Is woman empowerment, a reality or hype?

Woman empowerment!   This is a critical issue that has been recently highlighted over the old patriarchal setup.  The old setup is, in turn getting the world to think about the woman and empowering her to become aware of her own value.
Women of the new millennia are evolving as achievers in every aspect of life, whether it is sports to politics, art and culture or industry, social work or national defense forces etc. However, despite all apparent developments and achievements, questions rise about the reality of the status of women as a separate entity in the human race.  How successful are they in demolishing the old belief of supremacy of the man due to his superior physical strength?

These old beliefs on the superiority of the physical strength has molded the man to see the woman inferior to himself in the modern world and that is the root cause of deterioration of value of woman.  In the literal sense, empowerment means natural sanction to all human beings  to live his/her life with freedom and to avail all legal rights equally for overall development of the person and the society to which he or she belongs.
The above definition should stand good for the meaning of woman empowerment, as well. However, if we ponder critically, upon the topic of woman empowerment, we can assume she is empowered when:

  1. She is educated with basic knowledge of life and environment where she has born and been living.
  2. She is capable of taking her own economic responsibility
  3. She is aware of her rights and can avail them.
  4. She is a woman in every role (baby, daughter, sister, mother, wife, friend, colleague, students, labor, teacher and in all professional position) she is respected and valued for it.
  5. She is recognized and accepted with dignity irrespective of caste, creed, religion and economic status.
  6. She has an open and equal access to opportunities

In a nutshell, a woman can be considered to really empowered when she is recognized as human being rather than just an opposite gender.  She can be considered empowered only when the above mentioned points are fulfilled and she is identified as an individual.

Since time immemorial, the human society has been educated about woman in a very specific way which could be termed as patterned, stereotypical definition of woman. This definition signifies a specific purpose for which a woman is born. These purpose of her life as ordained by the men, are for producing a child, satisfy her man, an object of sexual enjoyment, and work inside the house, live for the family with no rights to take any decisions on her own. In other words, woman is treated as a pet to work and for amusement.
While this is the humiliation and domination of the patriarchal society of the world, at times history had seen breakdown in such definitions too. Heroic examples of women of ancient times were known to all.  Yet holding of power by man over the woman could not be totally wiped out from our society.  This tradition was not confined to any particular society but entire human race, world over followed it.

We see that, in our Vedic era, women were treated with great respect in the society. They were believed to be goddess, goddess of love, knowledge and wisdom, sacrifice and tolerance. Without the participation of women no religious function got completed. Husband had to be accompanied by his wife. Women were also given training of weapons and politics as in other subjects too.
But with the changing socio–political environment, woman lost that respect and thus began her sufferings, right from when they are a foetus in their mother’s womb. In the modern world, many goddesses are lost to death in their mother’s womb before seeing the Earth.

We have had women like Indira Gandhi, our nation;s first woman prime minister; Tessy Thomas, first woman scientist to head a missile project in India; Bachendri Pal, our first woman climber to Mount Everest; PT Usha, our first woman olympic medal winner; Mary Kom, our first woman Olympic Gold winner;  Nirmala Sitharaman; Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Shobha De, all noted literateurs;  Kalpana Chawla, Sunita Williams, our women astronauts who have all brought glory to our coountry and the women.
A long list is enriched with achievements by Indian women who give us the beautiful picture of woman’s era. In the field of sports, medicine, science, art, literature, defense, public services, in all sphere of knowledge, women have proved their capability and quality around the entire globe.
Besides above mentioned achievements, women as a labour force, wife, students, child, in various environments are suffering from socio-economic evils in India. These are poverty, illiteracy, crime, social customs and beliefs etc.

