"A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform"
By: Sini Madhavan
“Women represent 50% of population, make up 30% of the official labour force, perform 60% of all working hours, receive 10% of the world income and own less than 1% of the world property”. This is the lawful economic profile of women in the world. This is also true of Indian women, and very much true of rural women. Women are often described as the better half of man and a major contributor to the survival of the family. But the actual condition of women in the world does not tally with this description. They perform multiple and productive responsibilities and execute important roles as producers of food, earners of income and caretakers of household activities. Yet, they are placed below men.
Women have a crucial role to play in the modern society. Their participation in the sphere of economic activities on par with men is necessary for the development of mankind. The recognition of the productive capacities and capabilities of women in development is very recent. Much of the impetus for rising interest in their role in development came from the UN Decade for Women (1975-85) and the events that accompanied it. It has forced a rethinking of development policies which began to conceptualize women as agents of productive process and identified marginalisation as the cause of their deteriorating status.
Women are vital and productive workers in India’s economy. They make up one third of the national labour force and constitute half of the human population. But they have no locus standi in the society. National movement succeeded in getting India freedom but the process of women liberation remained incomplete. The reason is palpable: while the independence was to be obtained from the outsiders; liberation from the people within is yet to be attained.
Indian society still is characterised by its ancient societal norms and values but yet amongst it, the status and role of women have witnessed rapid changes in recent years. There was a tangible shift of attitude in government and other social welfare organisation in trying to uplift the social and economic standards of women. It was only during the sixth plan, which began in 1980, that the magnitude of women’s problem was perceived and the needs to make special efforts for their economic development were recognised. In the seventh plan (1985-90) there was a definite shift in focus from the welfare concept to development and empowerment concept, thus giving them a voice and ushering new thrust for their development.
Women Empowerment is a dynamic and multi-dimensional process, which enables women to realize their full uniqueness and powers in different spheres of life – cultural, social, political and economic, development process and decision making. Empowerment endows women with the ability to gain control over resources, develop physical and psychological capacity to challenge the prevailing gender norms and ensure change. Empowerment of women can be achieved if their economic and social status is improved. This could be possible only by adopting definite social and economic policies with a view of total development of women. However, it still remains a dream in India.
National Initiatives for Women Empowerment
Since independence, the Government of India has enacted many legislations, policies, programmes, and schemes for the advancement of women. The programme for Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA), launched in 1982-83, established an era for systematically organising women in groups for enhancing their earnings and increasing their access to and utilisation of different services like child care, health and adult education. The holistic development of women and children received much needed impetus after the Department of Women and Child Development was set up in 1985. The department since its inception has been implementing special programmes for development and empowerment of women with major focus on improving the socio-economic status of women. Its other mandate is to integrate gender equality perspective in legislation, public policies, programmes and projects so as to eliminate probable obstacles coming in the way of realising women’s rights and thereby eradicating all forms of discrimination against women. Besides the department, other mechanisms at the central level are National Commission for Women, Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, Women’s Development Corporations, Central Social Welfare Board and Parliamentary Committee for Empowerment of Women etc.
The National Commission for Women, a statutory body set up under the National Commission for Women Act 1990 safeguards the overall rights and interests of women. It also reviews legislation, makes interventions into specific individual complaints of atrocities and suggests remedial action. The Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK), set up by the Department of Women and Child Development in 1993, acts as a instrument for extending credit to poor and needy women in the informal sector. In addition, it has supported the formulation of women’s Thrift and Credit Groups, popularly known as Self Help Groups, for their economic self reliance. The Parliamentary Committee for Empowerment of Women, constituted in 1997 functions as a watchdog and looks into mainstreaming of gender concerns in policy and programme.
The delivery of a variety of gender related support services is being facilitated by the country wide network of village level centres, known as Aganwadis, set up under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme for providing a variety of nutritional and health related services to children and pregnant and nursing mothers. To combat violence against women, Women Cells have been constituted in police stations. The most important social innovation to help women in recent years has been the setting up of Women’s Development Corporations in most of the states, for the easy facilitation of credit.
