EMPOWERMENT OF INDIAN WOMEN: A MIRAGE?

The Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s so-called Right-wing opposition to the left-liberal UPA Government, has claimed a media brownie point by announcing that one-thirds of all their positions will be reserved for women. This is a major leap in the struggle for empowering India’s long-suffering and oppressed women, it is claimed.
India’s Governments have long believed in taking responsibility for implementing social programs aimed specifically at women, particularly in terms of law enforcement, health, and women’s rights.
But first, let us see how Indian women are faring, socially:

*More than 120 million women are very poor.
*India’s maternal mortality rates in rural areas are among the world’s highest. From a global perspective, India accounts for 19 percent of all lives births and 27 percent of all maternal deaths.
* Around 88% of pregnant Indian women suffer from anemia.
*There seems to be a consensus that higher female mortality between ages one and five and high maternal mortality rates result in a deficit of females in the population. Chatterjee (1990) estimates that deaths of young girls in India exceed those of young boys by over 300,000 each year, and every sixth infant death is specifically due to gender discrimination. Of the 15 million baby girls born in India each year, nearly 25 percent will not live to see their 15th birthday.
(for a blog debate on this, try this post.)
*The most striking aspect of contraceptive use in India is the predominance of sterilization, which accounts for more than 85 percent of total modern contraception use, with female sterilization accounting for 90 percent of all sterilizations.
*The Indian constitution grants women equal rights with men, but in most Indian families, a daughter is viewed as a liability, and she is conditioned to believe that she is inferior and subordinate to men.

According to the Hunger Project, the following are key issues with Indian women:
* Malnutrition: India has exceptionally high rates of child malnutrition, because tradition in India requires that women eat last and least throughout their lives, even when pregnant and lactating. Malnourished women give birth to malnourished children, perpetuating the cycle.
* Poor Health: Females receive less health care than males. Many women die in childbirth of easily prevented complications. Working conditions and environmental pollution further impairs women’s health.
* Lack of education: Families are far less likely to educate girls than boys, and far more likely to pull them out of school, either to help out at home or from fear of violence.
* Overwork: Women work longer hours and their work is more arduous than men’s, yet their work is unrecognized
* Unskilled: In women’s primary employment sector – agriculture – extension services overlook women.
* Mistreatment: In recent years, there has been an alarming rise in atrocities against women in India, in terms of rapes, assaults and dowry-related murders. Fear of violence suppresses the aspirations of all women. Female infanticide and sex-selective abortions are additional forms of violence that reflect the devaluing of females in Indian society.
* Powerlessness: While women are guaranteed equality under the constitution, legal protection has little effect in the face of prevailing patriarchal traditions. Women lack power to decide whom they will marry, and are often married off as children. Legal loopholes are used to deny women inheritance rights.

So, to come back to the beginning of this post, how will having more women in political parties empower those others who don’t belong to political parties?
Yes, I hear you: because they would be more focused on gender rights, and bring in legislation to strengthen women, or implement existing legislation.
But isn’t there enough law already? You name a woman’s ‘right’, and there is a law to protect that. Examples: sati, dowry, child marriage, widow remarriage, sexual harassment, etc.
Implementing existing laws is impossible, because it would mean outlawing most of the Indian society.
The gender discrimination occurs because the society is primitive, feudal, patriarchal, and bonded irrationally to age-old, medieval prejudices that could easily dissolve in the light of modern reason. Will legislation change this? Has it, indeed? I think not.
One important cause of the state of the society being what it is for women is mostly unnoticed: the very instrument for social change, the Government, the last repository of the feminist.
Since the time of Nehru, the Government of India has made women empowerment a top priority. Nehru has memorably said, “You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the condition of its women”.
I quote from an old paper:

The welfare state of India has taken up the responsibility of providing education, and maternity and child welfare to these women. It has gone further in incorporating the media in educating people regarding these various programs. This approach will help integrate women more fully into the economic, political, and social mainstream of independent India.