Poverty :
Poverty is one of the most important reason behind the poor development of a woman.  The condition of the woman is worse in the rural parts of India. Nearly 65% of the people in India are still in rural areas,” (Verick said in The Wire interview.) Most of them are just surviving with day to-day earnings.
Under such circumstances, within the family, the worst sufferers are, needless to say, women and girl children. For these women, neither credit nor skill training is accessible. Better health care and higher educational opportunities are far reaching dreams for their children and there is no need to say about the status of girl child in such families. She (girl child) is treated as a “silent lamb” born to suffer all evils in the male dominated society.
Discrimination in payment of wages for daily woman labour is another face of male domination. In India a predominantly agricultural country, women do more than half of the total agricultural work. But their work is not valued. On an average, a woman works 15 to 16 hours a day unpaid at home and underpaid outside.
Besides, the work load either in the field or in the factories or offices, the women have to do the household such as cooking, washing, cleaning up the house etc. The younger women, besides all these, have to carry the burden of early pregnancy, childbirth and breast-feeding.  In terms of help offered to people for their various functions, women seem to receive the least attention from the society.

Illiteracy:
Education is a key instrument for the empowerment of women.
Educated women have, on an average, fewer children and they take good care of themselves.
In India, poverty leads to no access of education to women and girl child. Female population constitutes of about 50% of the country’s human resource but the lack of education snatches away from the women their chance to be part of the progress and development of India.

Crimes & No freedom of expression:
In India crime against women is at its peak. Rape, murder in the name of social customs and beliefs, female foeticide, infanticide are still a bane for our society.
There are still people who prefer to have a son in the family. If they come to know that the baby is a girl, they kill the baby when it is only just a foetus and here the mother has no choice but to follow her in laws. If she raises voice another crime will take place. Either she will be murdered by her in-laws or will be thrown out of the house.
In some places of the country, people still practice killing for honour. If any girl found marrying against her parent’s will, at her own choice, her relatives will murder her to secure honour of the family in the village.
Rape is another heinous crime in India. Worse thing is, a large number of rapes go unreported. Due to social stigma only many victims and their family does not inform authorities about the crime. All because, in our society, rapist is allowed to go free to join mainstream but not the woman upon whom the crime is perpetrated. This is the pathetic face of our society.  Not only poor illiterate women are victim of rape but in various departments, offices, we see working women are facing molestation, humiliation and at times rape.

Social customs against women’s right to live:

Dowry death is a murder or suicide of a married woman caused by a dispute over her dowry. What is heart rending her is that it is a woman who perpetrates and participates in such act against another woman. It is ind eed,very disappointing for a society and a country to have one of a kind pitched against another being of the same kind.  Murder related to Witchcraft is another crime against women.

Statistical data of all drawbacks:

According to the report released by Delhi police, over the five years there is an increase in numbers of rapes of 277% from 2011 to 2016. Maple croft on sex trafficking and crime against minors, India was ranked 7th worst. According to the National Crime records bureau 2013 annual report, 24923 rape cases were reported across India in 2012.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the country as a whole was largely illiterate with just 5.3 per cent of the population counted as literate. Only 0.60 per cent women were then literate (collected from secondary sources.)
As per census of 2011, an effective literacy rate for men was 82.14% whereas for women it was 65.46%.
1403 females have never attended any educational institution for every 1000 males (IndiaSpend 28Nov 2015 report.)

Recently World bank has reported that labour force participation of woman in India has slipped dramatically in the last 20 years both in rural and urban women (using data of National Sample Survey Office).  UN Panel under UN Secretary General has declared that over 51% of work done by women in India is unpaid. The decline of women participation is due to gaps in legal protection, systematic constraints, and gender gaps in digital access etc.

Final words of realisation
As a service person, I meet many ladies from different profession. While interacting with these ladies, various disappointing facts came up. Though earning and educated, these ladies are living a life under an unknown suppression of fear. They can’t go anywhere they want, they can’t wear dress they want, they can’t have fun they like to have etc. why do they fail to cut the shackles of mental slave? Here a woman acts against another woman too. Thus educated and earning woman can’t wholly be said independent and having freedom to express.
Therefore empowerment is not only dependent on environment and facilities but on how much courage we women can show in order to break the shackles around us.
Women are empowering themselves these days but still her enemies are at large. There is a lot to do by the society, country and the family to uplift our girls if they want a successful empowered country in real sense.

Nitusmita Saikia