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Patriarchy And The Status Of Women In The Society

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Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power, predominate in the roles of political leadership, moral authority, special privilege and control of the property. They also hold power in the domain of the family, as fatherly figures.

Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that the male lineage inherits the property and title. Here, the female alternative is a matriarchy. Historically, patriarchy has manifested itself in the social, legal, political, and economic organization of a range of different cultures. The analysis of patriarchy and its effects is a major topic within the social sciences and humanities.

Nowadays, patriarchy is a well-known term. It possesses everyday resonance, when used in casual conversation or a descriptive sense, whether, in English or any of the several languages spoken in the Indian sub-continent. At its simplest, the term means ‘the absolute rule of the father or the eldest male member over his family’.

The Patriarchal Nature Of The Indian Society

Indian debates on socialism and patriarchy are complicated by a significant shift in the analysis. The subject of research and debates was not just capitalism and its relationship to patriarchy. Rather, patriarchy came to be discussed in term of the modes of production and reproduction, specific to Indian realities. These were understood regarding the family and household; kinship and caste; culture and religion, and the Indian state, whose policies have a dynamic beaming on all other social structures. Indian discussion addressed and added their concerns to the more substantial feminist arguments.

Indian feminist analysis and arguments linked the family and the economy to demonstrate, how the economic power of men and their domination of production was crucially linked to, and determined by, the organization of the family and the household. The household thus emerged as an important constituent of both production and patriarchy.

The sphere of reproduction was understood in terms of a sex-gender system, which identified with concrete social structures and relationships, in this case, kinship networks. Along with the household, kin networks were seen as central to both the exercise of male power in the familial and social contexts, as well as a women’s status, or the lack of it, at home and outside.

Both production and reproduction were seen as involving exploitations of human labour on the one hand, and of female reproductive capacity, on the other. The caste system was seen as central to both forms of exploitation and as linking them in explicit ways, and it has been argued that distinctive caste patriarchies exist in India.

Debates about capitalism and women’s sub ordinance often became debates on developments and the role of the modern states. This led to the theorizing of the state as both patriarchal and as a potential challenger of patriarchy.

Various studies are available which is documenting the same. Their invisibility, position of women in the social, political and economic system, is clearly more an outcome of the ideology governing public policy relating to women. Hence, women are noticeably absent from the discussions of development theory too.

Women In Indian Society

India is one of the countries where the female population is less than the proportion of the male population. According to UNICEF India’s Report on Child Sex Ratio, the birth of female’s children is declining steadily. Figures from 1991 showed that the sex ratio was 947 girls for 1,000 boys. Since 1991, 80% of all districts in India had recorded a declining sex ratio, with the state of Punjab being the worst in leading the statistics. States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana have recorded more than a 50 point decline in the child sex ratio in the same period. Kerala is the only one in India where the overall sex ratio is constantly in favourable to women. However, the numbers today, have started to improve once again.

The Status Of Women In India

Women form about half of the population of the country, but their situation has been grim. For centuries, they have been deliberately denied the opportunities for growth in the name of religion and socio-cultural practices. At the social-political plain, women suffered from the denial of freedom even in their homes, repression and unnatural indoctrination, an unequal and inferior status, rigid caste hierarchy and even untouchability. Religious tradition and social institutions have a deep bearing on the role and status of women.

Protest movements within the Hindu fold, like Buddhism, Jainism, Vaishnavism, Veera Shaivism and Sikhism contributed to some improvement in the status of women. Particularly regarding religious activities. However, they continued to regard women primarily as mothers and wives, inferior to the men in the society. From the middle of 19th century, reform movements like Brahma Samaj, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, etc. championed the cause of women, but nothing concrete could be achieved. It is also significant that upliftment of women was an important item in the agenda of MK Gandhi.

Exploitation Of Women

A woman in Indian society has been a victim of humiliation, torture and exploitation. There are many episodes of rape, murder, dowry, burning, wife beating and discrimination in society. Men predominate the Indian society, hence women are a victim of male domination in the respective sphere of life; especially in economic life, over decision making on resources, on the utilization of her earnings and her body. Hence, a woman’s life lies between pleasures at one end and danger at another end.

The Vulnerability Of Women

The condition of women is more miserable in rural India with respect to various socio-economic aspects:


Poverty is one of the important characteristics of India, and nearly 45% of rural people are below poverty line. Most of them are just surviving with their day-to-day earnings. If we take the International Poverty Line (1994) into consideration, in India, there were 47% of the population at below $1 a day category and 87.5% at below $2 a day category. Better healthcare and higher educational opportunities are far reaching dreams for their children. She (girl child) is treated as a ‘silent lamb’ born to suffer all evils in male-dominated societies.


Culture and tradition have bound the Indian society since ancient times. The patriarchal system and the gender stereotypes in the family and society have always shown a preference for the male child. Sons are regarded as a means of social security and women remained under male domination.

Due to her subordinated position, she has suffered fears of discrimination, exploitation and subjugation. She became the victim of several social evils like child marriage, sati, polygamy, purdah system, female infanticide, forced pregnancy, rape etc.

In such incidents, many times, the mother-in-law of the woman also has a role to play. This discrimination and violence against women affect the sex ratio in India also. The main causes of violence are unequal power relations, gender discrimination, patriarchy and economic dependence of women, no participation in the decision-making process etc.

Economic Exploitation

In the world, women and girls together, carry two-thirds of the burden of the world’s work, yet receive only a tenth of world’s income. The condition of women in India is also miserable in every field of social life. They are paid half of the money their male counterparts earn for the same job. In India, a predominantly agricultural country, women do more than half of the total agricultural work. But their work is not valued. On an average, a woman worked 15 to 16 hours a day unpaid at home and underpaid outside.

Educational Deprivation

In India, the literacy rate of women is much lower than men because boys receive more schooling than girls. India is one of the 43 countries in the world where the male literacy rate is at least 15% higher than female rates. Educational deprivation is intimately associated with poverty.

However, in India, modest improvement is gradually coming up in the educational level of women. After the independence, many steps have been taken to improve the lots women. The present govt’s program “Beti Bachao, Beti Padao” is also remarkable step by the government to fulfilment the need and aspiration of the girl child. Many laws have also been passed. A National Commission for Women was set up to act as a watchdog on the women issues in 1992. Many programs in the areas of education, health, and employment have been initiated for development of women, rural as well as urban.

The review of the status of women in India tells the story of a fall in the status of women to an abysmally low position from a relatively high-status and notability of the Vedic times. The fall in status has led to a socio-economic and religious-cultural deprivation of women.

Of course, there are certain initiatives in the country, especially after the independence towards raising the status of women. But still, there are many miles to go to reach out the goal of gender equality.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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