Women empowerment has five components: women’s sense of self-worth, their right to have and to determine choices, their right to have access to opportunities and resources, their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally (Beniwal, Opt. Cit., 33). Hence, in today’s global society pressures for women empowerment are growing. The women empowerment theme runs strongly through all the literature, policy documents, planned initiatives etc. of the third world countries specially in the context of women. Most of the modern democracies and developing nations are already fascinated with this theme and have a public agenda for the process of women empowerment. It is more or less a kind of ‘national commitment’ which is prevalent in these countries including India (Singh, Vineeta; and Kishor, Kumar, 2012).
What is Women empowerment: A Conceptual Understanding
Literary empowerment denotes ‘to invest with power’. Power is defined as the ability to influence the behavior of others with or without restraint. The extent to which a person or group holds such power is related to the social influence they can wield. It is also controlled over resources broadly categorized as intellectual and physical (Panda, 2007). Now the question is that what is ‘power’? According to Max Weber power is the ability to ‘make others do irrespective of their own wishes and interests’ implies the relational aspect of power as it is not inherent but exists in relationships. It can, therefore, be inferred that ‘power is created in relationships and hence power relationships are concomitant on changes in power possessors’ (Weber, 1948). But Lips defines power as ‘influence and control’ which explain the absolute and unchangeable characteristics (Lips, 1991). On the other hand, Batliwala holds that empowerment essentially is ‘the process of challenging existing power relations and of gaining greater control over sources of power may be termed as empowerment’ (Batliwala, Srilatha, 1995).
It is true that empowerment as a term is in usages since the seventeenth century connoting ‘invest with authority/power’ which later assumed a socio-psychological dimension as ‘an enabling factor’ (Panda, Opt. Cit., 30). Though, Hvas and Thesen (2002) claim that inherent in the concept is a critical perception of power that reflects an unequal distribution of resources as well as a belief in the ability of individuals to acquire better control over their lives. The point of departure for any empowerment strategy is the perceived presence of oppression or powerlessness.
Women Empowerment Meaning
According to Cambridge English Dictionary empowerment means “to authorize”. In the context of development the particular segment of the population: the poor, the women, the vulnerable, the weak, the oppressed and the discriminated have to be ’empowered’ to have control over their lives, to better their socio-economic and political conditions. Questions are raised as to ‘who empowers them?’ and ‘how to empower them?’ Ideally speaking no one empowers anyone, the best way is ‘self-empowerment’. But the segments of population mentioned above are handicapped both structurally and culturally to empower themselves without any external support from the state and others. As long as this segment of the population makes no effort at self-empowerment, it will be a long and arduous task and process for the outsiders to empower them.
When women are the advisor, the Lords of creation don’t take the advice till they have persuaded themselves that it is just what they intended to do; then they act upon it and if it succeeds, they give the weaker vessel half the credit of it; if it fails they generously give herself the whole.
— Louisa Mary Alcott.
Women Empowerment is understood as a very narrow term in today’s world. Women empowerment as mentioned above means to authorize. It may be understood as enabling people, especially women to acquire and possess power resources in order to make decisions on their own or resist decisions made by others that affect them. A person may be said to be powerful when she/ he has control over a large portion of power resources such as at personal wealth, education information, knowledge, social status, a position held, leadership trains, capabilities of mobilization. The National Policy on education (1986) suggested certain strategies to empower women. Accordingly women became empowered through collective reflections and decision making.
Women Empowerment: Ideas, Issues and Possibilities
Historically, the concept ’empowerment’ is rooted in social action developed within grass-roots movements in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s within the contexts of civil rights, the women’s movement, gay rights, the disability rights movement, and other community- based actions. However, in the present context the term women empowerment emerged specifically through the interaction between Feminism and Popular Education which developed in Latin America in the last century. Thereafter, it intertwined Paulo Freiri’s concept of Conscientisation with the Gramscian idea of the participatory and democratic functioning of institutions for creating a more equitable and non-exploitative social order (Batliwala Srilatha, 1993). In the eighties, feminists observed that women’s situation remained unchanged. Therefore, women empowerment replaced the earlier terms of women’s development in the mid the nineties (Panda, Loc. Cit.). Scholars basically in the schools of feminisms incorporated gender subordination and the social construction of gender as fundamental to analyze women empowerment (Ibid. 30).
