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Women!!

Atrocities and discriminations are common phenomenon for women in India. Equality of status is far from being women’s domain. Indian women are not free from being co modified, materialized, objectified and subordinated to the lowest extent of inferiority. They are the victims of all the social evils taking place in the so called ‘patriarchal’ Indian society. To do away with such inequalities, women empowerment emerged as a device for change to alter the lives of the marginalized. Women’s empowerment refers to granting of economic, political, cultural, social power to women. It, as a concept was introduced at the International Women's Conference at Nairobi in 1985. The conference defined empowerment as "A redistribution of social power and control of resources in favour of women. It is the process of challenging existing power relations and of gaining greater control over the sources of power”. Batliwala (1994) writes, “Empowerment must be externally induced, by forces working with an altered consciousness and awareness that the existing social order is unjust and unnatural. They seek to change other women’s consciousness; altering their self-image and their beliefs about their rights and capabilities; creating awareness of how gender discrimination, like other socio-economic and political forces, is one of the forces acting on them; challenging the sense of inferiority that has been imprinted on them since birth; and recognizing the true value of their labour and contributions to the family, society, and economy”.
Women’s empowerment is the most contentious issue in the present day society. It is located within the idea of equality among both the sexes. Therefore, attempts have been made to bring gender equality by governments and other international and national organizations. In India, the Government of India has two main bodies to advance gender equality namely the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the National Commission for Women, which is an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Even Millennium Development Goal’s one of the prime motives is to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment by 2015, but it is yet to reach its zenith. The male chauvinism that is ingrained in the heart and minds of Indian people does not allow women to take part in the economic, social, cultural and political processes too as equal to men. In that case, the Women Reservation Bill which promises of 33% reservation for women in the Parliament is the best example which is not yet passed in the Lok Sabha. Though 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution grants right to women to take part in the panchayat but male chauvinism does not allow them to function independently. Even in the economic, cultural, social sectors women are marginalized and always male are favoured upon female species. Hence, the Indian constitutional dream of gender equality mentioned in the Article 14 remains unachieved.
Empowerment of women is an important part for the progress of the nation. Even Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General added “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women”. This is because women hold enormous potentialities. But most of the time their talent remains suppressed. The factors behind lack of women empowerment are mainly women’s security, decision-making power, and mobility. In India, especially in rural areas these three indicators are low and as a result a woman becomes puppets of their male counterparts. They enjoy less freedom compared to men in almost every sphere. Women are no less than men. But still women are not allowed to express their ideas and opinion freely. All their freedoms and opportunities are being restricted by social, cultural, and religious barriers. Women inequality can also be traced back to history when Draupadi was put on the dice by her husband in the Mahabharata. Even Sati was prevalent in the past which shows inequality prevalent since time immemorial. Various efforts made by Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Jyotirao Phule, Raja Ram Mohan Roy to abolished sati from the Indian society turned out to be successful providing a way out for little freedom of women in India. Women’s empowerment in India is dependent on many different factors that include geographical location (urban/rural), educational status, social status (caste and class), and age. Women from lower castes are particularly vulnerable to infant mortality and maternal mortality. They are often unable to access health and educational services, lacks in decision making capability and also face high levels of violence. Employment can also be an important source of empowerment for women which demands education. Savitribai Phule, wife of Jyotirao Phule was the first lady who made education possible for women during the time when women education was considered to be sin. She opened first women school in India and she taught herself. She had also opened a school for untouchable girls in 1852 providing a ray of hope for them. In spite of so many efforts made in the past by Savitri Bai Phule in India and presently by Article 21A of the Indian Constitution to provide free and compulsory education to children below 14 years of age, nothing much changed in the education of girl today. Other international initiatives like the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also guarantee girls and women’s right to education combining general provisions on non-discrimination with specific provisions on the right to education. Though the percentage of literacy of girl children increased than before, still only 65. 46 % girl are literate according to 2011 against 82.14 % male literacy. There are various reasons behind less female literacy rate in India like economic exploitation, social discrimination, child marriage, poverty, low enrollment and more dropouts, etc. Girl’s education should be of high priority because studies show that illiterate women have high levels of fertility and mortality, little autonomy within the household, and low earning potential and it also has negative impacts on health. Empowerment scenario is more proper in rural areas compared to urban areas in some cases. Like, Self help groups have emerged as a women empowering vehicle in rural areas and have become a great source of economic independence for women. They earn their livelihood working conjointly through micro finance. Even though both rural and urban women are empowered in some aspects but they are yet to experienced full freedom. Another way, we cannot make a statement that women are not empowered in India. Chanda Kocchar, Arundhati Bhattacharya, Shikha Sarma, the heads of India’s largest banking sectors ICICI Bank, State Bank of India, Axis Bank respectively are all women. The present Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan is also a woman who is also an eight term Lok Sabha member from Indore. Though some women are in very good positions in India, but many still have to face the trauma of dowry deaths, female feticide, infanticide, rape, molestation. These crimes will not stop until there exists empowerment among all women in India. Gautam Buddha says “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle”. So, when a woman is empowered it will also add to family’s empowerment and as a result community’s empowerment. When a community is empowered, it can contribute to the development of the nation by working collectively for greater good. Women will always remain the embodiment of strength. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, “There is no chance of the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on one wing."

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