Women Empowerment refers to the strengthening of the social, economic and educational powers as well as status of women. It refers to an environment where there is no gender bias for women and has equal rights of them in community, society and workplaces. According to the World Bank out of total population female percentage in India was last measured at 48.16 in 2014.They have every right to be treated equally with men in every sphere of life and society. The empowerment of women would result in overall development of society both at micro and macro level. Active participation of women in economic activities and decision making would contribute towards overall human as well as economic development. “Empowering Women” means to authorize power or increase the overall participation, contribution, status and prestige of women in every spheres of life. Empowerment of women would result in better, competitive, healthy and more developed society. When women contribute equally along with men for the benefit of society, the world would surely become a better place to live. Today more and more females are studying in schools and colleges and also go abroad for higher studies. Women are increasingly commanding better position in the society. The Govt. of India has taken different measures to empower the women in different ways from time to time since our independence. This paper aims at to investigate these measures in terms of their implementation and effectiveness with respect to the objectives of these schemes and programmes taken up by the Indian Govt. for uplifting the status of the women in the society. This is a descriptive study based on the secondary sources of data.
Key words: Women, Empowerment, Government
One of the major problems of Indian society is the less important position accorded to women in terms of education, occupation and employment. They do not enjoy equal social rights, participation and status. The educational, social, economic and political status and also the familial as well as social power and prestige of the Indian women are lacking behind than the males. Even in the era of modernization and globalization Indian women are lacking far behind than men with respect to social, political and economic power and their condition is not at all satisfactory. Women Empowerment refers to increasing and improving the social, economic, political and legal power of the women, to ensure equal-right to women, and to make them confident enough to claim their rights. Moreover, it also refers to increase the participation and contribution of women in education, economy, polity and decision making of the state which will directly or indirectly provide them social, political and economic power and prestige such as:
• Freely live their life with a sense of self-worth, respect and dignity,
• Have complete control of their life, both within and outside of their home and workplace,
• To make their own choices and decisions,
• Have equal rights to participate in social, religious and public activities,
• Have equal social status in the society,
• Have equal rights for social and economic justice,
• Determine financial and economic choices,
• Get equal opportunity for education,
• Get equal employment opportunity without any gender bias,
• Get safe and comfortable working environment,
• Have the rights to get their voices heard; etc.
Though Indian society has been undergoing rapid changes in several dimensions in this century under the influence of modernization, globalization and liberalization, but there is a declining trend of sex ratio. The major causes contributing to this declining sex ratio remain as:
• Females are under enumerated in the Indian census.
• Indian families prefer sons, and female infants are consequently neglected.
• Frequent and excessive child-bearing has an adverse effect on the health of women and
• Certain diseases have a high incidence in woman.
All these indicate the worsening condition of women as a whole. Its social manifestations may be seen in the increasing incidence of dowry, domestic violence and the declining position of women due to erosion of their economic and social roles. The process of development itself has generated changes, which have widened and increased socio-economic inequalities, in general, and between men and women in particular. Moreover, the acceptance by educated women of an insulting institution like dowry indicates that our womenfolk have never examined the real meaning of the constitutional and legal guarantees.
Status of Women in India: Historical Perspectives
The Ancient Indian women enjoyed a comparatively high status during the early Vedic period (2000 B.C. to 1000 B.C.), surpassing contemporary civilizations in ancient Greece and Rome. The Aryans were mostly busy in fighting wars. However, they regarded women as useful and productive members of society. The condition of Vedic Women was good. Women also enjoyed religious status like that of men, especially in Vedic initiation and studies. The Rig-Veda provides ample evidence to prove the concept of equality of women with men as regards to access and capacity to acquire the highest knowledge, even the knowledge of the Absolute. The Rig-Veda accorded the highest social status to qualified women of those days. Women were appointed at important positions. In that period, marriage was not compulsory. It was considered a social and religious duty, and was generally undertaken at an advanced age. On the whole, during this period the position of women was high. However, the status and position of women fell down in the later Vedic and Epic periods. They were not considered equal to men and did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. Knowledge of the Vedas became limited among women. Wives became silent partners of religious ceremonies.
The condition and status of women in India declined with the passage of time. During the medieval period, woman was given a position subordinate to man. Law and religion did not recognize the equality and equal rights of man and woman. The women’s place was largely regarded as being in the home. In short, the role of women was conceived to be one of subservience to her husband, the master and ruler of the family.
