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
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
- 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
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
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
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.