Women Empowerment – Myth Or Reality
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You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women.
– Jawaharlal Nehru
Empowerment of any section of a society is a myth until they are conferred equality before law. The foundation of freedom, justice and fraternity is based on the recognition of the inherent dignity and of equal and inalienable rights to all the members of the society. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10th December 1948, envisaged in Article 2 that “every one is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration without distinction of any kind.”
It has traditionally been accepted that the thread of family weaves the fabric of Indian society. Women are considered as the hub center of the family. Still, in the era of political domination by foreigners, the women in India suffered most. A few social reform measures were taken towards the later 19th and early 20th century during the British regime. The inception of Mahatma Gandhi in the National freedom movement ushered a new concept of mass mobilization. Women constituted about 50% of the country’s total population, he, therefore, involved women in the nation’s liberation movement. The mass participation of women directly in the freedom struggle was the great divide in the history of (Feminist movement) empowerment of women. They shed age-old disabilities and shared the responsibility of liberation of their motherland with their counter parts. The freedom of India thus became synonymous with the empowerment of women. In this context the date of India’s political freedom (August 15, 1947) is a landmark in the history of women empowerment in India. It brought in its wake a great consciousness in our society for human dignity. It was realized that every citizen of independent India be accorded equal treatment under the law.
This is the urban age and Women along with men are here to make an impact, let’s not ignore them, let’s listen and prioritize them. In almost all societies through history, Women have occupied secondary position vis-à-vis men.
Women’s rights and issues have always been a subject of serious concern of academicians, intelligentsia and policy makers. From pastoral society to contemporary information and global society, the role of Women has changed drastically. The role of a typical “Grihani” (house wife) who catered to all the requirements of the house holds including the rearing and upbringing of children in various sub roles of daughter, daughter-in-law, wife, mother, aunt etc. has been played quite efficiently. The continuity of changes in socio-economic and psycho-cultural aspects of human living has influenced the role of Women. With the process of Industrialization, Modernization and Globalization showing its deep impact on the human society all over the world, the role and responsibilities of Women has attained new definition and perspective. Further this has also led to addition of responsibilities and widened the role of Women who also shares the financial responsibilities.
The Women issues have received tremendous attention in the planning circle and in wide intellectual discussions and forums at national and global platforms. However the existing lacuna in the formulation and execution of the policies has not changed the grass root situation to a great extent. On the encouraging front, in the South Asian countries there have been relatively increasing economic participation in past one decade. Statistically the rate of literacy among Women has also increased. The educational and occupational patterns have also changed and widened with Women entering the domains, which till decade back was considered to be dominated by men. Further there has been encouraging rise in the percentage of the Women joining service sector especially Banking and Information Technology. In the background of the gigantic transformation, the core issue, which still remains unanswered, is that of Women’s right and empowerment.
The Women rights are the means by which a dignified living is ensured thereby safeguarding her privileges. Thus the basic fundamental rights of speech, freedom and decision-making are her basic rights as an individual and citizen. The right for education and employment are significant for Women development and national development in the wider sense. The power and freedom to exercise these rights is Women empowerment. Women rights and empowerment are not independent of each other. The Women empowerment can only be facilitated only if she is able to exercise her right in the socio-economic spheres of decision-making.
India, with a population of 989 million, is the world’s second most populous country. Of that number, 120 million are Women who live in poverty.
India has 16 percent of the world’s population, but only 2.4 percent of its land, resulting in great pressures on its natural resources.
Over 70 percent of India’s population currently derives their livelihood from land resources, which includes 84 percent of the economically-active Women.
India is one of the few countries where males significantly outnumber females, and this imbalance has increased over time. India’s maternal mortality rates in rural areas are among the worlds highest. From a global perspective, Indian accounts for 19 percent of all lives births and 27 percent of all maternal deaths.
“There seems to be a consensus that higher female mortality between ages one and five and high maternal mortality rates result in a deficit of females in the population. In the year 1990 it was estimated that deaths of young girls in India exceed those of young boys by over 300,000 each year, and every sixth infant death is specifically due to gender discrimination.” Of the 15 million baby girls born in India each year, nearly 25 percent will not live to see their 15th birthday.
The Indian constitution grants Women equal rights with men, but strong patriarchal traditions persist, with Women’s lives shaped by customs that are centuries old. In most Indian families, a daughter is viewed as a liability, and she is conditioned to believe that she is inferior and subordinate to men. Sons are idolized and celebrated. May you be the mother of a hundred sons is a common Hindu wedding blessing.
The origin of the Indian idea of appropriate female behavior can be traced to the rules laid down by Manu in 200 B.C.: “by a young girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house”. “In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent.”
