Empowerment of Women in India

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“I always wanted to be a female fatale. Even when I was a young, I never really wanted to be  a girl. I wanted to be a women”.- Diane Von Furstenberg

If there is one theme that dominates the new literature in the 19th century, it is the theme of change. Everything was changing; nothing was likely to remain the same. Prolonged and bitter debates ensued about how to cope with this change. But at the bottom the assumption was shared that the force working to alter the very foundations of society was both overwhelming and alien: the source of change lay itself outside and beyond control. It is important to remember this when considering the emergence of a “modern” consciousness of the self under colonial conditions. However, Bankim Chandra, the most eminent literary figure wrote that  in each and every society it was men who always laid down the ways in which women must behave. However, women were mostly viewed with a strict notion of being highly ‘traditional’ where they were uneducated and therefore coarse, vulgar and quarrelsome. In the olden days women were religious and faithful to their husbands, charitable to the needy and hospitable to guests. They genuinely believed in the norms of their right conduct.

However, women and men do not enjoy equal status anywhere in this world. There is always a considerable difference in the opportunities available for both men and women. This difference is clearly visible in work, employment, earnings ,education, health status and decision-making powers. Gender issues are more rampant than developmental issues. The men move up faster during any type of development grabbing greater opportunities than women who are unable to access because of gender discrimination. There are a number of challenges in the social, economic and political scenario that women face in establishing their rights and equality. For example, in agricultural sector women are less paid. In the organized sector, women have access to education and training. They face sarcastic remarks from the employers and co- workers. Due to poor skills and training they develop poor self-image and inferiority complex. Feelings of helplessness and dependency haunt the working class and women of the lower socio- economic strata. Women’s health status is reflected in the adverse sex ratio and female life expectancy. The status of women is incomparable to that of developed western countries. Sex ratio is not favorable to woman. Socially, politically, educationally and economically women are treated lower to men in India. Men have always monopolized political space. There are many obstacles to the realization of women’s human rights in India as elsewhere.

So ‘women empowerment’ is a means of increasing the spiritual, economic, political, social or economic strength of the women. It often involves the empowered developing confidence in their own capacities. Women were often regarded as being ‘marginalised’, so by empowering them it tends to create a rationale among them whereby they could fight for their own needs and demands, it even forms an apogee of many a system of self –realisation or of identity formation. Empowerment also helps the women to learn new things, have a proper sense of self- awareness and emotional intelligence.

Our constitution makers even made some provisions for the women like under Art. 14 ( right to equality) which guarantees to all Indian women equality before law; Art. 39 guarantees equal pay for equal work; and maternity relief under Art. 42, allows provisions to be made by the state for securing just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief for women.

The first country to grant women the right to vote was New Zealand in 1893. Only 24 women have been elected heads of state government in the 20th century. Women hold 10.5% of the seats in the world’s parliament. In 1995 Sweden formed the world’s first cabinet to have equal number of men and women. Of the 185 highest ranking diplomats to U.N. only seven are women. In the recent decades the percentage of women have increased from 3.4% to 6.8%. However, the participation of women in decision-making bodies is negligible in countries worldwide. On the other hand in India, the situation was not favorable anytime. It has the lowest sex ratio among the populous countries. In the utilization of health services , women are always at a disadvantageous position. During illness, fewer women than men receive treatment.

The present situation reflects a different scenario. The percentage of women in world parliaments has increased to some extent to about 22.1%. In  America, it is 26%, in Europe it is 25% whereas in Asia it is 18%. The percentage of women in workforce in U.S.A is 51% as compared to India it is 27% which has declined from 33% in 2012. India ranks second lowest in the G-20 economies when it comes to women’s participation in the workforce. It ranks 124 out of 136 nations according to world economic forum report from last year in 2014. This is because most of the women are enrolling in secondary school education rather than getting involved in jobs. As a result of it, it is found that the rate of female graduates entering the workforce is lower than the rate of illiterate women finding a job. Women in India hold barely 5% of board seats- lower than all the other BRICS countries. A progressive new law has been passed this year that requires all companies listed on the stock exchange to have atleast one woman board member. Employment in industries grew by 9 million in 2010 but it must increase by double. The country’s GDP can increase by more than a quarter if it can match both male and female employment rates.

The National Democratic Initiative (NDI) has introduced several global initiatives to connect politically active women and help them network across time and location. It has partnered with UNDP UN Women, the Inter- Parliamentary Union and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance to establish International Knowledge Network of Women in politics( I know politics), website, which is an online workplace that addresses the needs of elected officials, candidates, party leaders and members, researchers in advancing women in politics.

