestic duties, cultural attitudes, lack of support and lack of confidence.

The only way to change this scenario is to remove gender stereotypes and encourage women to take an active part in politics through awareness and support.

We could hold up the examples of women leaders like, Smriti Irani, Mamata Banerjee, Sushma Swaraj, Pratibha Patil, Vasundhara Raje, Priyanka Gandhi, and others to break the wheels of convention and change the way Indian women view themselves.

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Women Empowerment Through Leadership In Professional Fields

A number of powerful women leaders and entrepreneurs have contributed to the nation through their talent, perseverance and hard work.

These women empowerment heroes have become role models for other women in India. We list some of these influential women, who have raised the bar for other women in India.

Shobhana Bhartia, the Chairperson and the Editorial Director of the Hindustan Times Group, is listed in Forbes Asia’s 50 women for her immense contribution towards the media house as well as the development of the nation on the whole.

As a member of the upper house of the Indian Parliament, she has played an active part in the introduction of ‘The Child Marriage Abolition’ Act.

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is one of the most popular and well-known women entrepreneurs in India and is presently serving as the Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon Limited, the biotechnology company she founded.

She received the Othmer Gold Medal for her unmatched contributions to the field of science and chemistry in 2014.  Listed in the Financial Times’ top 50 women in business, Ms Shaw has definitely set an example for women in the STEM fields to follow.

The founder of VLCC Health Care Limited and the chairperson of the Beauty and Wellness Sector Skill Council, Ms Luthra is yet another entrepreneur who has worked her way to success.

She is not just a businesswoman, but also a philanthropist, who engages in social activities, like providing financial support through scholarships to the underprivileged and physically challenged population.

In the world of fashion, Ritu Kumar is not just a name, but a brand and one of the most influential women in India.

She defined her own market through ethnic outfits, formals for events, swimwear and traditional designer outfits for women. She was also awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2013 for her contribution to the fashion industry.

One of the most influential women CEOs in India, Shahnaz Hussain is a popular name in the world of herbal cosmetics.

The CEO of Shahnaz Herbals, Hussain has over 400 franchise clinics all over the globe. She is also a winner of the Padma Shri award in 2006.

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In the words of Late Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam:

“Empowerment of women leads to the development of a good family, good society and, ultimately, a good nation. When the woman is happy, the home is happy. When the home is happy, the society is happy and when the society is happy the state is happy and when the state is happy there will be peace in the country and it will develop at a greater pace.”

Each of us can contribute to the improvement in the status of Indian women in our own way by creating awareness of women’s fundamental, reproductive, social and political rights.

Entrepreneurs can help in creating jobs for women in India while women leaders can mentor younger women with leadership qualities, help them learn leadership skills, and encourage them to try for leadership posts.

But even you can make a difference because women empowerment in India starts by helping at least one woman rise up and overcome her limitations.

Have you ever tried providing education to a girl child for free? The maid who comes to your house every day and washes your dirty dishes – make sure you don’t frown when she asks for a raise.

And that little girl, who sells flowers on the pavement – buy a bouquet from her instead of the expensive florists’ at the other end of the road.

With every small action that empowers another woman, we can contribute to improving the lives of women around us. And if every man or woman in India does this, how much brighter will the future of all women in India be?

Learn how the SHEROES women-only app is empowering women by creating inclusivity, social justice, and financial independence for women in India.

Author bio:

Priya Florence Shah is the Group Editor at SHEROES and author of Devi2Diva, an emotional self-care book for women.

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Also, read:

Essay On Women Empowerment In India

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