WOMEN ARE MALNOURISHED
The exceptionally high rates of malnutrition in South Asia are rooted deeply in the soil of inequality between men and Women.
This point is made in the article, The Asian Enigma, published by Unicef in the 1996 Progress of Nations, in which the rates of childhood malnutrition in South Asia are compared with those in Africa. We learn that malnutrition is far worse in South Asia, directly due to the fact that Women in South Asia have less voice and freedom of movement than in Africa despite the fact that in comparison to Africa , Asia is far more better in terms of economy.
India’s maternal mortality rates in rural areas are among the highest in the world.
A factor that contributes to India’s high maternal mortality rate is the reluctance to seek medical care for pregnancy – it is viewed as a temporary condition that will disappear. The estimates nationwide are that only 40-50 percent of Women receive any antenatal care. Evidence from the states of Bihar, Rajasthan, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat find registration for maternal and child health services to be as low as 5-22 percent in rural areas and 21-51 percent in urban areas.
Even a woman who has had difficulties with previous pregnancies is usually treated with home remedies only for three reasons: the decision that a pregnant woman seek help rests with the mother-in-law and husband; financial considerations; and fear that the treatment may be more harmful than the malady.
JOB IMPACT ON MATERNAL HEALTH
“Working conditions result in premature and stillbirths.”
The tasks performed by Women are usually those that require them to be in one position for long periods of time, which can adversely affect their reproductive health. A study in a rice-growing belt of coastal Maharashtra found that 40 percent of all infant deaths occurred in the months of July to October. The study also found that a majority of births were either premature or stillbirths. The study attributed this to the squatting position that had to be assumed during July and August, the rice transplanting months.
WOMEN ARE UNEDUCATED
“Women and girls receive far less education than men, due both to social norms and fears of violence.”
India has the largest population of non-school-going working girls.
Although substantial progress has been achieved since India won its independence in 1947, when less than 8 percent of females were literate, the gains have not been rapid enough to keep pace with population growth: there were 16 million more illiterate females in 1991 than in 1981.
WOMEN ARE OVERWORKED
“Women work longer hours and their work is more arduous than men’s. Still, men report that “Women, like children, eat and do nothing.”
Women work roughly twice as many as many hours as men.
Women’s contribution to agriculture – whether it be subsistence farming or commercial agriculture – when measured in terms of the number of tasks performed and time spent, is greater than men. “The extent of Women’s contribution is aptly highlighted by a micro study conducted in the Indian Himalayas which found that on a one-hectare farm, a pair of bullocks works 1,064 hours, a man 1,212 hours and a woman 3,485 hours in a year.”
THE INVISIBILITY OF WOMEN’S WORK
Women’s work is rarely recognized.
Many maintain that Women’s economic dependence on men impacts their power within the family. With increased participation in income-earning activities, not only will there be more income for the family, but gender inequality should be reduced. This issue is particularly salient in India because studies show a very low level of female participation in the labor force. This under-reporting is attributed to the frequently held view that Women’s work is not economically productive.
Women’s employment in family farms or businesses is rarely recognized as economically productive, either by men or Women. And, any income generated from this work is generally controlled by the men. Such work is unlikely to increase Women’s participation in allocating family finances. In a 1992 study of family-based texile workers, male children who helped in a home-based handloom mill were given pocket money, but the adult Women and girls were not.
WOMEN ARE ILLTREATED
“Violence against Women and girls is the most pervasive human rights violation in the world today.”
“Opening the door on the subject of violence against the world’s females is like standing at the threshold of an immense dark chamber vibrating with collective anguish, but with the sounds of protest throttled back to a murmur. Where there should be outrage aimed at an intolerable status quo there is instead denial, and the largely passive acceptance of ‘the way things are.”
Male violence against Women is a worldwide phenomenon. Although not every woman has experienced it, and many expect not to, fear of violence is an important factor in the lives of most Women. It determines what they do, when they do it, where they do it, and with whom. Fear of violence is a cause of Women’s lack of participation in activities beyond the home, as well as inside it. Within the home, Women and girls may be subjected to physical and sexual abuse as punishment or as culturally justified assaults. These acts shape their attitude to life, and their expectations of themselves.
In recent years, there has been an alarming rise in atrocities against Women in India. Every 26 minutes a woman is molested. Every 34 minutes a rape takes place. Every 42 minutes a sexual harassment incident occurs. Every 43 minutes a woman is kidnapped. And every 93 minutes a woman is burnt to death over dowry.
