Women’s Empowerment, Myth or Reality

You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women.

– Jawaharlal Nehru

Empowerment of any section of a society is a myth until they are conferred equality before law. The foundation of freedom, justice and fraternity is based on the recognition of the inherent dignity and of equal and inalienable rights to all the members of the society. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10th December 1948, envisaged in Article 2 that “every one is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration without distinction of any kind.”

It has traditionally been accepted that the thread of family weaves the fabric of Indian society. Women are considered as the hub center of the family. Still, in the era of political domination by foreigners, the women in India suffered most. A few social reform measures were taken towards the later 19th and early 20th century during the British regime. The inception of Mahatma Gandhi in the National freedom movement ushered a new concept of mass mobilization. Women constituted about 50% of the country’s total population, he, therefore, involved women in the nation’s liberation movement. The mass participation of women directly in the freedom struggle was the great divide in the history of (Feminist movement) empowerment of women. They shed age-old disabilities and shared the responsibility of liberation of their motherland with their counter parts. The freedom of India thus became synonymous with the empowerment of women. In this context the date of India’s political freedom (August 15, 1947) is a landmark in the history of women empowerment in India. It brought in its wake a great consciousness in our society for human dignity. It was realized that every citizen of independent India be accorded equal treatment under the law.

This is the urban age and Women along with men are here to make an impact, let’s not ignore them, let’s listen and prioritize them. In almost all societies through history, Women have occupied secondary position vis-à-vis men.

Women’s rights and issues have always been a subject of serious concern of academicians, intelligentsia and policy makers. From pastoral society to contemporary information and global society, the role of Women has changed drastically. The role of a typical “Grihani” (house wife) who catered to all the requirements of the house holds including the rearing and upbringing of children in various sub roles of daughter, daughter-in-law, wife, mother, aunt etc. has been played quite efficiently. The continuity of changes in socio-economic and psycho-cultural aspects of human living has influenced the role of Women. With the process of Industrialization, Modernization and Globalization showing its deep impact on the human society all over the world, the role and responsibilities of Women has attained new definition and perspective. Further this has also led to addition of responsibilities and widened the role of Women who also shares the financial responsibilities.

The Women issues have received tremendous attention in the planning circle and in wide intellectual discussions and forums at national and global platforms. However the existing lacuna in the formulation and execution of the policies has not changed the grass root situation to a great extent. On the encouraging front, in the South Asian countries there have been relatively increasing economic participation in past one decade. Statistically the rate of literacy among Women has also increased. The educational and occupational patterns have also changed and widened with Women entering the domains, which till decade back was considered to be dominated by men. Further there has been encouraging rise in the percentage of the Women joining service sector especially Banking and Information Technology. In the background of the gigantic transformation, the core issue, which still remains unanswered, is that of Women’s right and empowerment.

The Women rights are the means by which a dignified living is ensured thereby safeguarding her privileges. Thus the basic fundamental rights of speech, freedom and decision-making are her basic rights as an individual and citizen. The right for education and employment are significant for Women development and national development in the wider sense. The power and freedom to exercise these rights is Women empowerment. Women rights and empowerment are not independent of each other. The Women empowerment can only be facilitated only if she is able to exercise her right in the socio-economic spheres of decision-making.
AN OVERVIEW

India, with a population of 989 million, is the world’s second most populous country. Of that number, 120 million are Women who live in poverty.

India has 16 percent of the world’s population, but only 2.4 percent of its land, resulting in great pressures on its natural resources.

Over 70 percent of India’s population currently derives their livelihood from land resources, which includes 84 percent of the economically-active Women.

India is one of the few countries where males significantly outnumber females, and this imbalance has increased over time. India’s maternal mortality rates in rural areas are among the worlds highest. From a global perspective, Indian accounts for 19 percent of all lives births and 27 percent of all maternal deaths.

“There seems to be a consensus that higher female mortality between ages one and five and high maternal mortality rates result in a deficit of females in the population. In the year 1990 it was estimated that deaths of young girls in India exceed those of young boys by over 300,000 each year, and every sixth infant death is specifically due to gender discrimination.” Of the 15 million baby girls born in India each year, nearly 25 percent will not live to see their 15th birthday.
The Indian constitution grants Women equal rights with men, but strong patriarchal traditions persist, with Women’s lives shaped by customs that are centuries old. In most Indian families, a daughter is viewed as a liability, and she is conditioned to believe that she is inferior and subordinate to men. Sons are idolized and celebrated. May you be the mother of a hundred sons is a common Hindu wedding blessing.

The origin of the Indian idea of appropriate female behavior can be traced to the rules laid down by Manu in 200 B.C.: “by a young girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house”. “In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent.”

WOMEN ARE MALNOURISHED

The exceptionally high rates of malnutrition in South Asia are rooted deeply in the soil of inequality between men and Women.

This point is made in the article, The Asian Enigma, published by Unicef in the 1996 Progress of Nations, in which the rates of childhood malnutrition in South Asia are compared with those in Africa. We learn that malnutrition is far worse in South Asia, directly due to the fact that Women in South Asia have less voice and freedom of movement than in Africa despite the fact that in comparison to Africa , Asia is far more better in terms of economy.