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  • Barsha Singh

The Lowdown on Women's Empowerment in India



India is being urged to focus more on social and human development, especially women's empowerment, as the economy of the nation grows. Women's empowerment, according to this essay, is defined as actions taken to "advocate for women's and girls' human rights, resist discriminatory practises, and challenge the roles and stereotypes that produce disparities and exclusion." In order to achieve gender equality, when men and women have equal authority and opportunity for economic involvement, personal growth, healthcare, and education, women must be empowered.


Although Scandinavian nations like Iceland, Sweden, Finland, and Norway have made progress in reducing the gender pay gap, the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa still have wide-ranging economic and social inequalities. There have been highs and lows in India's path to women's emancipation. The ratification of international agreements and the creation of national policies aimed at putting an end to gender disparity have benefited it. The government has made it possible for foreign organisations to collaborate with regional and state governments, local non-governmental organisations, and private businesses on a wide range of programmes to benefit women from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Despite these initiatives, India has not considerably improved over time in worldwide polls of gender equality.


· “You don’t know the background story of resilience, struggles and strength of beautiful and outgoing women. All you see is what is showcased.” ― Germany Kent


An overview of women's suffrage history

The Indian constitution, which went into force on January 26, 1950, has articles 14 through 16 that provide equal rights for men and women. It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender. Long before many Western nations gave women the ability to vote, Indian women got full suffrage with India's 1947 declaration of independence. After another South Asian state, Sri Lanka, chose Sirimavo Bandaranaike as its president in 1960, Indira Gandhi became the second nation in modern history to have a female leader.

A deliberate effort has also been made by New Delhi to ratify important international accords that aim to abolish discrimination against women. Having ratified 47 agreements and one protocol, it is a founding member of the International Labor Organization (ILO). It ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1993 with a few reservations after signing it in 1980. It has not yet ratified the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security as well as the CEDAW Optional Protocol. The government has passed the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 and the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 to make dowry and domestic violence crimes. In 2017, the government expanded maternity leave for the private sector under the Maternity Benefit Act from 12 to 26 weeks.


The Women's Reserve Bill grants women seats with a 33% reservation at all levels of Indian politics. Increasing female political engagement is the goal here. On September 12, 1996, the Deve Gowda administration initially proposed the bill. It took 14 years for the law to be enacted in the Rajya Sabha, despite the efforts of many administrations (Upper House of Parliament). All state legislative assemblies and the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) have not yet approved the bill. The bill's introduction was a significant effort to change the gender demographics of Indian politics. In order to improve women's meaningful and effective involvement in politics, quota system proponents claim that it is a vital first step. Incorporating women's views in governance might aid in accelerating a process that often takes centuries. Skeptics, on the other hand, believe that the measure would exclusively help wealthy women. While allocating 33% of seats for women is a bold move, the Trinamool Congress, one of the bill's most enthusiastic backers, went even farther by reserving 40% of seats for women to run in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.


Major Gains

In India, women are becoming more prominent in many spheres of life, including politics, business, medical, sports, and agriculture. Chandrayaan-2, India's second lunar mission, was piloted by two female scientists from the Indian Space Research Organization from its conception to completion in 2019. The meta-narrative that rocket science is a field exclusive for males was challenged by female leadership for a significant space mission. The Supreme Court's decision to overturn the government's stance on women serving as army leaders in 2020 marked another significant development. After being admitted to the military for the first time in 1992, women have held a variety of roles, including fighter pilots, medical professionals, nurses, engineers, signalers, and more. These are examples of how Indian women have broken through the military glass barrier, despite the fact that the topic of women participating in combat positions remains divisive on a global scale.

Focusing on grassroots efforts taken by the government and civil society organisations is essential to telling India's narrative of women's empowerment. The federal and state governments have introduced new plans, regulations, and initiatives aimed at empowering both urban and rural women. The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Mahila-E-Haat, and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) programmes are just a few of the key programmes the Narendra Modi administration has introduced to advance gender equality. In order to address the problem of a gender imbalanced ratio and improve the welfare of girls, the Bachao Beti Padhao Yojana initiative was introduced in January 2015. Northern India, encompassing Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab, and Uttarakhand, where the gender ratio is higher, is the main area of concentration. A 2016 launch of the internet marketing campaign known as Mahila-E-Haat. It makes use of technology to assist female business owners, self-help organisations, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Every programme has a distinct goal, which might range from encouraging budding female entrepreneurs to promoting the welfare of girl children to community involvement.


