Is Woman Empowerment, a Reality or a Hype?
Little Oxford English Dictionary’ definesEmpowerment’
as the process of giving authority, power, strength, and
confidence.How far the statement corresponds to women, in
reality, is controversial in all aspects. Let’s initiate and
approach the topic with some authenticity.
Jagomaya Devi, my late grandmother, was a perfect
embodiment of motherhood and so, a symbol of
womanhood. Her social quotient with her husband was mostly
bitter. But their physical equation could be referred to as a
need of that age and time, where having children
mattered the most. It had nothing to do with her physicality,
hormones, mood swings, abdominal cramps and a host of
other unspecified complexities hidden in a woman’s body.
Everything was destined, dictated and guided by the laws of
the society and the miserable minds at work.
Of course, it flickered and touched my tiny soul, back then.
Yet, many a time, I wondered, how it felt to give birth to 5 sons and 4
daughters, successfully in a row. Were they conceived
as something essential or merely ejected out of a relationship
that had to yield to the existing norms and guidelines, remains
unanswered and a mystery to me. On profound speculation
and research, I failed to understand the outflow of love they
shared, in contrast to their high-end disputes which never
sought an outlet. My fully round shaped grandmother was
supposedly very content with her personal achievements…..
5 towering sons and 4 docile daughters who would be taught
similar lessons. Off and on, I was in awe of my grandmother,
this incredible woman, who produced life in her womb, year
after year, without any grievance.Her cotton saree of 6 yards,
flowing at the corners, a huge line of sindoor adorning her
curly parted hair and that glistening round bindi, almost
guarding her identity. She moved like a tired creature, at
times, sagging and lagging. Perhaps, with the weight of her own
body or a mind fatigued and weary within. No one could guess!
I never managed to explore and dig out some stories from her
Was she empowered???
Annapoorna Devi’s Saga
Annapoorna Devi, a renowned sitarist, was well ahead of
PanditRavishankar, her husband of limited years in
Togetherness. She amused several guests of honor and high
profile dignitaries with her stellar performances, unfortunately,
stifling and suffocating their marriage. The musically aligned
couple soon fell prey to conflict, jealousy and drifted away with
much displeasure. She was educated, empowered and
enigmatic enough to take things in her own stride. Then what
made her stumble and fall with different tales surrounding her
much-designed life to agony and gloom?? Was she less
Maria, an ayah, in a popular school has been around for
the past 19 years, offering her services in aid of the toddlers
who have found new lap of comfort and happiness, tumbling
out of their mother’s naturally protected domains. She
grumbled and muttered to herself, as she religiously performed
her regular chores, apart from handling her family all by
herself. She had to strike a balance between her work and
responsibilities back home. It actually tired her. Sometimes,
she had to work beyond her specific abilities, that were not
documented and agreed upon solely because of the
circumstances she lived with. Why? She isthe
mother of two daughters and was struggling sufficiently, to
give them a life of dignity and substance. Her legally
wedded husband of many years occupied himself, drinking
away happily and swindling her hard-earned money. After all,
he certainly had empowered himself to bleach her life
colorless. In spite of all the obstacles, she never learned to
write her name in English or sign with confidence. I rebuked
her more than often and felt bad about it later. She was
educating her daughters in the hope of seeking alliances in the
big glittery market of marriage. Wasn’t aware of the bleak
bad world that drowned many a living hope? Yet, she silently
worked in that fatal direction of uncertainty. From where
would the seed of empowerment germinate?
The Myth and Reality debate
Woman empowerment is never a working reality. Why? The
Social infrastructure is not supportive of this development to
happen as it would violate the very existence of women and
the cause of their survival. Women are domesticated and
tamed beings who are overworked and surprisingly neglected
too with low receipt in terms of recognition, fame, reward,
wages, and acceptance for higher things in life. In fact, her
identity is strikingly alarming. Her surname and being is
contributed by either her father or husband.Her home is her
Father’s house or her Husband’s…..choose anyone!Fewer
choices for a fair deal…Isn’t it? I’m SURE I would be branded a
notorious FEMINIST even before the end. Ever imagined the
warring hormones as your body prepares to bring life on Earth,
the kicks and the inconveniences, and the dismal rude shock of
the gazing eyes-“ you are a woman and you were made to give
birth? What’s the drama about it? Are you doing something
different? Come on…..no need for this “ NAUTANKI”.
PHEW!! Basic life ON this planet is facilitated and continuously
Nurtured by a woman , irrespective of her social status, ego and
caste. Taken for granted, yes. A poor woman would deliver by a
roadside while her fragrant counterpart delicately nursed in the
luxury of a scented room or cottage beaming with eagerness.
Both are at risk of meeting the expectations of what is
expected of them. No one is aware of their respective fate.
Education , the only active weapon that could work against
these dormant thought processes, has , been unable to filter
opportunities and avenues, due to its unavailability to many a
willing mind. In rural and semi- rural areas women are
accountable for their actions and pathway of life and are
subject to dire consequences , if found , contributing to the
society as a whole or in self-structuring. Incredibly rigid and
baseless ways are maliciously transmitted generation after
generation, and anyone daring to traverse beyond this line of
control are social out castes and can be thoroughly rejected and
isolated at any given period of time. As if, The women residing
in towns and cities have it easy! Definitely, comes with a price.