One-quarter of the reported rapes involve girls under the age of 16 but the vast majority are never reported. Although the penalty is severe, convictions are rare.
WOMEN ARE POWERLESS
Legal protection of Women’s rights have little effect in the face of prevailing patriarchal traditions.
Be it in the case of Marriage:
“Women are subordinate in most marriages.”
“Child marriages keep Women subjugated.”
Women are kept subordinate, and are even murdered, by the practice of dowry.
Divorce is not a viable option.
Divorce is rare – it is a considered a shameful admission of a woman’s failure as a wife and daughter-in-law. In 1990, divorced Women made up a minuscule 0.08 percent of the total female population.
Maintenance rights of Women in the case of divorce are weak. Although both Hindu and Muslim law recognize the rights of Women and children to maintenance, in practice, maintenance is rarely set at a sufficient amount and is frequently violated.
Women’s rights to inheritance are limited and frequently violated.
In the mid-1950s the Hindu personal laws, which apply to all Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains, were overhauled, banning polygamy and giving Women rights to inheritance, adoption and divorce. The Muslim personal laws differ considerably from that of the Hindus, and permit polygamy. Despite various laws protecting Women’s rights, traditional patriarchal attitudes still prevail and are strengthened and perpetuated in the home.
EMPOWERMENT AND WOMEN: VARIABLE IN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
The World Bank has identified empowerment as one of the key constituent elements of poverty reduction, and as a primary development assistance goal. The Bank has also made gender mainstreaming a priority in development assistance, and is in the process of implementing an ambitious strategy to this effect. The promotion of Women’s empowerment as a development goal is based on a dual argument: that social justice is an important aspect of human welfare and is intrinsically worth pursuing; and that Women’s empowerment is a means to other ends. A recent policy research report by the World Bank, for example, identifies gender equality both as a development objective in itself, and as a means to promote growth, reduce poverty and promote better governance. A similar dual rationale for supporting Women’s empowerment has been articulated in the policy statements put forth at several high level international conferences in the past decade (e.g. the Beijing Platform for Action, the Beijing declaration and resolution, the Cairo Programme of Action, the Millennium Declaration, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Yet to date neither the World Bank nor any other major development agency has developed a rigorous method for measuring and tracking changes in levels of empowerment. In the absence of such measures, it is difficult for the international development community to be confident that their efforts to empower women are succeeding and that this important Millennium Development Goal will be achieved.
Thus, this review attempts to the following:
1. An indication of the different ways in which empowerment has been conceptualized;
2. A critical examination of some of the approaches that have been developed to measure and track changes in Women’s empowerment;
3. An examination of some of the ways in which the effects of policies and programmatic interventions to promote Women’s empowerment have been measured;
4. A summary of the evidence on how Women’s empowerment affects important development outcomes such as health, education, fertility behavior, income levels, etc.
How Should Empowerment be Operationally Defined?
“Empowerment” has been used to represent a wide range of concepts and to describe a proliferation of outcomes. The term has been used more often to advocate for certain types of policies and intervention strategies than to analyze them, as demonstrated by a number of documents from the United Nations, the Association for Women in Development, the Declaration made at the Micro-credit Summit, and other organizations. Feminist activist writings often promote empowerment of individuals and organizations of Women but vary in the extent to which they conceptualize or discuss how to identify it.
Relevant studies describe empowerment as “the enhancement of assets and capabilities of diverse individuals and groups to engage, influence and hold accountable the institutions which affect them.” In general, Women do not take a central place in much of the literature on social inclusion or empowerment.
The Process of Empowerment
There are various attempts in the literature to develop a comprehensive understanding of empowerment through breaking the process down into key components.
MEASURING WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT
Measuring Empowerment from a Universalist Perspective
As we move from a discussion of conceptualizing empowerment to measuring it, it is important to note that measures of empowerment must involve standards that lie outside localized gender systems and a recognition of universal elements of gender subordination.
As we move from a discussion of conceptualizing empowerment to measuring it, it is important to note that measures of empowerment must involve standards that lie outside localized gender systems and a recognition of universal elements of gender subordination (Sen and Grown 1987; Bisnath and Elson 1999; Nussbaum 2000). It is clear from the literature on gender and empowerment that the role of gender in development cannot be understood without understanding the socio-cultural (as well as political and economic) contexts in which development takes place. The concept of empowerment only has meaning within these specific contexts. At the same time, operational definitions (e.g. definitions embodied in indicators to be applied in the context of development assistance policies, programs, and projects) should be consistent with the spirit of international conventions to which countries providing international development assistance have been signatories. The approach based in universal human rights offers the best operational framework for this task.