When the British came in to contact with the Indian people in the latter half of the 18th century, the position of Indian woman had deteriorated to the lowest level. Ideologically, women were considered a completely inferior species, having no significance, no personality. Socially they were kept in complete subjection, denied all rights and were suppressed and oppressed, on having been branded as “basically lacking an ethical fibre”. A distinct change was noticeable when Indian society bore the impact of the British rule and of new ideas. In Bengal, the Brahmo Samaj movement made rapid progress, arousing a new desire among women for freedom. A few women overcame their social handicaps and achieved positions of distinction. They included Toru Datta, Ramabai, Swarana Kumari Devi and Kamini Roy. These attempts notwithstanding, women did not get the benefit of Western education. Women of upper classes suffered from the custom of enforced widowhood and a ban on divorce. Among the lower classes the practice of “Devdasi” was in vogue.
Status of Women in India: After Independence
The improvement in women’s position and status became further evident when immediately after the independence, Indian women made their mark by becoming Governors, Cabinet ministers, and ambassadors. Several measures were taken by the Government of India to assign equal status to women in the economic, political and social fields. More avenues were opened to them to show their talents and have a sense of participation in national activities. The Constitution of India pledges equality of status and opportunity to men and women. The passage of several Acts by the Parliament and the process of social change brought about by industrialization and urbanization during the last few decades have done much for women’s emancipation both legally, politically and socially. Now the members of the family are individuals before the law and the Constitution has guaranteed equal rights to women. Indian women, like men, have the right to vote and the right to be elected. Mrs. India Gandhi, the first women Prime Minister of India, is the pride of India’s women folk. She served for fifteen years and remained the undisputed leader of the most powerful party in India. She was considered to be the most powerful woman in the contemporary world. Women can serve on juries, and there are many women doctors, lawyers and even justices. Constitutionally, they have equal rights. They have the right to own, manage control their own property. Today, a married woman has the right to divorce; a widow can remarry.
Women Empowerment: Its Values and Significance
Women population is around 50% of the total population of the world. They have every right to be treated equally with men in every sphere of life and society. Women population constitutes around 50% of the world population. A large number of women around the world are unemployed. The world economy suffers a lot because of the unequal opportunity for women at workplaces. Women are equally competent. Nowadays, women are even ahead of men in many socio-economic activities. Women are as talented as men. Previously, women were not allowed higher education like men and hence their talents were wasted. But nowadays, they are also allowed to go for higher studies and it encourages women to show their talents which will not only benefit her individually but to the whole world at large. The main advantage of Women Empowerment is that there will be an overall development of the society. The money that women earn does not only help them and or their family, but it also help develop the society. Women Empowerment also leads to more economic benefits not to the individuals but to the society as well. Unlike earlier days when they stayed at home only and do only kitchen stuffs, nowadays, they roam outside and also earn money like the male members of the society. Women empowerment helps women to stand on their own legs, become independent and also to earn for their family which grows country’s economy. Women Empowerment leads to decrease in domestic violence. Uneducated women are at higher risk for domestic violence than educated women. Women Empowerment is also advantageous in case of corruption. Women empowerment helps women to get educated and know their rights and duties and hence can stop corruption. Women Empowerment also reduces poverty. Sometimes, the money earned by the male member of the family is not sufficient to meet the demands of the family. The added earnings of women help the family to come out of poverty trap. Women are increasingly participating in the national development process. They are making the nation proud by their outstanding performances almost every sphere including medical science, social service, engineering, etc. Women are considered irreplaceable for certain jobs.
How to empower Women?
To “empower women” means to authorize power or increase the overall position, status and condition of women in every spheres of life. Empowerment of Women would result in better and more developed society. When women contribute equally along with men for the benefit of society, the world would surely become a better place to live. Today more and more females are studying in schools and colleges and also go abroad for higher studies. Women are increasing commanding better positions in the society.There are several ways to empower women; some of them are discussed below:
• Creating safe workplaces: Women can be empowered through the creation of safe working environment. The workplaces should be safe for the female members of the society. People will like to send their daughters and wives to work if they are assured of safe environment at workplaces.
• Promoting Women education: The empowerment of women would result in overall development of the society both at micro and macro level. Active participation of women in economic activities and decisions, would contribute towards overall economic development. By educating women, economy of the country increases. It has been seen from the last few decades that involvement of educated women in various activities helps the country to move towards economic and social development. Female education also contributes towards health and well-being of the family. By getting education, women also contribute to the national income of the country. They can afford to offer quality nutrition to their children. Educated women are considered active in politics as well. They know their rights and are able to defend themselves better.
Specific Laws for Women Empowerment in India
For the promotion of social welfare and women empowerment the Govt. of India has taken initiatives and brought several laws from time to time through legislature which strengthens the social participation, status and rights of the women in the country. Here is the list of some specific laws which were enacted by the Parliament from time to time in order to fulfil Constitutional obligation for promoting women empowerment:
• The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956.