The Sibling saga
Early in my career, in one of the group discussion session, a
young and confident girl shared her distressing story of how
her father favoured her brother and secured his life by enrolling
him in a prestigious engineering college in the city. When she
expressed her desire to study Management, the fatherly figure
ruled out any possibilities, defending his view, that “funds were
limited. Besides, she would get married someday. How would
the degree and certificate help?” The brother, undoubtedly ,
Was over the edge and was politically empowered, which
would continue lifelong in all his ventures. One wrong move
left the girl in a crisis of verifying and establishing herself and
her worth. The picture in reality is painted with shades of grey.
The doors and windows to the right kind of knowledge and
wisdom do not reach out to all the descending angels and
that’s a failure by itself. By any chance, if good weather prevails
and a woman rises like a Phoenix, it is attributed to her close
association with her boss, or that in the process of reaching the
pinnacle of success, she has degraded her standards of being a
good wife, daughter- in -law and a mother to her children. Too
many risk factors to play with.
To this, I am gently reminded of IndraNooyi’s mother’s remark
about her very successful daughter-“ You might be the CEO of
PepsiCo but when you enter your house you are a dutiful wife,
mother and a daughter.” Of what value are the professional
achievements they are not perceived in an unbiased way?
It does not justify her laurels. Many a woman whined at the
appalling comment coming from an otherwise proud mother.
In an exclusive interview, Indra Nooyi, blatantly and
unapologetically commented, “Women can have it all with
support and sacrifices.” The message is crystal clear. To be
successful you must walk over fire and burn many a want. Not
everyone can afford to be a Kalpana Chawla, Mary Kom or
Naina Lal Kidwai. These are a select few who have marched
ahead in glory. Ironically, there are lakhs of women awaiting
an empowered life. With acute history of gender bias and
discrimination, the process of empowerment related to
education and holistic growth has been bare minimum.
Story Closer To Home
One of the house help in our house had limited means to cope
with hunger and thus, survival was a pity. The husband would
be consistently out of work, and the woman had to deal with
the situation patiently by working in 6 to 7 houses during the
day. Her ordeal transformed her into a frail human, with the
only mission to feed a family of 7.Disheartening! She would
confess that most of the days they would live on “ paanta
bhaat” (cooked rice left in cold water ), usually accompanied by
green fragrant chillies and salt. Mashed potatoes and onions
with mustard oil were a luxury not to be repeated. Where do
we taste empowerment here? Poor knowledge, poverty
beyond measure, “sacrifices” and means to source good food
are claiming the lives of women , in general. Besides, the high
prices deter good living conditions, thus, raising the mortality
rate among women.
This reminds me of my “ MASHI”- My mother’s sister who I
took notice of while holidaying some years back. She would
delightfully toss-up a huge and golden omelette for her elder
son, just because he loved it! When it would come for her turn,
she would happily go eggless. I could never figure out the
reason for her behaviour until I turned a mother.Empowerment
undone due to affection. Being a mother is carrying loads of
burden. Socially, she is expected to take care of everyone in the
family, perhaps, except herself. Surviving rituals and customs
that require her to starve, fast or eat only when the other
family members have finished are quite painful and
unreasonable. Such acts are rampant in various communities.
The women of the house left no stone unturned for the sake
of good luck and prosperity of the family. Ending up with weak
appetite, mal-nourishment , joint and knee pain are common
ailments affecting women all over. Women share the right to
be looked after, as well.
Voicing out our views and opinions are not desirable. Either
they are dumb or suffer from attitude related sickness. That is
the general outlook. Freedom of expression would have
reduced the plight of women to a large extent but it does not
happen. Communication is limited and barred at certain levels.
It is not given momentum and direction.
Every Couple’s Tale
Long back, I had visited a qualified couple. The nameplate on
the wall read:
Mr. Harsh Seth, B.Tech., MBA.
Mrs. Mohini Seth, M. Tech., B. Tech., MBA.
On enquiry, I discovered that the man of the house was a senior
vice president in an MNC, while the woman carefully was in
charge of his food, laundry and general supervision of the
house. After bagging a handful of degrees and certificates, she
found it fair enough to take her husband’s permission in filling
up an application form for a credit card. I almost fainted!
Empowerment a Birthright
Empowerment of women is not a fete that is seasonal. It is
celebrating her natural, fundamental rights of existence
without any social discord.
“Right after birth, a girl must be raised without shame and fear,
And be heard with a patient ear.
Without any bar or limit,
By not making her timid.
Without prejudice and restriction
She will achieve distinction.
Without doubt and suspicion
She will offer in contribution.
Without being aborted and sold
Many a tale she can unfold.”
I , therefore, conclude in a state of absolute mental gross ,
efficiency and equilibrium that the given topic is to be defined
and understood as a conundrum. The need of the hour is
developing empowerment of the society as a whole, in
cultivating the true sense of empowerment of women.