Women empowerment is a wide concept. It can have several different definitions based on individual interpretation. Overall, it is fundamentally, the raising of the status of women via liberation, education and awareness, which then allows women’s voices to be heard.
The empowerment of young women and girls is something India has begun to work towards in recent years. Usually, the main way of accomplishing this is through the increased education of women and the creation of more opportunities for them. These are the fundamental ways to helping women on the path towards financial independence, so that they may earn on the same levels and be provided the same opportunities as their male counterparts. However, there are a handful of other issues that require urgent attention when it comes to empowering women.
Firstly, violence is something that needs to be addressed. A famous movement in India was Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao which focused on curbing the issue of female foeticide and subsequently educating young girls (which then continues in a cycle). The focus is always on enabling women to do certain things to improve their lives. However, a very important aspect is often missed out on here: women can seek education and protection in several ways, but the issue of gender-based violence will never recede if the group from which the majority of perpetrators hail are not taught the right values and thought processes. For this, not just women, but most of all, the focus of education needs to be on young men and boys.
Data from the National Commission for Women showed that domestic violence rates (cruelty inflicted by spouses and/or their relatives) increased significantly in the lockdown in 2020. In 2018, India bore a huge share of domestic violence with 90,000 cases being reported. Domestic violence is not the only issue; gender-based violence against women – particularly numerous rape cases that take place almost every day and go unheard – also needs to have strict action taken against it. India needs its cities to be places where women can walk, study, go out and travel alone on public transportation easily in the wee hours of the evening without the fear of getting kidnapped or assaulted, and needs homes to be places where women do not live under the fear of domestic violence daily. India needs better laws to punish heinous crimes such as rape. However, in order to curb these issues entirely in the long run, men and young boys need to be educated on how to respect and treat women by their own families; familial upbringing plays a huge part in how a child turns out. Only by making men aware of and sensitive towards women’s issues can they turn around to provide support to women, rather than being perpetrators of violence.
Another major area that needs focus is the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls. India is significantly lacking in proper, detailed sex education for youngsters. This is one of the prime reasons for not only sexual assault cases, but also for increasing populations, which then has adverse economic effects on individual families. Communities need to realize the importance of a woman’s right to resources such as birth control, family planning and safe and legal abortion without the attached stigma. The biggest repercussion of all this is women not having bodily autonomy and access to the right information about themselves. Women (and also men and boys) have the right to accurate knowledge about themselves. When equipped with it, they will be able to have a say for themselves, voice their concerns without being suppressed and truly have a right over their bodies and sexuality.
In addition, women’s contributions as homemakers to their families need to be recognized and appreciated as well. They contribute a huge amount of effort in facilitating everyday work and resources for those around them. Moreover, they have a crucial role in economic growth, making up a large portion of consumers in the market. By being managers of the household, they are the backbone of society but are often underestimated.
“I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard …We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” – Malala Yousafzai
If these measures relating to these areas of focus, along with schooling and economic rights and opportunities for women, are implemented across the country, then India is highly likely to see an improved change in the social, financial, physical and mental statuses of women, with more opportunities for women to pursue their passions and goals, take on leadership positions and attain better lifestyles.
Trisha Ghosh, Flame University, Pune, Literary & Cultural Studies and International Studies. Intern at Navratan Foundations