“Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacity”- Mahatma Gandhi.
The need for women’s empowerment arises from the subordinate position they have been accorded for a long time. Empowerment of women needs to begin with her participation in different spheres of life. Education is a great determinant in this regard. To achieve empowerment, women have to be educated to be aware of their rights and privileges in a modern society. It is education which can bring about awareness in them related to their social status, injustice and differentiation meted out to them. Besides, economic independence is a major factor which can contribute in empowering women.
Women have always been contributing to enable the economy achieve tremendous progress. But it is the gender bias that still exists at every social stratum, even in the most educated and developed society, is unable to digest this visible contribution of women in all walks of life. In some regions, patriarchal societies diminish the role of women in important matters. This masochist thinking is, however, beginning to fade gradually with the passage of time.
Women in rural India, despite suffering from the problems like health, malnutrition, repeated childbearing, and lack of education, engage themselves in direct and allied agricultural activities, run small shops, sell by-products or handcraft products and thus generate additional income for the family. A government of India study shows that more than 40 per cent of rural women directly or indirectly contribute to the uplift of their families and thereby bringing social change. Harriet Beecher Stowe rightly said, “Women are the real architects of society”.
In urban India, the lowest strata, women despite the lack of education and facing problems like shelter, have been the catering to social changes and economic development by contributing as a substantial labour force in various industries like construction of residential & commercial buildings, roads, water bodies, engaging in various domestic and community services. Every now and then, we read in newspapers that a would-be bride refuses to marry a particular groom due to his demand for dowry or for the urge of higher education.
Gone are the days when women were considered only the household entities commanded by males.
Historically in India, women’s participation in social changes, politics and decision making remained significant. Who can undermine the role and contributions of Chandbibi, Ahilyabai Holkar, Rani Durgawati, Rani Rashmoni, Kittur Rani Chennamma, Jijabai, Rani Avantibai, Rani Laxmibai, Annie Besant, Sarojini Naidu, Vijay Laxmi Pandit, Indira Gandhi, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, Mahashweta Devi, Mahadevi Verma, Arundhati Roy, Sucheta Kriplani, Pratibha Patil, etc in bringing about all-round development?
The contribution of women is omnipresent and all-pervasive in every sphere of life as India seeks to march steadily towards the path of growth. All these become possible only with the active participation of women who are the catalysts of qualitative growth of future generation as well. Efforts during the post- Independence era got a shot in the arm when Mrs Indira Gandhi became the first lady Prime Minister. Women got empowered and moved to participate further in all spheres of services – financial, administrative, judicial and education to name a few. Women in India are playing an important role in the country’s governance. Many women have emerged as exemplary leaders at the policy level as well as the community level. The presence of women in various decision making bodies helped develop confidence among other women, opening up possibilities for future.
It is important to note the critical role women have played in working together to forge solidarity, and unity among themselves. Together they have been able to lobby and influence the enactment of laws that protect and promote the rights of women. Women became a driving force of the socio-economic development of the country after the independence. Vast networks of women groups such as NGOs, associations and co-operatives at the grassroots level have played a pivotal role in providing empowerment initiatives which resulted in socio-economic development and income generating activities. This, in turn, paved the way for sustainable development and economic growth of the country.
In the words of Louisa May Alcott: “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 fails, they generously give herself the whole.”