Yet, women empowerment and gender justice put social transformation at the centre of the agenda of human development and progress which is akin to Gandhian concept of ‘Sarvodaya’ espoused about nine decades before though Gandhi had related strength to moral power in which women stood ‘immeasurably superior to men’ who could ‘take bolder action in non-violence’ (Ibid). Women empowerment appears when the outcomes are equal rights and just entitlements in a situation of all round development and reaches a stage where each individual becomes an equal partner in the way to advancement. Thus term ‘women empowerment’ is used in two broad senses i.e. general and specific. In a general sense, it refers to empowering women to be self-dependent by providing them access to all the freedoms and opportunities, which they were denied in the past only because of their being women. In a specific sense, women empowerment refers to enhancing their position in the power structure of the society (Bhuyan, 2006).
For that reason, the word women empowerment essentially means that the women have the power or capacity to regulate their day – to- day lives in the social, political and economic terms – a power which enables them to move from the periphery to the centre stage (Ibid. 60). Notwithstanding the remarkable changes in the position of women in the recent times, there are some areas of women empowerment that are needed for women to make sure that they can take responsibilities for all the substances affecting in their lives. These are – (i) Cultural empowerment, (ii) Social empowerment, (iii) Economic empowerment, (iv) Political empowerment and (v) Educational empowerment – all of these approaches actually in together reinforce the real goal and objectives of the concept of women empowerment in real sense, like creating an environment through positive economic and social policies for development of women and realization of their full potential (Goel, Aruna, 2004), equal access to participation and decision making in socio-political and economic life, equal access to health care, education, employment, social security and more important eliminating of discrimination and all forms of violence against them etc.
Why Women Empowerment?
Women constitute almost 50% of the world’s population. As per their social status women are not treated as equal to men in many places especially in the east, though in the western countries women are treated at par with men in most of the fields. The disabilities on the one hand and the inequalities between men and women on the other have given rise to what is known as ‘gender problem’. All over the world and particularly in South and East Asia and Africa the gender problem has assumed importance; during the recent years gender issue has become virtually a crucial point of argument. It is now widely believed that women empowerment that is providing equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities to women will go a long way in removing the existing gender discrimination. Women empowerment in contemporary Indian society in forms of their work, education, health and media images, in the context of lineage, the rule of residence and household chores, their participation in social and political activities, their legal status in terms of marriage, divorce and inheritance of property, should be taken into consideration.
The principle of gender equality was recognized in the United Nations Charter in 1945 and the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the majority of development planners did not fully address the role of women in the development process. In 1975, the first UN Conference of Women and Development was held at Mexico city under the motto, “Equality, Development and peace”. The need to integrate women into development was internationally proclaimed in the 1995 Bejing Conference. The Economic Survey (1999-2000) used an entire section on gender inequality. It began with a reminder of the commitment made in the ninth plan document of allocating 30 per cent of resources for women’s development schemes through “Women’s Component Plans” According to Menon and Probhu (2001), there was a strong plea for investing in women’s equality on the ground that this made economic sense and spoke of “the social rate of return on investment in women” being greater that the corresponding rate for men. According to Paten (2002), women’s development can be attained by improving her status and bargaining power in the economy.
The Global Conference on women Empowerment (1988) highlighted women empowerment as the best way of making women partners in development. The Development of women and children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) program was initiated as a sub-scheme of the nationwide poverty alleviation program that is the Integrated Rural Development Program (IRDP). It aims at imparting self-reliance to rural areas through income generating schemes along with group organisation skills and keeping this in view the year 2001 was celebrated as “The Women’s Empowerment Year”. Human resource development and women empowerment unlock the door for modernization of society. Instead of remaining passive beneficiaries, women must become active partners. Participation and control over resources of power are considered as critical indicators in the process of development discharged towards women. Women in the rural areas possess the least proportion of these resources and, as a result, they are powerless and dependent on the powerful and wealthy.
Women empowerment should focus on the holistic the manifestation of womanhood and the feminine with a goal to bring about a perfect balance between the masculine and feminine forces of nature, irrespective of gender. Thus, women empowerment should transcend gender and reach the whole of humanity to establish a matriarchal society based on creative and generative action. Such a social order should be based on the maples of love, compassion, nurturing and with a purpose of unifying the forces of nature. For this to happen in reality the primary requirement is the social economic, religious and political women empowerment. Women have to come out of their homes and actively participate in reshaping the society. When women are empowered in spheres of life with an equal opportunity and when she has the choice and opportunity to lead a publicly active life only then we can talk about a foundation being created for a collective change in the society.
