The question that I find most pertinent to ask on, International Women’s Day is not, ‘what is empowerment?’ rather who truly qualifies as empowered. It is important to understand that empowerment is not a stagnant term with rigid boundaries instead it is a dynamic notion of choices and freedom. There is a tendency for the narrative to be in one of two standard formats once the question of women is raised, either create idealistic standards for women in terms of their capability or have a glorified account of their struggle in ending overt patriarchy. I use the word, ‘overt’ with a pinch of salt, to make it clear that even the overt end to gender discrimination is restricted to only a particular class of women who have access to specific opportunities and resources.
This brings back the question, ‘who is an empowered woman?’ Several customary answers emerge, the educated women, the working women, and the women who have inspired the world by breaking the corporate glass ceiling. No doubt, they are figures of great motivation to us all who have shown excellence in taking the agenda of empowerment forward but does this niche small minority represent the reality of womanhood and its experiences. I believe empowerment is the sum total of one’s experiences and contexts with no fixed definition. In my own home, I see my mother as the prime example of what education, when coupled hard work, can achieve. She moved as a young girl from a village in Punjab to Delhi, where after years of long working hours and diligence she is now, a successful architect, working as the Project Head of large scale multinational metro undertakings across India. I have encountered many similar stories of remarkable women who have build themselves as strong forces who dominate their chosen fields from humble backgrounds.
A small act of dissent or self-growth that may seem like a given for one, could be a revolution in the mind of the other. It is the idea that one should equip themselves with the skills and confidence necessary to create a better life for themselves.
On the occasion of the day that celebrates women, their capabilities and envisages their future it is of prime importance that one understands that all empowered women are aware and they propose different perhaps even opposing views of how to achieve equality in the public and private life. There is no standard universal path on which women across the world need to walk, instead, we need to acknowledge and respect all experiences to create a society whose growth and sustenance sits equally on the shoulder of both men and women.
(Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi, India)