Rameeza A Rasheed for BeyondHeadlines
Feminists of the world, talk about “empowerment of women” vehemently and advocate it as the magic solution for all the problems facing women. Yes, it is true that, social economic, political and legal empowerment are important for women to reach gender equity. It is because they would assure ,education , skill acquisition , health awareness, employment, laws to protect women against crimes , political rights and positions etc., These are the tools of empowerment . But the big question is whether these tools can guarantee empowerment? ,
To answer this question we a should have a clear understanding about the concept of “empowerment of women”
Indian women have very low social. Economic, legal and political status and because of this reason India is simply not doing enough for its women. The country has fallen from 112 out of 134 countries in 2010 to 113 out of 135 countries in 2011 according to the Gender Gap Index 2011 released by the World Economic forum (WEF). What is the historic reason for such a position? The history of Indian women is “history of silence”. They were silent when basic human rights were denied to them, when they were treated as beasts of burden by the family and the society and when violence against them continued uncontrollably. Suppression of their rights and tolerance of crimes continued since they belonged to inferior sex. Women also were taught that “patience” is women’s virtue. They were taught to adjust to any situation for the sake of family welfare and society’s opinion. Women too accepted the patriarchal society’s dictates because of their economic dependency on men i.e., on fathers, husbands and sons in various stages of their life. In other words lack of income earning capacity crippled them and made them suffer in silence if they were not blessed with good life. This situation led to endless crimes against women and suppression of their basic rights. In many other countries too women were suffering in innumerable ways.
Hence, feminist all over the world raised their voice against inhuman treatment of women in the beginning of 19th century and started demanding basic rights and dignified treatment through women liberation movement .The UNO recognised the justice in their demand and declared, that “women rights are human rights” and through international conferences, workshops and committees drew a draft plan for women empowerment process and offered the guidelines and instructions to be followed to improve the status women. The member countries initiated women oriented development and welfare programmes and enacted suitable laws to protect their rights. The empowerment process was initiated through education, training, health, employment, legal and political facilities but these are only tools of empowerment. Can they alone guarantee “real” empowerment? The answer then is “no’. Because unless women understand the goals of empowerment they can not elevate their status within the family, society and the nation
The goals of empowerment are—-
- An economically empowered woman or an employed women should have the ability to plan and take independent decision about her own life( in matters of education carrier, marriage, child birth etc.,)
- She should be able to face challenges of her life, with courage and confidence and with the support of laws or supporting groups.
- She should be able to use the resources(such as education job, money, time and energy ) at her disposal to her best advantage, i.e., to achieve goals of her life
- She should be able to take part in decision making process at the family level in matters concerning, marriage, higher education or job of children, property acquisition and disposal, saving and investment matters etc and at national level through representation in the law making and administrative bodies.
- She should be able to put an end to violence against her through legal awareness.
- She should be able to live with dignity without depending on others, even during crises.
If a woman’s income does not permit her to have these advantages, there is no use of her economic power. There are thousand of employed women who totally surrender their salary to the family and depend on them even for their very personal expenses such as buying gifts for their near and dear ones or for self indulgence, have no say regarding the spending, saving or investment of their income or have no say regarding their personal matters (such as health care, pregnancy related matters), carrier matters, children’s education, job or marriage.. Even the so called politically empowered women act as the agents of their politically powerful fathers and husbands, without taking independent political decisions. Most of the employed women have no economic, legal and political awareness and are not even aware of the fact that there are 24 women oriented laws in India to protect them from crimes. If women prefer to live with such indifference towards their empowerment process there will be zero benefit to the government’s and parent’s efforts towards empowering them and they will continue to exist with 18th century tag of “inferior sex”
‘Empowerment”, is not a product of a revolution but of evolution . It is process which has to be initiated and nurtured carefully. To think that all the educated and employed women are empowered is a fallacy. We witness incidents of highly educated and economically powerful women like film stars, lawyers, scientists etc, attempt and commit suicide, when , the rural, uneducated , illiterate and poor women face the challenges of life courageously even after the suicide of their husbands (farmers) due to indebt ness.
What is the moral of this narration? Tools alone can not empower a woman. If the parents are under the impression that ,the modern girls are highly educated , have high profile jobs , economically independent and hence they would be safe from dangers of life , they are mistaken . They should also mould them with certain other qualities of life such as , positive attitude towards life, strength of character, courage and confidence in facing crisis, definite goal in life and the aspirations and efforts to reach that goals.. Money alone can not assure dignified life. Women should realise that they should strive for gender equity and that would become a reality only if they understand their self worth. Others can not fight their battle and self help is the best help.
(The author is a Chennai based academic and a retired Professor of Economics with specialization in gender and Indian economy.)