Similarly, we could even say that Arundhati Bhattacharya, is an Indian Banker who is the first women to be the chairperson of SBI. Even Chanda Kochhar who is the managing director of ICICI bank, carved a niche for herself, in the male dominated banking sphere. She has been ranked 20th amongst the most powerful women in business and in the world. All these instances show that woman do have the capacity to work in each and every sector. So empowerment of women has been recognized as the central issue in determining the status of women.

We know that sexual harassment is a violation of women’s right to liberty, equality and life. It creates an insecure and hostile environment which discourages women participation in work, thereby, adversely affecting their social and economic empowerment and the goal of inclusive growth. So the protection against sexual harassment and right to work with dignity are universally recognized human rights under the various international conventions such as the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women 1979, which has been ratified by India in 1993.  The convention gives positive affirmation to the principle of equality by requiring the ratifying countries to take all appropriate measures, including, enactment of legislation for guaranteeing women the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms at par with men. The parliament also came up with the protection of women against sexual harassment of workplace bill, 2010. The bill tries to see sexual harassment not as a criminal offence but as a mere civil wrong, the remedy for which is compensation. So this loophole fails to provide equal justice to women. Therefore, proper inquiry committees must be established for enforcing the rights laid down in the proposed legislation.

 

Conclusion:-  The subject of women empowerment has become a burning issue all over the world including India since last few decades. The position and status of women all over the world has risen incredibly in the 20th century. A long struggle going back over a century has brought women the property rights, voting rights, an equality in civil rights before the law in matters of marriage and employment. Economic independence of educated women have lead to greater mobility, freedom, openness, generosity and tolerance. Sociologist Robert Blood observes ‘employment emancipates women from domination by their husbands and secondarily raises their daughters from inferiority position to their brothers. So this is changing their overall perceptions, outlook and equations. However , it is seen that even though there are some discriminations against women’s rights but inspite of such drawbacks and hurdles that prevail, Indian women are no longer apologetic/ hesitant about claiming a share and visibility within the family, at work, in the public places and in the public discourse.

“I always wanted to be a female fatale. Even when I was a young, I never really wanted to be  a girl. I wanted to be a women”.- Diane Von Furstenberg

If there is one theme that dominates the new literature in the 19th century, it is the theme of change. Everything was changing; nothing was likely to remain the same. Prolonged and bitter debates ensued about how to cope with this change. But at the bottom the assumption was shared that the force working to alter the very foundations of society was both overwhelming and alien: the source of change lay itself outside and beyond control. It is important to remember this when considering the emergence of a “modern” consciousness of the self under colonial conditions. However, Bankim Chandra, the most eminent literary figure wrote that  in each and every society it was men who always laid down the ways in which women must behave. However, women were mostly viewed with a strict notion of being highly ‘traditional’ where they were uneducated and therefore coarse, vulgar and quarrelsome. In the olden days women were religious and faithful to their husbands, charitable to the needy and hospitable to guests. They genuinely believed in the norms of their right conduct.

However, women and men do not enjoy equal status anywhere in this world. There is always a considerable difference in the opportunities available for both men and women. This difference is clearly visible in work, employment, earnings ,education, health status and decision making powers. Gender issues are more rampant than developmental issues. The men move up faster during any type of development grabbing greater opportunities than women who are unable to access because of gender discrimination. There are a number of challenges in the social, economic and political scenario that women face in establishing their rights and equality. For example, in agricultural sector women are less paid. In the organized sector, women have access to education and training. They face sarcastic remarks from the employers and co- workers. Due to poor skills and training they develop poor self-image and inferiority complex. Feelings of helplessness and dependency haunt the working class and women of the lower socio- economic strata. Women’s health status is reflected in the adverse sex ratio and female life expectancy. The status of women is incomparable to that of developed western countries. Sex ratio is not favorable to woman. Socially, politically, educationally and economically women are treated lower to men in India. Men have always monopolized political space. There are many obstacles to the realization of women’s human rights in India as elsewhere.

So ‘women empowerment’ is a means of increasing the spiritual, economic, political, social or economic strength of the women. It often involves the empowered developing confidence in their own capacities. Women were often regarded as being ‘marginalised’, so by empowering them it tends to create a rationale among them whereby they could fight for their own needs and demands, it even forms an apogee of many a system of self –realisation or of identity formation. Empowerment also helps the women to learn new things, have a proper sense of self- awareness and emotional intelligence.

