Women Empowerment in India – A Burning Issue

You might be listening to news, reading newspaper or magazine, you would have gone through incidents and accidents with women in India. While any other article on women’s empowerment in India will take a look at our rich heritage and enlightened societies of the past where women were treated as equals, the concept of “India” itself evolved quite recently, relative to the sum of its parts’ histories. But the TRUTH is that in the modern India, the woman has always been a second grade citizen, no matter what its esteemed leaders have said or done.

It is hard to fathom how slow moving the cultural exchange of the world is when you find out that there are several places across the country where harmful customs of the ancient world coexist with modern appliances and thought. However that may come as hardly any surprise to anyone who has lived in India – the dichotomy of society is something that can only be explained by a refrain from an old Bollywood song: “It happens only in India!”

Yes, it is only in India that glaring and brutal gang rapes occur frequently in a state that is headed by a woman Chief Minister. Gender discrimination is the least of worries for women in India, known otherwise as the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women. Other instances of violence against women has an astonishing and grim variety to it – with acid throwing, domestic violence stemming out of dowry, rape, harassment and an assortment of others.

What is Women Empowerment?

In the simplest of words it is basically the creation of an environment where women can make independent decisions on their personal development as well as shine as equals in society.

Women want to be treated as equals so much so that if a woman rises to the top of her field it should be a commonplace occurrence that draws nothing more than a raised eyebrow at the gender. This can only happen if there is a channelized route for the empowerment of women.

Thus it is no real surprise that women empowerment in India is a hotly discussed topic with no real solution looming in the horizon except to doubly redouble our efforts and continue to target the sources of all the violence and ill-will towards women.

Crimes against Women

The crimes against women fly directly against orchestrating women empowerment in India. A report on the crimes against women by the National Crime Records Bureau comes up with some alarming statistics:-

Sl No. Crime Head Year
2006
Year
2007
Year
2008
Year
2009
Year
2010
Year
2011
Year
2012
Percentage
Variation
in
2012
over
2011
1 Rape
(Sec. 376 IPC)
19,348 20,737 21,467 21,397 22,172 24,206 24,923 3.0
2 Kidnapping & Abduction
(Sec. 363 to 373 IPC)
17,414 20,416 22,939 25,741 29,795 35,565 38,262 7.6
3 Dowry Death
(Sec 302/304 IPC)
7,618 8,093 8,172 8,383 8,391 8,618 8,233 -4.5
4 Torture
(Sec. 498-A IPC)
63,128 75,930 81,344 89,546 94,041 99,135 1,06,527 7.5
5 Molestation
(Sec. 354 IPC)
36,617 38,734 40,413 38,711 40,613 42,968 45,351 5.5
6 Sexual Harassment
(Sec. 509 IPC)
9,966 10,950 12,214 11,009 9,961 8,570 9,173 7.0
7 Importation of Girls
(Sec. 366-B IPC)
67 61 67 48 36 80 59 -26.3
8 Sati Prevention Act, 1987 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 -100.0
9 Immoral Traffic
(Prevention) Act, 1956
4,541 3,568 2,659 2,474 2,499 2,435 2,563 5.3
10 Indecent Representation of Women
(Prohibition) Act, 1986
1,562 1,200 1,025 845 895 453 141 -68.9
11 Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 4,504 5,623 5,555 5,650 5,182 6,619 9,038 36.5
Total 1,64,765 1,85,312 1,95,856 2,03,804 2,13,585 2,28,650 2,44,270 6.8

A total of 2,44,270 incidents of crime against women (both under IPC and SLL) were reported in the country during the year 2012 as compared to 2,28,650 in the year 2011 recording an increase of 6.4% during the year 2012. These crimes have continuously increased during 2008 – 2012 with 1,95,856 cases in the year 2008, 2,03,804 cases in 2009 and 2,13,585 cases in 2010 and 2,28,650 cases in 2011 and 2,44,270 cases in the year 2012. West Bengal with 7.5% share of country’s female population has accounted for nearly 12.7% of total crime against women by reporting 30,942 cases during the year 2012.

To understand what it is that drives such crimes against women is an essay on its own, if not a PhD thesis. There are a vast number of drivers for such behaviour in the Indian citizenry, but there are some acute reasons that such behaviour continues despite the apparent movement towards civilisation.

Challenges

There are several challenges that are currently plaguing the issues of women’s rights in India. A few of these challenges are presented below. While a lot of these are redundant and quite basic issues faced across the country, these are contributory causes to the overarching status of women in India. Targeting these issues will directly benefit the empowerment of women in India.

Education

While the country has grown from leaps and bounds since its independence where education is concerned, the gap between women and men is severe. While 82.14% of adult men are educated, only 65.46% of adult women are known to be literate in India. Not only is an illiterate women at the mercy of her husband or father, she also does not know that this is not the way of life for women across the world. Additionally, the norms of culture that state that the man of the family is the be-all and end-all of family decisions is slowly spoiling the society of the country.

Women Empowerment in India

Data Source: Census of India 2011

As said in a study conducted by the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism,

In spite of the UN Charter of Human Rights and the provisions of the Indian Constitution, women continue to be victims of exploitation. The view that the future generation of a family is carried on and preserved by boys-only has degraded the position of women in society. Similarly, it is noticed that majority of the women are lacking in the spirit of rebellion. If careful attention is not paid and major steps are not taken, the situation will become extremely critical.

Eradicating this gap and educating women about their real place in the world is a step that will largely set this entire movement rolling down the hill to crash and break the wall of intolerance, negligence and exploitation.

