Empowerment of Indian Women – A Sham?

Posted on June 22, 2010 in Society

Abhirup Bhunia:

Empowerment is the act of bestowing power and authority on someone. Women empowerment thus refers to the conferring of leverage to women who are otherwise deprived. This includes granting to women effectual decision-making power, the power to influence others decisions along with economic, social and civil freedom. Women in India have been disadvantaged for ages mainly because they were believed to be and treated as inferior to men. Sadly, a pseudo-empowerment process has been undertaken each time women’s welfare was given consideration to. There has been a failure in detecting where the problem is and what empowerment means. In short, female empowerment processes in India are moving at a staggering pace contrary to what the popular belief is. The women, in order to be empowered, firstly need authority at home, which they don’t. This doesn’t necessitate arresting women empowerment schemes beyond domestic affairs. The process should be carried out concurrently at home and outside. Within the family, they must have equal say as men, so should be the case at work. There are five major components which if ensured would lead to appropriate women empowerment and those are: proper education, social equity and status, improved health, economic or financial stability and political participation.

In India, a whopping 56% of the women are illiterate as against a considerably lower 24% in case of men, evincing the palpable inequity. This should be done away with by ensuring increased enrolment of girls in schools initially and then colleges. Educating the girl child is now an order of the government, with the Right to Education act in force which will address the cause of literacy dramatically. This apart adult literacy programs should be initiated in villages to contribute to the escalation in female literacy.

The most extensive element of women empowerment is providing them with social rank, status and justice. Even today the media flashes reports of dowry deaths, child marriages, and female infanticides. Various forms of women centric crimes constitute a big problem which can be mended with stringent laws in place. Certainly there isn’t any dearth of law that protects a woman in India, but the cases of justice being ultimately handed out are limited. India records about 7000 dowry deaths per year. 38% women face torture, 22% molestation and 12% rape in their lifetime. Shockingly, 33% of all crimes against women are committed by family members including husbands. This brings us to domestic violence, an ignominious phenomenon in India that haunts several women in villages, towns and metropolises. A law has however been constituted to tackle this menace which is called ‘The prevention of domestic violence act’.

The IT-BPO industry, which propelled India’s economic surge, boasts of 60% women employees verifying that a rich number of women today get along with computers better than cookery. A good proportion of women in urban India are financially independent. However, financial independence alone does not signify empowerment. Working women who can earn their own living aren’t spared of domestic violence; instead this phenomenon is quite prevalent in cities. Surveys conducted by UNICEF show that 45% of men in India have admitted to have physically abused their wives. In NE India, 20% young girls are forced into prostitution, sold to brothels and yet others are trafficked to neighboring nations.

Health, they say, is the biggest wealth. UNICEF recently revealed that married women from India are the most anaemic in the world and this has been attributed to low social rank of women and bad quality of food. To talk of the health oriented repercussions of trafficking, there has been a rise in the AIDS count as well.

The political participation of women is an important facet. Sadly, the representation of women in national politics is only 11%. The parliament has passed a bill that reserves 33% of seats for women in Lok Sabha and all state assemblies in what is termed as a historic bill. This has been perceived by some as vote bank politics as well. Although many nations have taken this route to empower the fairer sex, this is not the best way. In India, where political dynasties are a big thing, there is high possibility that wives and daughters of existent politicians make their way into the parliament. Proxy representation, which the bill allows, deifies a major tenet of empowerment — decision making. Female members of the kin who are likely to gain political seats would be, in most cases, dictated by the male politician whose relative she is, something which has got nothing to do with empowerment of women. While this could be one of the cases, it is believed that the bill is elitist, something that does not befit empowerment of women either, given that India is a nation where the poor and the middle class form the majority of population. The proposed law also insinuates that women are too incapable too progress without reservation, which is very much anti-empowerment in nature since a crucial aspect of empowerment is to instill a strong sense of self confidence in a woman’s mind. The impact of suitable female empowerment can be recognized by a statement issued by UNDP which says: India’s GDP rate could escalate further if the female employment rate is bolstered.

Let’s hope to see a better India with women — all empowered and independent.

Abhirup Bhunia is a special correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz. He takes a special liking to global diplomacy and international developments along with social issues. Follow him at twitter.com/abhirup1 or contact him at abhirup.b1@gmail.com