Our constitution makers even made some provisions for the women like under Art. 14 ( right to equality) which guarantees to all Indian women equality before law; Art. 39 guarantees equal pay for equal work; and maternity relief under Art. 42, allows provisions to be made by the state for securing just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief for women.

The first country to grant women the right to vote was New Zealand in 1893. Only 24 women have been elected heads of state government in the 20th century. Women hold 10.5% of the seats in the world’s parliament. In 1995 Sweden formed the world’s first cabinet to have equal number of men and women. Of the 185 highest ranking diplomats to U.N. only seven are women. In the recent decades the percentage of women have increased from 3.4% to 6.8%. However, the participation of women in decision-making bodies is negligible in countries worldwide. On the other hand in India, the situation was not favorable anytime. It has the lowest sex ratio among the populous countries. In the utilization of health services , women are always at a disadvantageous position. During illness, fewer women than men receive treatment.

The present situation reflects a different scenario. The percentage of women in world parliaments has increased to some extent to about 22.1%. In  America, it is 26%, in Europe it is 25% whereas in Asia it is 18%. The percentage of women in workforce in U.S.A is 51% as compared to India it is 27% which has declined from 33% in 2012. India ranks second lowest in the G-20 economies when it comes to women’s participation in the workforce. It ranks 124 out of 136 nations according to world economic forum report from last year in 2014. This is because most of the women are enrolling in secondary school education rather than getting involved in jobs. As a result of it, it is found that the rate of female graduates entering the workforce is lower than the rate of illiterate women finding a job. Women in India hold barely 5% of board seats- lower than all the other BRICS countries. A progressive new law has been passed this year that requires all companies listed on the stock exchange to have atleast one woman board member. Employment in industries grew by 9 million in 2010 but it must increase by double. The country’s GDP can increase by more than a quarter if it can match both male and female employment rates.

The National Democratic Initiative (NDI) has introduced several global initiatives to connect politically active women and help them network across time and location. It has partnered with UNDP UN Women, the Inter- Parliamentary Union and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance to establish International Knowledge Network of Women in politics( I know politics), website, which is an online workplace that addresses the needs of elected officials, candidates, party leaders and members, researchers in advancing women in politics.

Similarly, we could even say that Arundhati Bhattacharya, is an Indian Banker who is the first women to be the chairperson of SBI. Even Chanda Kochhar who is the managing director of ICICI bank, carved a niche for herself, in the male dominated banking sphere. She has been ranked 20th amongst the most powerful women in business and in the world. All these instances show that woman do have the capacity to work in each and every sector. So empowerment of women has been recognized as the central issue in determining the status of women.

We know that sexual harassment is a violation of women’s right to liberty, equality and life. It creates an insecure and hostile environment which discourages women participation in work, thereby, adversely affecting their social and economic empowerment and the goal of inclusive growth. So the protection against sexual harassment and right to work with dignity are universally recognized human rights under the various international conventions such as the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women 1979, which has been ratified by India in 1993.  The convention gives positive affirmation to the principle of equality by requiring the ratifying countries to take all appropriate measures, including, enactment of legislation for guaranteeing women the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms at par with men. The parliament also came up with the protection of women against sexual harassment of workplace bill, 2010. The bill tries to see sexual harassment not as a criminal offence but as a mere civil wrong, the remedy for which is compensation. So this loophole fails to provide equal justice to women. Therefore, proper inquiry committees must be established for enforcing the rights laid down in the proposed legislation.

 

Conclusion:-  The subject of women empowerment has become a burning issue all over the world including India since last few decades. The position and status of women all over the world has risen incredibly in the 20th century. A long struggle going back over a century has brought women the property rights, voting rights, an equality in civil rights before the law in matters of marriage and employment. Economic independence of educated women have lead to greater mobility, freedom, openness, generosity and tolerance. Sociologist Robert Blood observes ‘employment emancipates women from domination by their husbands and secondarily raises their daughters from inferiority position to their brothers. So this is changing their overall perceptions, outlook and equations. However , it is seen that even though there are some discriminations against women’s rights but inspite of such drawbacks and hurdles that prevail, Indian women are no longer apologetic/ hesitant about claiming a share and visibility within the family, at work, in the public places and in the public discourse.

Posted by: Anushuya Ghosh. in General | Date: 19/01/2016

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