The welfare state has taken upon itself the responsibility to educate, feed, rear, protect, and empower our women.
In my mind, excepting the job of protection, it should have tried none of the others. With socialism came corruption, and the law enforcers became corrupt, and could not resist the temptation to take bribes from bride burners, dowry extortionists, rapists and plain old murderers. Women, being poor and oppressed as a whole, could do precious little to save themselves.
If law enforcement were honest and strict, there would be no need for any special rights. Freedom from State intervention in the economy itself could free up opportunities for the coming generations. In fact, the state of the urban woman has clearly improved, with the freeing up of the economy, with more women CEOs, doctors, lawyers, social workers, and indeed, feminists.

In its present state, more women in a corrupt control-mode polity would only make for more corrupt women. Because they would not be any different from men when it comes to the intoxication of power.
For knowing about other aspects of India’s women, I recommend Nita’s articles.
For other posts of mine that deal with rights, click here.

18 responses to “EMPOWERMENT OF INDIAN WOMEN: A MIRAGE?

  1. Women really have it bad here, don’t they? It really is very sad.

    I’d like to see The Blank Noise Project.

  2. Good to read such a post from a man! And btw, thanks for mentioning my posts. :)
    Ofcourse urban india is slightly better, though patriarchal attitudes persist. At the same time there are communities in India where women have a better status, like in Kerala for example and a state in the north-east, Meghalaya if I am not mistaken. also within a state there are communities which treat women better…for example my grandmother from my mom’s side was an MA in English and my great grandmother from my dad’s side was a graduate and plus a freedom fighter. Couple of my aunts are also phenomenal career women, all well into their seventies . But I guess these are rare examples and overall the situation of women is terrible, even in educated families.
    One point that you mentioned and which really is on my mind a lot is the fact that women work harder than men. In fact on one of my women posts a guy came and said women don’t work hard…so you see people cannot see the real India, the whole India, they see it just from their own point of view, by a couple of socialites they know. Each and every woman I know, whether its my aunt, my mom (who is not a career woman), my cousins, my friends or simply my maid, all work very very hard. As hard as the men, if not harder.

  3. Well, its not only the poor women at the receiving end. It happens in educated households too and some of them who show the inequality are women themselves. I have an example myself – after giving birth to my baby who was 4 or 5 months old then, when I was living in my husband’s(in-laws’) house, (the post-natal state is almost similar to when you are pregnant because feeding a baby takes away a lot of calories and you feel very hungry) when we were about to have dinner, the in-law told me that her son-in-law was yet to come from work and hadn’t eaten and so it meant that I had to spare some food for him – I could hardly eat anything when she made that remark because there was very little food on the table. And yes, we women were to eat last! It is still alive and running in urban areas. The disparity is very glaring.

  4. This happens every day right in the USA too…women make up more than 50 % of the world and it’s time they stood together in sisterhood and start speaking out…i think men instinctually know that women are stronger and that they have superior brains..(neurobiology and PET scans prove this) so they try to destroy them…Shame

  5. Thank You….

  6. very detailed
    a few points that came to my mind
    the city females especially the younger lot like those in ur pic are sufficiently empowered
    infact some even have done role reversal using dowry laws to harass.

    u hit the nail about too many laws and poor enforcement and rickety legal system, id add a lack of sensitivity towards customs and rigid socialist nehruvian mentality in a democracy – by the lawmakers thus keeping laws on paper … i had a big argument with sree on why dowry should be legalised… aibit with some conditions..

    i always still believe- woman is her biggest enemy!

  7. A book review on the status of women in Kerala: http://www.hindu.com/br/2007/09/18/stories/2007091850141600.htm
    Finally something that voices my concern. Women though educated and working in Kerala are objects of male leering, lewd comments and groping. The situation is especially bad while travelling in crowded buses or in crowded public places. It is absolutely not safe for women to venture out in the dark alone. You will hardly see any woman outside after dark. The attitude among malayali men towards women are still extremely primitive. Also the society is extremely conservative when it comes to women in terms of attire. If you wear western attire or even salwar kameez, you are the object of crude comments. But at the same time, it is okay to wear the more revealing Lungi & blouse which field labourers usually wear – but this is gradually being replaced by the night gown(nightie) though. Well I am going off the topic – women are not empowered in Kerala even with education and a career.