In order to give a fillip to empowerment of women, both the Central and State Government is setting apart huge funds in the budget for women folk. The Union Finance Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee in the 2010-11 budgets has announced a number of new initiatives that will enhance the development of women. This include the setting up of a mission for empowerment of women, expansion of Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) platform for effective implementation of the Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Adolescent Girls, measures for disabled persons, as well as addressing the needs of women farmers. The budget also proposed to enhance the plan outlay of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to Rs.4500 crore, which amounts to an increase of 80 percent as compared to 2009-10.
Hence, there is no doubt about the fact that development of women has always been the focal point of planning since independence. However, the existing challenge is in the implementation and utilization of these policies and programmes.
Reality of women in India
It is a tragedy that every year, half million girl children are being killed and prevented from being born, ironically with the help of modern tools and technology leading to the decline in the ratio of women in the population. Women who number 498.7 million according to 2001 census represented 48.2 per cent of country’s population of 1,027.01 crores. The sex ratio of 933 women per 1000 men as revealed by the Census Report 2001 shows the misuse of the prenatal diagnostic technique to do away with female foetus.
Human rights violation is one of the most crucial social mechanism by which women are forced into a subordinate position. Fear of violence is a cause of women’s lack of participation in activities beyond their home as well as inside it. In recent years, there has been an alarming rise in atrocities against women in India. Every 26 minutes, a woman is molested. Every 34 minutes, a rape takes place. Every 42 minutes, a sexual harassment occurs. Every 43 minutes, a woman is kidnapped. And every 93 minutes, a woman is burnt to death over dowry. One-quarter of the reported rapes involve girls under the age of 16 but the vast majorities are never reported although the penalty is severe, and convictions are rare. Also honour killing is at the peak in India. Taking into account these statistics government must take appropriate measures to prevent such crimes against women.
Gender equality plays a decisive role in uplifting women. Ever since India became free, there have been phenomenal changes in the condition of women. The constitution has given women the much needed status. They are equal before law. There can be no discrimination by the state on grounds of gender. But, the idea of equal employment opportunities still remains unimplemented. According to Corporate Gender Gap Report brought out by the World Economic Forum, India has the lowest percentage of women employees i.e. 23% which is followed by Japan (24%), Turkey (26%) and Austria (29%).
Education is one of the most critical areas of empowerment for women. The empowering role of woman’s education is multi-pronged, affecting not only every aspect of women’s lives, but also the lives of their children and others who are likely to depend on them. According to the 2001 census, the percentage of female literacy in the country is 54.16%. It has increased from 8.86% in 1951 to 54.16% in 2001. Female literacy is not only an end itself, but also serves as a catalyst for overall performance in other segments too. It makes a huge difference in transforming the nation.
It is notable that the representation of women leaders at the grassroots level is distinctive in India. The major landmark in the field of women empowerment was brought about by 73rd and 74th amendments to India’s Constitution, passed in 1993, mandates local elections every five years and reserves one-third of all seats for women at local levels of government. This amendment has brought over one million women in to the political system. In 2009, the Government of India’s Cabinet approved a proposal to move a bill to amend the constitution of India that would enhance the reservation of seats in panchayats for women from one third to 50% across the country. Perhaps, the most significant development for women in the last decade has been the introduction of reservation bill. The Women’s Reservation Bill, which provides 33% of seats for women in legislative bodies, has been put on hold. Though it was passed by Rajya Sabha, it is yet to be tabled in Lok Sabha. The bill if passed will definitely pave way to women empowerment.
Government of India has adopted several policies and programmes for women empowerment and crores of rupees have already been pumped into the economy. But the reality is that the basic thrust of development is not reaching an average woman, making her a lower citizen of society.
No nation can attain its socio-economic development by keeping a chunk of population in darkness. It is likely to be a very long and hard one, for it needs to change century’s old mindset. If India is to realise her potential, women’s empowerment should achieve its goals, for no country can become a superpower if nearly half of its population are without control over their actions. The real solution lies in a holistic approach that should be adopted by the government regarding different facets of women’s issue. Government should ensure equal partnership of women in economic, social, political and cultural fields. The most notable thing is to curb out wrongful social practices which are death blow to women.
The author is a Research Scholar & Former Guest Lecturer, Dept. of Commerce, Mar Ivanios College, Thiruvananthapuram.