In the simplest words, empowering the women means creating such an environment in which they can take independent decisions for their personal development and the development of society in general. Empowerment is the process by which the women achieve increased control and participation in decision making which in turn helps to achieve equal basis with men in various spheres – political, economical, social , cultural and civil.
The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. The Constitution not only grants equality to women but also empowers the state to strive and adopt measures of positive discrimination in favour of women. We have various laws, policies, plans and programmes aimed at women’s advancement in different spheres. However, there exists a wide gap between the goals enunciated in these various forms of development measures and related mechanisms on the one hand and the situational reality of the status of women in India, on the other. This has been analysed extensively in the Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, “Towards Equality”, 1974 and highlighted in the National Perspective Plan for Women, 1988-2000, the Shramshakti Report, 1988 and the “Platform for Action, Five Years After – An Assessment”.
The problem essentially is routed in gender disparity in India. Gender disparity manifests itself in various forms, the most obvious being the trend of continuously declining female ratio in the population in the last few decades. Social stereotyping and violence at the domestic and societal levels are some of the other manifestations. Discrimination against girl children, adolescent girls and women persists in parts of the country. The gender disparity can be understood that it exists by looking at the sex ration in India which stands at 933.
The underlying causes of gender inequality are related to social and economic structure, which is based on informal and formal norms and practices. Consequently, the access of women to education, health and productive resources is inadequate. Therefore, they remain largely marginalised, poor and socially excluded. There are various issues which poses myriads of challenges towards the vision of Women Empowerment. Literacy rate among women is very less. This is the major cause. Despite the concept of Gender Budgeting and various special provisions for women in Sarva Shikshan Abhiyan, ie, National Literacy Mission, the ground reality has not changed much. This is one of the foremost reason for women not taking active participation in mainstream economic activities thus making half of Indian Population nearly impotent from economic point of view.
In social field, women are suppressed domestically and do not enjoy respectable position. They are not regarded as intelligent and powerful enough as men. Politically they do not participate and even where they do as voter or representative, mostly they are used as rubber-stamps in the hands of their male relative. They are generally deveoted to household work in India’s patriarchal society. Such underprivilged conditions of women led them to face domestic violence, sexual abuse both at home and work place and improper opportunities for progress in every area of life.
Globalization has presented new challenges for the realization of the goal of women’s equality, the gender impact of which has not been systematically evaluated fully. From the studies that were commissioned by the Dept. of Women and Child Development, it is evident that there is a need for reframing of policies for access to employment and quality of employment. Benefits of growing global economy have been unevenly distributed leading to widening of economic disparities leading to feminization of poverty, increased gender inequality, often deteriorating working conditions and unsafe working environment especially in the informal economy and rural areas.
We have endorsed The Mexico Plan of Action (1975), the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (1985), the Beijing Declaration as well as the Platform for Action (1995) and the Outcome Document adopted by the United Nations General Assembly Session on Gender Inequality and Development & Peace for the 21st cenury, titled “Further actions and initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action”. But still we lag behind. Where are we wrong this needs to be analysed and as the studies say we need to reframe our policies for the development and empowerment of women.