We need to understand that the more economically, socially, religiously, and politically empowered the women become the most confident she becomes in articulating her thoughts and more productive she becomes in her actions. This involves in her getting involved in taking decisions for her family, society, country and the world along with her counterparts that is men.
Types of Women Empowerment
There are so many kinds of women empowerment. They are women empowerment on the individual, group, and societal/ community- level and the interaction between these. The individual level deals with individual women’s abilities to take control over their lives, their perceptions about their own value and abilities. The societal level deals with the permissiveness of the political and social climate, the societal norms and the public discourse on what is possible and impossible for women to do. So, the different levels are seen as interconnected and mutually reinforcing and increased self-esteem and sense of agency.
Women Empowerment in Contemporary India
Over three decades of the women’s movement across India, we have seen an increasing emphasis on the promotion of grassroots-level organisations for women’s development and discussions on women’s status and women empowerment. The phrase ‘status of women’, though a cliche, has its uses despite countrywide variations. But women empowerment in India is a challenging task as we need to acknowledge the fact that gender-based discrimination is a deep-rooted social malice practiced in India in many forms since thousands of years. The malice is not going to go away in a few years or for that matter by attempting to work at it through half-hearted attempts. Formulating laws and policies are not enough as it is seen that most of the times these laws and policies just remain on paper. The ground situation on the other hand just remains the same and in many instances worsens further. Addressing the malice of gender discrimination and women empowerment in India is long drawn battle against powerful structural forces of the society which are against women’s growth and development.
Contemporary Indian society has been exposed to the broad processes of social transformation, agricultural modernization and economic development, urbanization and globalization. However, these processes have generated regional imbalances, sharpened class inequalities and augmented the gender disparities. Hence, women have become critical symbols of these growing imbalances. All these have affected adversely the various aspects of women empowerment in the contemporary Indian society. The family and women’s work is not enough to say that any society consists of men and women. It is equally important to look at how the two groups of people interact, as well as at the role and exceptions each group has of the other. Such roles and exceptions are a product of the stereotypes of each gender. By gender stereotype, we mean attributes and qualities commonly associated with a gender. Thus, the first idea on gender role differences, which a child acquires, is that of women of one’s family marrying and leaving their homes to leave with different groups of people. Secondly, men appear to exercise far greater influence in decision-making and are far more visible and audible than their wives. Thirdly, most of the tasks within the home are done by the mother, grandmother, sisters and so on. At meal times, they carry food to the fields for the men. All these tasks, which consume time and energy, are not counted as work and there is no payment involved. In western countries, women’s groups, politicians and other concerned individuals have been arguing for payment for housework and childcare. In India, the question of payment for household jobs has not really been an important issue or demand. As we shall see, there are many other issues, which require urgent attention. At the same time, it is important for us to remember that non-payment should not also mean non-recognition. The fact that women are expected to perform all these tasks as a part of their conventional roles and on special merit is awarded to them for these tiring and tiresome jobs.
But, women empowerment is seen as a process where the outcome would lead to renegotiation to gender relation, enhance women’s access and control over human, material, financial and intellectual resources. Women empowerment section can be understood as a process which enables women to question and analyze the basis of their subordination, to articulate this problem, ways of addressing their problems and to take decisions, to make forward ad act upon. Women empowerment does not end with the election but to decision making, planning, implementation of the development programme, monitoring and evaluation of the programme and sharing the benefits of development. Women participation into politics at the local level through reservation is certainly a positive development but to make it work needs sincere efforts from different quarters. Something more than participation is required to which the term women empowerment focuses. It is concerned with women empowerment through ideas, equation and consciousness. The women empowerment is frequently stimulated theory participatory rural appraisal exercise giving women a clear sense of how they can improve their lives, in particular, way. Now, with the Constitutional and legislative support, it was hoped that the process of women empowerment would gather momentum, but despite various movements and legislative guarantee and despite the increase in outlay for development projects, women empowerment remain to be achieved.