The government has also made it possible for foreign organisations to collaborate with regional and municipal authorities, non-profit organisations, and for-profit businesses. The World Bank, for instance, collaborates closely with both the federal government and the state government of Andhra Pradesh to enhance the quality of public health services in the region, especially maternal and child healthcare. Another initiative was launched by the United Nations (UN) India Business Forum, which collaborated with the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) to establish the UN-India NITI Aayog Investor Consortium for Women Entrepreneurs. The goal of this initiative is to support female entrepreneurship and build an investment ecosystem.


Issues Still Exist

Although India has made significant progress in this area, it is still far behind other nations in terms of gender equality. India dropped from 108th place in 2018 to 112th place in 2020 in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report.

In India, notably in the areas of political empowerment, the gender gap has been reduced by two-thirds overall. Given that a woman served as the government's leader for 20 years, it was placed 18th on the Political Empowerment sub-index. However, just 14.4% of the Indian parliament and 23% of the cabinet are made up of female lawmakers, which leaves total political representation at a low level. Unfortunately, since 2006, it has performed worse in terms of empowering women economically. According to the report, compared to 82% of males, just 25% of women are employed or looking for job. Additionally, their typical wage is just around a fifth of what their male colleagues make. Even when Indian women succeed in landing employment, they often get lower pay than male workers. In the 73 nations that were thoroughly analysed for the Global Wage Report 2018/19, India had the greatest average pay gender disparity, at 34.5%. Many women suffer from this wage inequality as a result of the higher female involvement rate in informal employment than in the official sector. Only 14% of leadership positions are held by Indian women. Everyone will gain from women having more economic power. According to IMF estimates, India's gross domestic product may rise by 27% as a result of equitable female participation in the workforce.

In order to promote the economic empowerment of women, India might learn from the Japanese model. With the implementation of the Womenomics strategy, Tokyo's female labour force participation climbed noticeably from around 66.5 percent in 2000 to 76.3 percent in 2016. Its policies have evolved significantly throughout time, including the amendment of current labour laws, the addition of new anti-discrimination rules, and the improvement of child-care standards. Women may be encouraged to enter the workforce and to stay employed throughout their early years of marriage and childrearing via the introduction and strengthening of new and existing laws. Even though India has one of the most generous maternity leave programmes, very few working women are covered by it. Few women really gain from these programmes because of their aim to duplicate those that have been successful elsewhere without taking local circumstances into consideration. Even if carefully scrutinising these models could be beneficial, they still need to be contextualised and tailored to the Indian situation.


Gaps between policy and practise are another issue the Indian legal system faces. Despite the existence of laws to protect women and girls, these laws are not consistently enforced, and accused offenders are seldom found guilty. Systemic bureaucracy and corruption deepen the gaps in these procedures. The gang rape suspects in the infamous "Nirbhaya" case were hanged after seven years. Another difficulty is that women's empowerment is less evident in rural India than it is in metropolitan areas. Given that rural India still has a population of around 65.97% despite rising urbanisation and the expansion of cities, this should be a major issue. Women have more access to education, employment, healthcare, and decision-making opportunities in metropolitan regions.


It is important to consider South Asia as a whole while analysing the current gender disparity concerns in India. Gender inequality persists significantly in rural regions, particularly in the Hindi heartland. Women are still confined to domestic duties and have little or no influence over financial choices. Social welfare indicators are lower than those of the neighbouring Bangladesh, and levels of literacy, nutrition, and access to health care remain low. The gender disparity in the area is the second largest after that of the Middle East and North Africa. Except for Sri Lanka, female parliamentary participation in the area has remained low at 20% or less (33 per cent). The South Asian culture's strongly ingrained gender stereotypes, meta narratives, and social standards may be responsible for these influences. Researcher Edwina Pio and Jawad Syed have argued that efforts to advance women's empowerment in South Asia should be viewed through the lens of religious, cultural, and socioeconomic particularities because new legal provisions may not always be upheld and discrimination may persist within societal and family structures. With a few exceptions, patriarchal and patrilineal traditions have restricted female mobility, their ability to obtain basic healthcare and education, and they have also resulted in forced unions. In South Asia, domestic, sexual, and physical violence against women is especially prevalent when the victims lack agency and control. Women are the target of around 53.9% of crimes only in India. 92% of women in New Delhi, the nation's capital, reported having been the victim of physical or sexual assault in a public setting.


Conclusion

India's path toward empowering women and achieving gender equality began when it attained independence in 1947. New Delhi still has a long way to go in many areas of women's empowerment, despite the apparent progress achieved via legislative changes, human development, and grassroots efforts. More concentrated efforts are required to bridge the urban-rural gap and guarantee that rural women have equal access to healthcare, employment, education, and decision-making as their urban counterparts. Since many of the obstacles to women's empowerment are related to strongly ingrained patriarchal and patrilineal traditions in many South Asian nations, changing mindsets will be the toughest struggle.

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