Poverty in the Country

Poverty in India

Data Source: Wikipedia

About a third of the country’s population lives on less than 1.25USD per day. The GINI index keeps rising slowly over the years, indicating that the inequality in the distribution of wealth in the country is increasing, currently hovering a little close to 33.9.

Poverty is considered the greatest threat to peace in the world, and eradication of poverty should be a national goal as important as the eradication of illiteracy. Due to abject poverty, women are exploited as domestic helps and wives whose incomes are usurped by the man of the house. Additionally, sex slaves are a direct outcome of poverty, as unearthed by Davinder Kumar:-

Andhra Pradesh accounts for nearly half of all sex trafficking cases in India, the majority involving adolescent girls. According to police estimates, a shocking 300,000 women and girls have been trafficked for exploitative sex work from Andhra Pradesh; of these just 3,000 have been rescued so far.

The state is relatively prosperous, ranking fourth in terms of per capita GDP in India, but it is also home to some of the poorest people in the country.

If poverty were not a concern, then the girl child will be able to follow her dreams without concerns of sexual exploitation, domestic abuse and no education or work.

Health & Safety

The health and safety concerns of women are paramount for the wellbeing of a country, and is an important factor in gauging the empowerment of women in a country. However there are alarming concerns where maternal healthcare is concerned.

In its 2009 report, UNICEF came up with shocking figures on the status of new mothers in India. The maternal mortality report of India stands at 301 per 1000, with as many as 78,000 women in India dying of childbirth complications in that year. Today, due to the burgeoning population of the country, that number is sure to have multiplied considerably. The main causes of maternal mortality are:-

  • Haemorrhage: 30%
  • Anaemia: 19%
  • Sepsis: 16%
  • Obstructed Labour: 10%
  • Abortion: 8%
  • Toxaemia: 8%

While there are several programmes that have been set into motion by the Government and several NGOs in the country, there is still a wide gap that exists between those under protection and those not.

Poverty and illiteracy add to these complications with local quacks giving ineffective and downright harmful remedies to problems that women have. The empowerment of women begins with a guarantee of their health and safety.

Actions Taken to Empower Women

Millennium Development Goal

The United Nations Development Programme constituted eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for ensuring equity and peace across the world. The third MDG is directly related to the empowerment of women in India. The MDGs are agreed-upon goals to reduce certain indicators of disparity across the world by the year 2015.

The third MDG is centred towards promoting gender equality and empowering women: “Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education by no later than 2015”

While India’s progress in this front has been brave, there are quite a few corners that it needs to cut before it can be called as being truly revolutionary in its quest for understanding what is women empowerment. As UNDP says:-

India missed the 2005 deadline of eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education. However, the country has hastened progress and the Gender Parity Index (GPI) for Gross Enrolment Ratios (GER) in primary and secondary education has risen. Given current trends, India is moderately or almost nearly on track. However, as the Government of India MDG Report 2009 notes, “participation of women in employment and decision-making remains far less than that of men, and the disparity is not likely to be eliminated by 2015.” Achieving GPI in tertiary education also remains a challenge. In addition, the labour market openness to women in industry and services has only marginally increased from 13-18 percent between 1990-91 and 2004-05.

Ministry for Women & Child Development

The Ministry for Women & Child Development was established as a department of the Ministry of Human Resource Development in the year 1985 to drive the holistic development of women and children in the country. In 2006 this department was given the status of a Ministry, with the powers to:-

Formulate plans, policies and programmes; enacts/ amends legislation, guiding and coordinating the efforts of both governmental and non-governmental organisations working in the field of Women and Child Development.

It delivers such initiatives such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) which is a package of services such as supplementary nutrition, health check-ups and immunisation. As mentioned earlier, the empowerment of women begins with their safety and health and this Ministry is committed to providing them.

Swayamsidha Programme

Additionally, the Ministry is also implementing the Swayamsidha programme – an integrated scheme for the empowerment of women at a total cost of Rs. 116.30 Crores. Core to this programme will be the establishment of women’s self-help groups which will empower women to have increased access to all kinds of resources that they are denied, in addition to increasing their awareness and skills. This programme will benefit about 9,30,000 women with the setting up of 53,000 self-help groups, 26,500 village societies and 650 block societies.

National Commission for Women

The National Commission for Women is a Department within the Ministry of Women and Child Development. It was set up exclusively to help women via the Constitution – by reviewing Legal and Constitutional safeguards for women, recommending remedial legislative measures, by facilitating quick redressal of grievances and by advising the Government of India on all policy matters affecting women.

The website allows for online submission of complaints and fast redressal exclusively for women. Additionally it is also a good resource of information for women and the Commission is committed to helping out women in need.

The Road Ahead

India as a country is still recovering from years of abuse in the time of the Raj and more years of economic suffering at the hands of the License Raj. It is only now that globalisation, liberalisation and other socio-economic forces have given some respite to a large proportion of the population. However, there are still quite a few areas where women empowerment in India is largely lacking.

To truly understand what is women empowerment, there needs to be a sea-change in the mind-set of the people in the country. Not just the women themselves, but the men have to wake up to a world that is moving towards equality and equity. It is better that this is embraced earlier rather than later, for our own good.

Swami Vivekananda once said “arise away and stop not until the goal is reached”. Thus our country should thus be catapulted into the horizon of empowerment of women and revel in its glory.

We have a long way to go, but we will get there someday. We shall overcome.

A beautiful song on women empowerment

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