The extent of women empowerment in the national hierarchy is determined largely by the three factors – her economic, social and political identity and their weight. These factors are deeply intertwined and interlinked with many cross-cutting linkages which imply that if efforts in even one dimension remain absent or weak, outcomes and momentum generated by the other components cannot be sustained as they will not be able to weather any changes or upheavals. It is only when all the three factors are simultaneously addressed and made compatible with each other can the woman being truly empowered. Therefore for holistic women empowerment to happen – social, economic and political aspects impacting a woman’s life must converge effectively.
A Peep into Womanhood
India today is at the cusp of paradigm change in its growth and its position in the world. We need to think big and scale up rapidly in each and every area, be it education infrastructure, industry, financial services or equality of both genders. For around two centuries, social reformers and missionaries in India have endeavoured to bring women out of confines in which centuries of traditions have kept them. According to 2001 census, the percentage of female literacy in the country is 54% up from 9% in 1951.
History is a witness to those women who have in past demonstrated unique leadership capabilities. Razia Sultan, Rani of Jhansi, Sarojini Naidu and Indira Gandhi are motivational examples of women empowerment. God has gifted women with compassion, tender-heartedness, caring nature, concern for others. These are positive signs which imply that women can be leaders. Though some women have shown their mettle yet a large number of them have to sharpen their leadership qualities in various ways. In order to help women bring into the limelight, they need to be empowered. Therefore, women empowerment is the prerequisite to transforming a developing country into a developed country.
In the past, the stature of women was destroyed. They were treated as chattel in the early Roman society. In France, they were termed as half soul creature responsible for the destruction of society. The Chinese considered them as devils soul. Japanese men preferred to live unmarried lives. Before the advent of Islam, Arabs buried their daughters alive considering them a sign of disgrace. In this way, they deprived women their due place. Most men view themselves as being the superior life form in society. They place themselves on pedestals and force women to believe in their own inferiority to men and their incapability to excel educationally, politically, economically and domestically. But the truth is that women have advanced in all these areas.
In Shakespeare’s works, many female characters are portrayed as being manipulated, if not controlled outright by men in their lives as father, uncles, suitors, husbands. Therefore, Shakespeare’s works appear to send mixed singles regarding the notion of women empowerment. Women empowerment has multiple, interrelated and interdependent dimensions, economic, social, cultural, and political. It can be understood in relation to resources, perception, relationship and power.
Women empowerment has the following components:
- Women’s sense of self-worth;
- Their right to have the power to control their own lives, both within and outside the home;
- Their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a just social and economic order nationally, internationally and universally.
Importance of Women Education in Women Empowerment
Women Empowerment is a global issue and discussion on women political right are at the forefront of many formal and informal campaigns worldwide. The concept of women empowerment was introduced at the international women conference at NAROIBI in 1985. Education is a milestone of women empowerment because it enables them to responds to the challenges, to confront their traditional role and change their life. So that we can’t neglect the importance of women education in reference to women empowerment India is poised to becoming a superpower, a developed country by 2020. The year 2020 is fast approaching; it is just 7 years away. This can become a reality only when the women of this nation became empowerment. India presently accounts for the largest number no of illiterates in the world. Literacy rate in India has risen sharply from 18.3% in 1951 to 74.04% in 2011 in which enrolment of women in education has also risen sharply 7% to 65.46%. Within the framework of a democratic polity, our laws, development policies, plan and programmes have aimed at women’s advancement in difference spheres. From the fifth five year plan (1974-78) onwards has been a marked shift in the approach to women’s issues from welfare to development. In recent years, the women empowerment has been recognized as the central issue in determining the status of women. The National Commission of Women was set up by an Act of Parliament in 1990 to safeguard the right and legal entitlements of women. The 73rd and 74th Amendments (1993) to the constitution of India have provided for reservation of seats in the local bodies of panchayats and Municipalities for women, laying a strong foundation for their participation in decision-making at the local level.
Though education is important for every individual living on this earth, but it is more significant for women. Educating girls is not only important because it gives them an opportunity to earn but the most important reason of educating women is because they are the one who develop the whole family. No doubt, an educated woman can support her family in managing the budget as well as helping them save some money for future. Therefore young girls should always be given every opportunity to gain a proper women education. According to the ICPD Programme of Action, paragraph 4.2 “Education is one of the most important means of women empowerment with the knowledge, skills and self-confidence necessary to participate fully in the process.”