Because empowerment is multi-dimensional, researchers must use care in constructing index or scale variables relating to empowerment Such variables may mask differential effects of interventions on distinct aspects of empowerment. Inappropriate combining of items relating to gender and empowerment may also mask differential effects of the component variables on outcomes of interest.
CHALLENGES TO MEASURING EMPOWERMENT
Empowerment is Context Specific
One of the major difficulties in measuring empowerment is that the behaviors and attributes that signify empowerment in one context often have different meanings elsewhere. For example, a shift in women’s ability to visit a health center without getting permission from a male household member may be a sign of empowerment in rural Bangladesh but not in, for example, urban Peru. Context can also be important in determining the extent to which empowerment at the household or individual level is a determinant of development outcomes.
There are certain critical paradigms, which need to be examined from the point of view of women issues.
1. Constitutional Provisions and Policies: The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Constitution of India (in the Preamble and fundamental rights) where by the constitution upholds and grants the equality to women. The National commission for women, which was set up in 1990 through an Act of Parliament to safeguard the rights and legal entitlements of women, is considered to be the apex body to ensure rights and work towards the women empowerment. In terms of five-year plans the fifth five-year plan (1974-78) is considered to be very crucial from the point of view of women development with 1975 being declared as International Year of Women.
The 73rd and 74th Amendments of constitution of India in 1993 are landmarks to ensure political empowerment of women. These provisions surely ensure of legal protection of women’s rights, but socio-economic rights of freedom and decision-making is still not realized to the extent of social empowerment. One of the reasons is the rigid patriarchal structure of the Indian Society.
National Policy for the empowerment of women (2001):
The goal of the National Policy for the empowerment of women is to bring about the advancement, development and empowerment of women. Some of the specific objectives of this policy are: a) Creating an environment through positive economic and social policies for full development of women to enable them to realize their full potential, b) Equal access to health care, quality education at all levels, career and vocational guidance etc, c) Elimination of discrimination and all forms of violence against women and girl child.
The policy also provides for economic empowerment through poverty eradication, micro credit programmes, training of women to facilitate them in playing efficient role in agriculture and industry. The social empowerment of women is facilitated through effective provisions of Education, Health, Nutrition, Drinking water and Sanitation, gender sensitization etc. Elimination of all forms of violence against women, physical and mental, whether at domestic or societal levels, including those arising from customs, traditions and accepted practices.
The effective implementation of the policy at all levels can be a gigantic step for women development and can set an example for other countries in South Asia.
WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT ISSUES AND REMEDIES IN INDIA
Empowerment of women is a gradual and complicated process. It involves changing the way of thinking of the whole society. From long time it has been stamped on the minds of the people that women are inferior to men. It is not easy to change the stubborn attitude of the people. In rural India, Women have inadequate access to education, health facilities, healthy diet etc.
In India gradually the percentage of working women is rising. Only by contributing towards income of the family the women can get rid of the status of “burden”.
Entrepreneur women can positively contribute to attain the goal of women empowerment. Entrepreneurship provides women for what she is longing for – control over the resources and power of decision making. Such women can help in poverty alleviation by providing job opportunities for many other deserving women.
Surveys have proved that a large percentage of educated but not trained women are present in the country. Such women can be given training in a specific field like making homemade papads or pickles, handicrafts and many such things and can start their own small enterprise.
Self-employment is a blessing for poor and deserving women as sufficient job opportunities are not available in the country. In small sector, the women may be owner of the enterprise may be a manager or controller or may be a worker in the enterprise.
Tenth plan is initiating women empowerment by implementing specific strategies like such social environment would be created by providing necessary services so that women would be proficient to utilize their potential, To make the women economically self-reliant, proper training would be provided to them. Equal rights for the women would be provided so that there is no social, political discrimination against her.
In the present scenario, where phenomenal advancements are occurring in each and every sphere, women empowerment has become crucial for alleviating poverty and procuring over all growth.
We can not abscond the fact that Women’s rights are human rights and should be treated as such. .The fact that women’s rights need to be safeguarded in every country of the world cannot be overemphasized. In a historic decision, the Rajasthan government is changing the service rules to punish employees who are found guilty of torturing their wives. As reported in a national daily, the punishment could involve sacking and action would correspond the crime, with punishments including suspension and stoppage of increments.