  8. Reservations for women-
    You should have a look at the women elected in UP on the seats reseved for women, they know nothing. Some of them can’t even read and write. I met a village sarpanch from Haryana ,when I asked her about her role in the village politics she said she just signs whatever she is asked to sign by her husband. She was literate so you can imagine what role the illiterate women play.All is not lost , things are improving gradually. We have to start somewhere.

  9. A year ago, I had posted the bizarre consequences of reservation – in this case, reservation for Dalits in a village council/panchayat in that capital state of the quota raj. Here’s an excerpt from my post(s) , Ebay for Democracy:

    … It seems that the seat in question is indeed reserved for the Dalits. It’s held by Ms. Balamani, a poor Dalit woman. What was auctioned, however, was not the seat, but the right to control Balamani! The highest bidder would retain the right to use her as a rubber stamp, and expropriate all the commissions that she would earn while she held the post…

    .

    Btw, doc, will you please twist, warp, crush, and vaporize that word, empowerment? Where is the need for empowering anyone? Don’t we all [except the Left] know that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely? Hasn’t India suffered enough from empowering the politicians so much that the people needed a license to breathe?

    All we need to do is to ensure that every human has the same rights as every other human, . er !

    The Rational Fool,
    Thanks for the link, and the comments! I wonder if anyone in Government reads blogs?

  10. Guys, thanks to all of you for commenting. I am unable to respond individually because the internet connection is dying every two minutes.
    I appreciate all the comments.

  11. //In its present state, more women in a corrupt control-mode polity would only make for more corrupt women. Because they would not be any different from men when it comes to the intoxication of power.//
    How true! It’s often overlooked that women too, are instrumental in the oppression of other less powerful women.

    I liked RTF’s comment! Doc, your net connection needing empowerment?! ;-)

  12. Empowerment is not just about reserving seats so that they are in political seats. Empowerment is a general theme of giving them charge of their own lives. Women, both urban and rural, need empowerment. And I say this unabashedly as a man.

    Ideas of what is empowerment is highly ethno-centric. A lower caste woman in India feels empowered (feels like she is in charge of her destiny) when she is given a fair hearing in the Gram Sabha meeting. While someone in Porto Allegre feels empowered when they feel that they are participating in budgetary allocations.

    Educated, urban women in India can hardly be said to be empowered. Simple decisions like when to go out and when to come back home are strictly enforced by families. Don’t forget that urban India accounts for a majority of female foeticide cases.

    As to whether the State should interfere in matters other than law enforcement, it has always been a moot point.

    No woman can be empowered by just law enforcement. If her life needs a change in her life-time, targeted State intervention to develop her skills, provide her support especially in pre-natal and post-natal stage are absolutely important.

    And yes, Government officials are aware of the lacunae in implementation. Bringing about change isn’t as easy as arm-chair theorizing. What India needs is active citizen support for the government in implementing its progressive decisions to correct systemic inequalitites between men and women. Civil Society should participate in ensuring that women get equal rights.

  13. Sir, Please give us the chance to work for the development of women in Bundelkhand region of India.

  14. Brij:
    Chance given. Go, do it! Which part of woman, incidentally, do you wish to develop?

  15. Its time to empower the men who are suffering from the short-sighted policies of the Nehru govt. by empowering women and disempowering men. Its time for men’s rights and liberation, emancipation. Women have been dictating the terms to men. Time for men to re-masculanise.

  16. Hi this showed up as an autogenerated link at our website, so we deliberately linked it since it aligns with our thoughts. Thank you for this article, its insight is precious to our cause.

  17. Pingback: urban people on women’s empowerment « WERLWORLDWIDE

  18. Pingback: in what ways can a modern urban woman be empowered? « WERLWORLDWIDE

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