Women empowerment and gender equality started after India became a sovereign state in 1947. Constitution of India from article 14 to 16 guarantees equal rights to both men and women. Gender-based discrimination is strictly prohibited. Despite the existing legislation to protect women and girls, the enforcement of the laws is weak. These should possess a big concern for a state like India, given that the rural population is around 65.97%. Women in rural areas do not have much access to education, employment, healthcare services with no decision-making power.
Women empowerment: Introduction
The human sex ratio for the entire world population recorded in 2020 is 102 males to 100 females. According to United Nations data, men and women are distributed unequally around the globe. In former soviet Republics, women outnumber men, alternatively in Asia, Arab and African countries, there are more men than women. The national differences between the male and female populations change with age, geographical conditions, social status, and time. If we look at the Indian scenario, the sex ratio was 108 males per 100 females in 2020. In absolute terms, it would mean that India has a 48.04% female population compared to a 51.96% male population. In terms of female to male ratio, India ranks at 189th position out of 201 countries. Among Asian countries, it is at 43rd position out of 51.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, there has been a remarkable increase in India’s male sex ratio. Reasons for the increase are deep-rooted in India’s patriarchal society. For example, female infanticide, selective abortions, neglect of the female child, etc.
The autonomy of women and their improvement economically, politically, socially, and well-being is highly important. However, it is fundamental to the achievement of sustainable development.
Discriminatory attitudes towards females and gender inequality existed for generations around the world, particularly in patriarchal societies. Women are facing threats to their life, health, and well-being. Full participation and partnership are required for productive life that includes shared responsibilities of the household work, maintenance of children, and looking after the family.
UN World Conference
Even the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna confirmed that women’s rights were human rights, so in 1979 they adopted the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women(CEDAW). This is the International Bill of Rights for Women against all forms of discrimination and protection of their rights. The convention has been ratified by 180 states that include India, making it one of the most ratified international treaties.
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Issues working against women empowerment
Gender differences in laws and practices affect both developed and developing countries and women in all regions. There needs to be a change in the society for a larger benefit. Looking into it as a whole it requires policy and program actions, which will help women to have access to a better life. better life which includes improved economic resources, lower household burdens, remove legal impediments for their participation in public life. A raise in awareness amongst them which will, in turn, enhance their decision-making capabilities in all spheres of life.
The following are the issues faced by women around the world :
- Women have restricted choice of jobs contrary to men,
- No proper laws on sexual harassment in the workplace,
- global unemployment for men is 5.5% whereas, for women, it is 6.2%,
- more women are in informal and vulnerable kinds of jobs,
- women are paid less as compared to male counterparts,
- They are less likely to have access to social benefits like pensions, maternity benefits, paid leave, etc
- women are less likely to have access to banks and other financial institutions,
- women get restrained from achieving higher leadership positions
- early age marriages of girls,
- sexual and domestic abuse against women,
- exploitation of women
Measures taken to empower women
The following are some of the approaches that countries could adopt to empower women and eliminate gender inequalities:
- Education is the most important means by which women could get empowered with knowledge, skill, and self-confidence. Notable efforts are being made around the globe by educating women to make them self-reliant. Self reliance will make them participate in the national development process.
- Encourage skill development, raise employment among women, and eliminate practices that discriminate against women could help empower women.
- Practices that eradicate violence against women and granting protection even at home and the workplace.
- Making gender-specific laws, rules, regulations, and adopting other appropriate measures for women.
In India, the empowerment of women is dependent on factors like geographical locations, education, social and economic status, customs, age, etc. Even the Constitution of India has embodied the principle of gender equality in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties, and Directive Principles. India was the second country in modern history to have Indira Gandhi, as a female leader in 1966 after Sri Lanka.
The Indian Constitution not only grants equality to women but also empowers the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favour of women by providing reservations and privileges to women in certain areas. In furtherance, several policies have been adopted by the Nation and incorporated at National, State, and local (panchayat) levels in sectors like health, education, family, economic and political opportunities, public participation, gender-based violence, and many more. Since much of India is rural despite urbanization. Women empowerment in rural India is much less visible than in urban areas.
Actions taken by Government of India
The Government of India has come up with two bodies to advance gender equality-
- the Ministry of Women and Child Development and,
- the National Commission for Women was set up in 1990 to safeguard the rights and legal entitlements of women
Both the bodies are autonomous organizations and work on the National and State level.
To meet the differences of gender equality and combat discriminatory practices Ministry of women and child development in India has implemented various action plans, schemes, and development policies on women empowerment. Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, One-Stop centre, UJJAWALA, Nari Shakti Puraskar, Mahila Shakti Kendra, Nirbhaya, and Mahila-e-haat are few flagship schemes of the Centre. These schemes are focused mostly on places in Northern India, like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab, and Uttarakhand where the gender ratio is wider.
National policy for the Empowerment of Women (2001) is one of the first policies formulated for the advancement, development, and empowerment of women with policy prescriptions and strategies.
In 2016 another draft was prepared on National Policy emphasizing poverty, inequality, and violence against women.
In 2019 the situation demanded the government to prepare a new draft on National Policy on Women Empowerment (2019). More emphasis was given on education, food security, nutrition, employment, technology, and governance. To prevent and criminalize dowry and domestic violence, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and Domestic Violence Act, 2005 were enacted. The maternity leave got extended from 12 weeks to 26 weeks under the Maternity Benefit Act, 2017 by the government.
For increasing women political participation women’s Reservation Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha in 1996. It provides for 33% reservation of seats for women in all levels of Indian politics. An ardent supporter of the bill Trinamool Congress went a step further by reserving 40% of the seats for women to contest in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
In the Armed forces, Women got inducted in 1992. Another milestone was achieved in 2020 when the Supreme Court of India declared that women could serve as army Commanders.
India’s journey to women empowerment and gender equality started after it became a sovereign state in 1947. Constitution of India from article 14 to article 16 guarantees equal rights to both men and women. Gender-based discrimination is strictly prohibited. Despite the existing legislation to protect women and girls, the enforcement of the laws is weak. These should possess a big concern for a state like India, given that the rural population is around 65.97%. Women in rural areas do not have much access to education, employment, healthcare services with no decision-making power.
Though India has successfully taken measures on human development, the global standing on gender equality remains relatively low. In India, the rate of crimes against women stands at 53.9%. In Delhi, the capital city of India 92% of women encounters sexual or physical violence in public places. The Global Gender Gap Report shows India’s rank declined from 108th position in 2018 to 112th position in 2020.
In the field of political empowerment, India was ranked at 18th position on the sub-index. The members in the parliament consist of only 14.4% of female legislators and 23% in the cabinet, making overall political representation relatively low. A survey showed that only 25% of women are working or seeking employment in comparison to men. The International Labour Organization’s Global Wage Report 2018/19 found that among 73 countries, the average pay gender gap is the highest in India at 34.5%. Merely 14% of Indian women make up for leadership roles. A more concentrated effort needs to be made by the government to close this urban-rural divide and to provide better security to women. Lastly, the most significant economic empowerment will benefit everyone.
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