Each year we celebrate International Women’s day on March 8th with a determination to commemorate the achievements of women, and to acknowledge the special status they deserve in society. The significant question is what difference has it made to the position of women? Have women become really strong, and have their long term struggles ended ?
Though women have progressed in a number of spheres, yet looking from a wider perspective, the situation remains grim. According to the statistics by CARE, out of 1.3 billion people who live in absolute poverty around the globe, 70% are women. Reflecting on UNESCO’s medium term strategy 2008-13, gender equality has been assigned as organization’s global priority. Astonishingly, two third of the 774 million adults in the world who cannot read is women.
The context in the developing and third world countries is worse. Women here are still subject to ‘honor killings’, they are still denied their basic rights to education and freedom, and face violence and abuse. It was observed in a CARE project working with adolescent girls in India, that these girls were considered as temporary people who would cease to exist, at least for their fathers, once they are married. In many places in India, domestic violence is acceptable to women, and cultural and ethical implications are imposed on their freedom. What does that mean? It would be wrong to state that nothing has changed as a number of local, national and international organizations are working together to mitigate the problems, yet their is a long way to go.
Initiatives by NGOs like Jan Chetna Manch, Foundation to educate Girls Globally, The Hunger Project, STEPS Women Development Organization, in addition to the National Mission for the Empowerment of women(NMEW) launched by the Govt. of India are some significant steps towards the goal, and the 2011 Census have shown some improvements too. The sex ratio in India has improved from 930 in 1971 to 940 as per 2011 census. The female literacy has also increased from 18.3% in 1961 to 74% in 2011, in addition to decrease in male-female literacy gap from 26.6% in 1981 to 16.7% in 2011.
These indicators may show improvement, however, the pace is not desirable. Women empowerment depends on a number of factors as location, social and financial status, cultural connotations, traditions, and age. Besides the above initiatives, schemes such as ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme), Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme for Children of Working Mothers , Dhanalakshmi, Swadhar and many more are in place.
Despite these schemes, the Global Gender Gap Index observes that India needs to do much more to improve the position of women. Persistent health, education and economic participation gaps are acting as main deterrents to the growth.
To conclude, still a vast number of women do not have their own life choices, and speaking locally, nationally or globally, empowerment is still in its nascent stages.