• The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
• The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.
• The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.
• The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.
• The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987
• The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.
• The Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994.
• The Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Protection) Act, 2013.
All these and several other laws are there in the country which not only provide specific legal rights to women but also gives them a sense of security and empowerment.
Government Schemes for Empowering Women in India
Government of India has launched many schemes for time to time for Women Empowerment. The Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB, 1953) was launched to promote social welfare activities and appliance welfare programmes for women and children through spontaneous organizations. The Mother and Child Tracking System (MCTS, 2009) was launched to help to monitor the health care department to ensure that all mothers and children have access all the required services and medical care, during pregnancy and delivery. Also the system maintains a database of all pregnancies registered and all births from December, 2009.
Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana-Conditional Maternity Benefit Plan (IGMSY-CMB, 2010) was another good initiative. This scheme was sponsored by the Central Government for pregnant women whose age is above19 years and over for their first two live births. This program provides money to help better health and nutrition of the pregnant women. The beneficiary gets rupees 4000 in 3 instalments. Any government employee doesn’t come under this scheme. Another such scheme is Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls – Sabla (RGSEAG, 2012).This scheme targets adolescent girls of 11 – 18 years. The scheme offers a package of benefits for improving their health and nutrition. This program offers many services on central level to help women to become Self Supporting, to get nutritional supplementation, education, education of health, life skills and various types of vocational training.
Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK, 1993) is another such programme. This scheme was created and implemented by the government of India with the purpose to provide the loan to poor women to begin small businesses aiming at their economic empowerment. Priyadarshini, 2011-is a pilot programme for Women Empowerment. This scheme offers women access to self-help groups and promotion of livelihood opportunities and this pilot project was taken for seven districts of India. Short Stay Home for Women and Girls (SSH, 1969) is another such programme. This scheme provides temporary residence to women and girls who are in social and moral danger due to family problems, mental strain, violence at home, social ostracism, exploitation and other causes. In this regard Swadhar, 1995 is a remarkable one. This scheme provides support to women to become independent. Swadhar makes women to be strong and independent by spirit, by thoughts and by action and provide full control over their lives rather than be the victim.
Swayam Siddha, 2001 is a scheme brought for organizing women into self help group. Another such scheme as Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA, 1982) came into practice for women empowerment. This was scheme launched by the government to improve the socio-economic status of the poor women in the rural areas. The Ministry of Women and Child Development has launched Support to Training and Employment Programme (STEP)s programme with the aim of developing skills of women for self and employment. The main targets of this scheme are rural women and urban poor. This scheme provides funds to help the women and poor. Funds are released to NGOs and not to the State Governments.
The Indian Government has also launched the National Mission for Empowerment of Women (NMEW) for comprehensive empowerment of women. This is a centrally sponsored scheme, coordinating all the women’s welfare and socio-economic development programmes across ministries and departments. The Mission contributes to empowering women socially, and economically, erases crime and violence against women, to educate women, establishment of policies and programmes and spreading awareness. There are some other Women Empowerment Schemes in the country which have enough influences towards the women empowerment. Some of these major schemes are:
Challenges and Prospects
Women empowerment is a very big issue in this twenty first century. This is not only for India but a global challenge. The major challenges or barriers of women empowerment remain in the social structure and social philosophy of the state. In the male dominated social structure because of the inherent superiority complex among the males, they often don’t allow their female counter-part to rise as high as them. Moreover, there are high level of domestic responsibilities as per the social traditions and gender biasness. Several restrictions are there for females to participate in social, economic and religious activities. In our society; the boy-child often gets preference for education and healthy diet over the girl child. Preference for male-child still exists among many families in the society. So, education through mass communication is very important. Both women and men should be made aware of their responsibilities to promote and practice gender-equality. Every stake holders of the state has to gather national data and identify the areas and take proper action where instances of violence and gender-inequality are the most. This data can be used by the Government, NGOs and field workers to raise the status of women. The society should be made aware that both boy-child and girl-child are equal, and they both should have equal access to resources. Women empowerment is a national as well as global slogan and all the stake holders should be earnest to accept and provide women participation in all the spheres of life i.e, social, political, economic dimensions. All the agencies of state should provide every facilities and support to the women especially for the education and employment so that they can contribute equally with the males for the development of the state. This is only possible when the concept of egalitarian society and women empowerment will be accepted by all and there will be a positive contribution from the govt. and non-govt. agencies both. There should be a proper monitoring and evaluation of all the projects and schemes for women empowerment and quick actions have to take for the better and effective implementation of all these so that the aims and objectives of women empowerment can be fulfilled.
Amit Kumar De
Guest Faculty, Department of Education, Assam University, Sichar.
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