This is a guest post by Mitul Kathuria & Smridhi Khanna, both from FORE School Of Management.
The status of women has seen a roller-coaster ride from the time immemorial, in India. From the high brows of being treated at par with men, in ancient times, through the low brows of the medieval period, to the promotion of rights of equality by various reformers, the history of women, in a ‘cultured’ nation like India, has been notable. While it is imperative to talk about culture, when one talks about India, and how women have been given the highest regard in scriptures; legends & epics, one can’t simply afford to ignore the truth that in the modern India, women have always been considered a second grade citizen, irrespective of the fact that what the ‘esteemed leaders’ have said or done.
It is said that during the ancient India, women enjoyed equivalent status & rights to their males counterparts. Also, they were educated properly in the early Vedic period. Such references are available from the works of various Grammarians- Katyayana and Patanjali to name a few. They also had the freedom to select their husbands, through the ‘Swayamvar.’ Rather, women had superior position than the males.
The status of women in India ramshackled during the medieval period with the onset of the Islamic culture. Evil practices such as sati, child marriage & female infanticide were practiced. ‘Purdah’ was introduced to the society, with Polygamy also being a common feature.
Though the rule by Muslims was regressive in nature for women, it has to be acknowledged that they also excelled in literature, music and arts. Some great-women rulers were Razia Sultana; Nur Jahan; Gond queen Durgavati ruled for fifteen years before she was defeated. Nur Jahan, by far, is considered as the most effective ruler. Razia Sultana was the only female monarch to rule the throne of Delhi. In spite of these powerful women, the condition of ‘not-so-powerful’ was at an all-time low.
During the modern time there was a little development in the women status. With many European scholars notifying that the Indian women were more virtuous that that of other parts of the world, efforts were also made on the home turf to bring men and women at the same page, in terms of stature. Social reformers such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chand Vidyasagar, Jyotiba Phule and others who worked for the upliftment & betterment of their female counterparts. Due to their efforts, the purdah system was discarded, along with the Britishers making the sati-pratha illegal. Credit also goes to the elevated education and introduction of English as the medium. Moreover, female writers emerged in the society.
In the modern time, women in India are given freedom & right such as freedom of expression & equality as well as the right to be educated. Various prestigious positions at this period are also held by women, including those of the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha. However, problems such as domestic violence, dowry, female infanticide, sex selective abortion are widely prevalent.
CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN
A report on the crimes against women by the National Crime Records Bureau comes up with some alarming statistics. To understand what it is that drives such crimes against women is a humongous task. There are various factors which drive the Indian citizenry to commit heinous crimes but there are some acute reasons that such behavior continues despite the ‘apparent movement towards civilization’.
There are various challenges that are acting as loophole in the issues of women’s rights in India. While many challenges are redundant and quite basic issues faced across the country, they are eventually the contributory causes to the overarching status of women. Empowerment of women in India will be directly benefited if these issues are targeted, at both individual and societal level.
Based on the three surveys carried out by NFHS, the trend data provide strong evidence of sharp decline in the male-to-female ratio. The research reveals that among births, the females are under-represented while over-represented among births that die. Also, declination in the sex ratios at birth has been noticed with wealth. One may infer, at the very basic level, that selection of sex at birth is more prominent in wealthier households than the poorer ones. With ultrasound tests being widely used for selection of gender, it is evident from the records that it is not carried more for the women belonging to other wealth quintiles, but the wealthiest women. This is evident from the records that once the ‘desired number of sons’ are there, the couples stop having children. Also, the child mortality rate is 61% higher for girls than for boys.
It can be understood from the above findings that the greatest blot on the women empowerment is the closed mind-set which, unfortunately, is that of the ‘modern’ strata of the society.
While the country has grown, in terms of literacy levels, since its independence, the gap between women and men, regarding the same, has also gone up. Only 65.46% of women, over the age of 18, are literate in India as against 82.14% of adult men. While an illiterate women is not only at the pity of either her husband or father, the way of life of women across the globe is also not known to her. While being literate is important, it is not the sole thing which describes the overall growth of the society. Being educated is one such parameter which ensures the holistic growth and development of the same. Even when a woman is literate, she doesn’t open her mouth against the atrocities committed against her, due to ‘social respect’ for her family. In some extreme cases, she is ‘advised’ to not to open her mouth, else she’d face dire consequences. Additionally, the society of the nation is being spoilt by the ‘mythical fact’ that “be-all and end-all” of family decisions is the man of the family.
The entire women empowerment movement, to break the cobweb of intolerance and exploitation, will be largely set when this gap is eradicated and women are educated about their real place in the world.
INITIATIVES TO EMPOWER WOMEN
Millenium Development Goals
The United Nations Development Programme constituted eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for ensuring equity and peace across the world. The 3rd MDG focuses on empowerment of women. The MDGs are the goals that have been agreed-upon worldwide, in order to reduce certain indicators of disparity by the year 2015. This MDG focuses on promoting gender equality and empowering women: “Eliminate gender inequality in seconday and primary education by 2005, and in all stages by no later than 2015”. While India’s progress in this front has been brave, there are quite a few hurdles it needs to cross before it can be called as being truly revolutionary in its quest for understanding what women empowerment is. As UNDP said, the 2005 deadline of eliminating gender inequality in educational institutions, at primary as well as secondary level, was missed by India. Having said that, it has also been acknowledged that the progress in the country has hastened and this is evident from the rise in Gender Parity Index (GPI) for Gross Enrolment Ratios (GER) in the same. According to current progression, India is nearly on track. However, as the Government of India MDG Report 2009 notes, the gender disparity is unlikely to be eradicated by 2015, courtesy lack women participation in decision making and employment.
To drive the holistic development of women and children in the country, the Ministry for Women & Child Development was established, under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, in the year 1985. It was given the status of a Ministry in 2006. One of its primary aim is to deliver initiatives, such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), which is a package of services such as supplementary nutrition, health check-ups and immunisation. Another such institution is National Commission for Women.
What Lies Ahead
India, as a nation, is still recovering not only from years of abuse, in the time of the Raj, but also through the years of economic suffering, at the hands of the License Raj. The large proportion of population has been given a respite by globalisation; liberalisation & other socio-economic forces. However, still there are quite a few areas where India is largely lacking in women empowerment. In order to understand what women empowerment is, in true sense, there HAS TO BE a sea-change in the mind-set of the people. Not only by women themselves, but the world has to be woken up to a call for moving towards equality and equity, by men as well. For our own good and better, it shall be better if this is embraced sooner. In words of Swami Vivekananda, the nation should arise away and stop not until the goal is reached. Thus India should revel in its glory, forever, once catapulted into the horizon of women empowerment.