The Gist of Yojana: December 2016

The Gist of Yojana: December 2016

Women's Empowerment in the Indian Context

Most countries today consider gender equality and women's empowerment to be essential for the development and well-being of families, communities and nations. No nation, society, and family can flourish and be happy if fifty per cent of its population, i.e. women and girls, are not respected, free and happy.

Not just in India, but in most countries of the world, women have been discriminated against, excluded from decision making at all levels, marginalised and disempowered. This is so because of the prevalence of patriarchy, a social system in which men are considered to be superior to women and in which, men have more control over resources, decision making and ideology. In patriarchy, violence against women is a part of the system. Women are controlled through violence or the threat of violence.

According to the UN, one out of every three women experiences violence. This means over one billion women and girls experience violence. This is the biggest war going on in the world and what is most painful is that most of it takes place within the family.

Women: Bottom of All Hierarchies

It is indeed difficult to generalise about women in India because of the vast differences between them. They belong to different classes, castes, religions, communities. Yet, one can say that most women suffer from patriarchal structures and ideologies; they experience gender inequalities and subordination. Women lag behind their men in all indicators of social and human development. India has the most adverse sex-ratios for women in the world. Life expectancy for women is lower than that of men, women's health, nutritional and educational levels are significantly lower than that of men. Women are concentrated in low skilled and low paid jobs, they get lower wages and lower income than men and they hardly own and/or control property and means of production1 The number of female headed hotrseholds has been increasing and they are amongst the poorest in our countries. The participation of women in political and social decision-making is abysmally low. Women's participation in the Parliament has never been higher than 10 per cent. They are excluded from jural authority. They have little say in the formulation of social, economic, legal, political rules which govern their lives and keep them subjugated.

Empowerment: Dynmie and Political Process

In order to move towards gender equality, we have to empower that gender which is disempowered, i.e., women and girls. One needs to understand POWER in order to empower anyone. Power is the capacity or ability to take actions freely and independently, it is the capacity to control or influence others. Power means autonomy, freedom, making your own choices, having a voice.

In human societies, power is derived from control over resources and ideology. People who control resources and ideology (people's thinking, belief systems etc.) become the decision makers and controllers of families, communities and countries.

Women's empowerment, therefore, would require changing patriarchal thinking and structures, giving women control over resources (natural, human, intellectural, financial, inner resources), bringing them into decision making roles etc.

Women's empowerment is a process, which is both on-going and dynamic and which enhances women's ability to change those structures and ideologies which keep them subordinate. This process enables them to gain more access to control over resources and decision-making; gain more control over their own lives, gain more autonomy. It is a process which enables women to have self-respect and dignity, which improves their self image and social Image.

Empowerment of women has to be done at all levels and in III sections if it is to become strong and wide spread and make a difference. Effective networking is required between grass-root level women activists, intermediary level activists, women in the government, media women, women politicians, women academics, women artists, women entrepreneurs, etc. We need networking between those working at the micro level, and those working at the macro level. We also need support from sympathetic men at all levels.

Women’s empowement has to be multidimensional and integrative. This process may include some or all of the following:

  • Making women’s contribution to society visible; i.e. showing that women, in addition to being deliverers of children and home-makers, are farmers, labourers, artisans, professionals, etc.
  • Making women and society recognize the knowledge, capabilities and skills that women have had and still have, particularly in areas of agriculture, health handicrafts, etc.
  • Providing opporutnities for girls and women to realise their full potential and to hae choices and not to be pushed into only a few traditional roles and occukpations.
  • Facilitating awareness amongst women an men about girls and women’s genuine needs, theri status within and outside the family, their rights and responsibilities.
  • Helping women gain access to and control over means of production, property and other resources and control over income.

Women’s lack of control over property and other productive resources is an important reason for women’s inferior status. It is this which makes women feel insecure all the time. In her book “A Field of One s Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia” Bina Agarwal has very convincingly argued that gender gap in the ownership and control over property is the single most important factor affecting women’s economic well being, social status and empowerment. This issue needs to be addressed urgently at all levels.

Lack of access to gainful employment is another important issue. While much stress is laid on who brings in the cash, women are denied opportunities of learning and developing skills to bring in cash, and to be gainfully employed. Women’s household work is not valued and if they do not bring in cash they are devalued, considered as burden, a liability.

Sharing of household and child rearing work is another area which needs to be looked into because that is where maximum subordination of women is located. Women slog all the time, have no leisure, no opportunity to study, to grow. This is a big hurdle in the path of women's equality and empowerment. Women's drudgery can only be reduced if others in the family share their work. Boys and men should share mothering, caring, nurturing activities to provide time to women to rest, to have time for themselves, to develop other interests.

Control over women's sexuality is another area which needs to be studied, understood and addressed. Early marriages, purdah, restrictions on women's mobility, which are all ways of controlling women's sexuality, have drastic implications for the freedom and autonomy of girls and women.

The other important area to be addressed is that of ideology which justifies and perpetuates patriarchal structures, practices and behaviour patterns. Media are a powerful creator of ideology and we all know how sexist and anti-women most media have been and are. Considerable amount of work has been done to change media images of women but unfortunately things have only become worse.

We have to strengthen and multiply those ongoing efforts to educate women, to acquire information and knowledge which help them challenge patriarchal knowledge, norms, values, behaviour patterns. We need education which will help women not only to read and understand the word but to read, understand and control our world; which will help women not only to master the three Rs., but to be masters of their own lives and makers of their destinies. We need education which will help women acquire the necessary analytical skills to understand the fast changing realities of life; which will give them the confidence and strength to refuse to submit to conditions of indignity and inhumanity. If we are involved with women's literacy then literacy classes for women should become nuclei for consciousness raising. They should help women form strong groups so that they can gain more and more control over their lives, help them break their silence, make them visible. These classes should create an atmosphere which allows women more freedom, which gives them more opportunities to realise their full human potential. Education for women's empowerment will have to be an ongoing process of collective action and reflection. Our educational efforts should be built on women's existing knowledge and skills; they should affirm women, bring out the best in each one of them.

It should help women develop an analytical and questioning mind and a scientific approach to understand the realities around them. It should help them see the connections between micro and macro realities, between micro realities and macro policies, between the local and the global.

Just to reiterate, women's empowerment must accompany the empowerment of human values. Only then there will be more equality, justice and peace around us.

Women's empowerment will take place at a rapid pace only when men understand that it will be good for men also and it will be good for families and nations. Let us remember that.

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