A small step forward in terms of marriage was taken when the Hindu Marriage Act was enacted in 1955. The term Hindu in this case includes Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and their denominations. Several laws have been enacted including the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 and the current Special Marriage Act,1954 which governs civil marriages. In this Act, for a boy and girl to get married they must have completed 21 and 18 years of age respectively. Bigamy is prohibited in this Act and each party is expected to give consent to the marriage. For a civil marriage, three witnesses are necessary. Progressive laws such as these protect the woman. Under the Islamic law, marriage is considered a contract and a nikaah is performed with several do’s and don’ts. The Parsis are governed by the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936. Christians are governed by the Christian Marriage Act, 1872 and the marriage usually takes place in a church.
The report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) released by the Government recently mentions the steps taken by it to contain the negative impact of restructuring of the economy that India has embarked upon. The Government of India made special efforts to increase its support for social sectors and started a number of schemes aimed at the poor, particularly poor women and women in the informal sector. These include the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh and the Mahila Samakhya programs.
Keeping in line with the governmentýs policy on equal opportunity, there are 65 women in senior positions in the Indian Foreign Service around the world. For the first time after Independence the highest post in the Foreign Service, is to be occupied by a female foreign secretary, Chokila Iyer. It is commendable that despite various hurdles and mindsets, the Government has managed to ensure equal career opportunities for women.
The government has taken a number of steps and enacted a number of legislations to protect and safeguard women and ensure that their rights are not abused. One such measure is the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961.
We propose the following next steps for moving forward the agenda on measuring women’s empowerment:
1. Development of a framework of domains or dimensions that can be applied across settings would be the natural next step for building on the strengths of the existing literature on the conceptualization of empowerment. Procedures for determining indicators for each domain, at different levels of aggregation, and across contexts, should also be developed. This effort would move the measurement of women’s empowerment agenda forward considerably by allowing for greater specification of exactly what aspect of empowerment-i.e. which dimension-is of interest, and realistic specifications of the type of change that can be expected over a specific period of time, and given specific interventions. It would also move forward efforts to develop context-specific measures that more closely resemble what they are meant to measure and reduce the reliance on proxy measures.
2. Better, more coordinated efforts at data collection are needed. For example, the process component of women’s empowerment cannot be effectively captured in any measurement scheme without the availability of data across time. Attention to process also requires a discussion of the appropriate time periods for data collection of various types of indicators. At the aggregate level, a broader range of more sophisticated, gender- disaggregated data are needed with regard to the labor force, market conditions, legal and political rights, political and social processes. At the household level, data need to be more frequently collected for important, but relatively under-utilized indicators such as time use or violence against women.
3. Greater attention to measuring women’s empowerment at “meso” levels is required along with efforts at documenting the impact of program and policy interventions. For programmatic and policy evaluation, existing models of monitoring and evaluation that are effective need to be tapped, and their adequacy for women’s empowerment as an outcome or intermediary process should be assessed. At a minimum, quasi-experimental evaluation designs and the collection of baseline and endline data must be considered in implementing programs aimed at empowering women. Measurement of institutional and normative change in communities requires new and innovative approaches. One approach to consider is the business school model of case studies. Documentation through narratives which are then analyzed using qualitative techniques would be another option. Exploration of the work on collective action may also provide further guidance. This is clearly an area where a review of lessons learned from related efforts and cross- disciplinary approaches would be helpful.
4. Greater interdisciplinary engagement is necessary to develop indicators and approaches that capture the key elements of women’s empowerment, have scientific merit, and acceptability among important stakeholders. Although at this stage we have drawn only from literature that has been at the core of the discourse on women’s empowerment, it is clear that continued efforts at moving this work forward would benefit from drawing on a wide range of disciplines. Moreover, based on what we reviewed from sociology, demography, economics, and anthropology, it is clear that there is overlap, but not much interaction across disciplines. Further interdisciplinary engagement would greatly facilitate the task of translating the current consensus on conceptualization to the actual measurement of women’s empowerment.
As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has stated, “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”
In a globalizing world, gender equality and empowerments of women are vital tools-to achieve sustainable developments of societies, and are even admitted by the fools!
Still, the violence towards women is an epidemic against which no country is immune-
And today, we face the greater challenges of human rights and a non-melodious tune!
In the arena of politics, the poor are excluded from governance, regardless of the gender- And women are victims of other people’s decisions ‘Cause they are assumed to be tender! So the entire spectrum of women’s roles to combat poverty, hunger, and disease- Need to be re-examined under the new Millennium lights before the roles decease! Impacts of modern conflicts now affect the global women and girls without a doubt- But they’re neither initiators nor prosecutors of conflicts, or matching game of shout! Determined efforts must be taken to end the impunity surrounding this lamentable claw- And the perpetrators must be brought to justice, and told that they are not above the law!
Only through action to remedy discrimination against women can the vision of India’s independence – an India where all people have the chance to live health and productive lives – be realized.
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