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Is Women’s Empowerment Just A Fairy Tale In Modern India?

TW: Sexual Assault

Once upon a time, a King arrived in a nation filled with peace, harmony, invention, and wealth, promising brighter days and better governance. Sick of the terrible mess their divine land was in, the populace demanded less corruption, a higher standard of living, better jobs, a narrower class divide, and greater safety and empowerment for their women, which the King offered. Masterstroke after masterstroke, the King and his loyal Ministers excelled at making promises and then keeping them on paper.

The King had nominated 11 women to be his devoted Ministers, demonstrating the bright future that the women of this hallowed kingdom, the land of a thousand-odd Goddesses, have.

And The Reality Of This Kingdom?

Photo: @ambedkariteIND. Protest against the UP government’s handling of the Hathras rape case.

Every day, 88 women are raped in India, with just 30% of the perpetrators being punished, and these are only the cases that have been recorded. According to a LiveMint piece from April 2018, about 99 percent of sexual assault instances go unreported, with the majority of these cases being perpetrated by the women’s spouses.

The bodies of children who are raped and murdered are being burned in front of law enforcement authorities and other administrative chiefs, possibly to hide the failure of their legal, executive, and administrative system in the ashes of these innocent children and young women.

Smt. Smriti Irani, who has been talked about as a “feminist” icon by the biased, blind, and bought Media, also the Minister of Women and Children’s development strategically avoided statements concerning the Unnao and Hathras cases, is now silent about the alleged gangrape and forced cremation of a 9-year-old year in Delhi. She did, however, share a meme about football star Lionel Messi exiting Barcelona after 21 years- a commendable step towards female empowerment, given that football as a sport is stereotypically a male-dominated space.

Smt. Irani announced recently that 51,600 rape cases have been ‘disposed of’ by 660 Fast Track Courts thanks to the Nirbhaya Fund, which, according to an Oxfam India report, is grossly inadequate, accounting for less than a quarter of the amount required. This is a notable initiative, except that little is being done to prevent these incidents from occurring in the first place. 2021-2022, the Ministry of Women and Child Development merged three Nirbhaya Fund programs under a single umbrella scheme called SAMBAL, allocations for which are 10% lower than the combined allocations for all of these schemes the previous year, making it even more insufficient.

In other instances where patriarchy and gender disparity were shattered, Hon’ble Finance Minister of India, Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman in her press conferences encouraged female journalists to ask more questions and for sexist jokes to not be normalized in everyday conversations. On the other hand, India’s Union Budget 2020-21 allocated to women is less than 5% of the total budget while women make up nearly half the population of India. According to estimates by the World Bank, female labor force participation dropped down to 20.3% in 2019 and 15.5% in April 2020.

The idea of providing free LPG cylinders, along with regressive schemes wrapped in feminist packaging, only serves to reinforce gender norms and the idea that women’s potential is limited to domestic chores; a dangerous example set by a government that has pushed India down to 140th place out of 156 countries in terms of gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index. Unsurprisingly, none of the programs includes explicit provisions for Transwomen, and their welfare, growth, and social and financial upliftment have not been discussed by the NDA government’s feminist icons, who also supported the tyrannical ‘The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019’.

Women have tried speaking out against these and other atrocities against women in the media and on social media platforms, only to be welcomed with sexist remarks, stalking, doxing, and rape threats, none of which have been explicitly condemned by the government, and no actions have been taken to address them. As a young woman who has recently entered the political arena, the current state of events is frightening to me and my family, as it is to hundreds of other young women who are hesitant to speak out against bigotry and injustice.

It is in our power to demand accountability, our rights, and a better future, and it begins with knowing our role in electing a government that allows for criticism and encourages us to reclaim control over our own lives and bodies. This tale may not have an ending yet, but it does have a moral- the next time we, the women of India, arrive at a polling booth, we remember the injustices the past few years have given us; we remember forced cremations of rape victims, we remember their silence and that quietude enables.

The grand ‘The End’ to this tale about the hallowed kingdom, the land of a thousand-odd Goddesses, lies in the hand of the modern woman.

Feature image is for representational purposes only
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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.

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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.

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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.

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