The concept of women empowerment was introduced at the women conference in 1985 at Nairobi. There the 5 components of women empowerment were defined, each showing how women can be empowered and what is the significance of doing so. Women education is one of them, when we say empowering women through education, it means that using women education as a tool to bring women face to face with herself worth, giving her the sense to choose between right and wrong, empowering her with the skills to take advantage of the opportunities and embedding confidence in her to meet the challenges of life.
Thus educating a woman is actually providing her with a weapon to live up her customary part, fight with the challenges and bring positive change in her life. It is said that no nation can be a great nation unless and until they have educated and healthy mothers. Therefore, it is utmost important to educate a woman because being a mother she is the one who will decide how the future generations will be. The future of a nation is dependent on well-groomed mothers.
In today’s world, we are facing so many changes within seconds that it is becoming difficult to cope with this fast moving world. To avoid the generation gap between mother and her kids, women education is very important. If a mother is not aware of the technological advancements and the new terminologies etc. she won’t be able to guide her kids properly. Also, this is important for herself grooming. Thus women education opens up the new horizons, broadens her thinking, develops new ideas and hopes, enhances knowledge and skills, provides the courage to meet the challenges of life and give freedom of expressions. Best examples of women empowerment can be seen in today’s world as we see many women in top positions working side by side with their male colleagues. Though this used to be a male dominant society but from few years a clear rise in women participation in the workforce is noticed. We can now find women in sports, politics, education field, army; they are engineers, doctors, pilots and involved in so many other professions. Thus, women should be encouraged to learn and should be provided with the opportunity to gain education to groom them as well as to educate the nation.
Women Empowerment through Women Education
In our countries, different states some specific programmes were taken for women empowerment with the financial support from the Government of India and motivational and managerial co-operation from Government and non-government agencies in the States. For example, women empowerment (Manila Samaksha) through Education Project was executed as a part of the implementation of the NPE. It was felt that Education can be used as an agent of basic change to improve the status of women, to promote women empowerment and to enable them to take control of their own lives. It provided the crucial, conceptual and practical link between women empowerment and education, it worked on the premises that women empowerment is essential for women to be active participants in the educational process.
The Mahila Samaksha presupposed that education could be a decisive intervention in the process towards women’s equality. The project was implemented since 1989 initially in 3 states like Karnataka, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh and subsequently the project was extended to other states. Due to this project there were participatory and motivational changes among the rural women. There was flexibility in the project framework to adjust with the diversities of the states in their physical educational, mental and social conditions. The women have not only empowered themselves, but also others through self-study and self-efforts. By teaching the malpractices, teachers’ negligence and inertia have been removed and women have come forward to help teachers in the schools and their own fellow-beings in learning. Hence, education has been proved to be a powerful instrument of women empowerment as well as social change (Mohanty, J. (2004), Chauhan, C.P.S. (2004).
Role of Non Governmental Organizations in Women Empowerment
Their role of NGO is so impressive because they work with missionary zeal and commitment. Governmental Organizations are formal agencies working for the women empowerment. But this work requires multidimensional approach and hence a large number of voluntary organizations / NGO’s have gained increased attention in the field from grass – root level to national & international level. The working style of NGO’s is open, transparent and personal. So, they are more effective in this direction. They organize seminars, conferences and workshops for the awakening of the masses. Their mass appeal – style contributes to a better understanding of women’s rights and of the means to ensures the enjoyment of those rights and the elimination of discrimination. They prepare urban and rural uneducated women for self-employment, which is vital for the economic women empowerment.
The role of women outside the home has become an important feature of the social and economic life of the country and in the years to come this will become still more significant. From this point of view, greater attention will have to be paid to the problems of training and development of women. The education of girls, therefore, should be emphasized not only on grounds of social justice but also because it accelerates social transformation. Promoting women education is a challenging task and it required multipronged efforts for a solution.
This burning issue is being aggravated by socio-economic, psychological and other factors most of which are age-old and deep-rooted in our society. Since the practice dies hard, social ethos and superstitions are emotionally surcharged, it is very difficult to tackle these problems easily. But with a strong determination, commitment, and involvement of people and organizations with philanthropic motive and a rational outlook, this problem can be solved and hurdled be overcome for promoting national rejuvenation and development.