Women Empowerment: A Reality Check!

Ravia Gupta
“The position of women in a society is an accurate index of the development of that society.” – Gustav Geiger
Many scholars believe that the progress of a country can be seen by the extent of the advancement in the status of its women. Economic, social and political empowerment of women is important for development of any society and studies also show a strong correlation between the low status of women and low culture levels of society. Discriminatory social norms and violations of human rights are seen as hindrance towards achieving gender equality, women empowerment and overall barrier as far as sustainable development of nations around the world is concerned.
Post 25 years of adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), considered as the blueprint for achievement of gender equality, a pilot study on 10 countries (Colombia, India, Japan, Kenya, Nigeria, The Philippines, Sweden, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the US) conducted jointly by the UN Women and Kantar in 2019 and published in 2020 shows the Indian scenario as although women and men have nearly equal access to basic health care, access to quality education is still difficult for women. Women experience difficulties while deciding on marriage as compared to men. Besides, women also find it difficult to run for elected office, buy property or being hired as skilled workers as compared to men.
An awakening of some sorts was seen in the West under the name “feminism” which soon reverberated in the entire world helping in raising some ideological consciousness. While some scholars firmly believe women’s emancipation can be achieved when they are given enough employment opportunities in all walks of life and economically strong women can thus have their say in the decision-making process.
Ever since the inception of sustainable goals in 2016, countries have taken a lot of steps to achieve targets on time. Still, challenges remain in sectors like education, health etc. An accelerated approach is needed to achieve the goals collectively.
Women at global level
Inequality, abuse with physical, sexual and psychological impact continues to persist globally. 18 percent women and girls (15-49 years) have suffered physical/ sexual violence. 75 percent are victims of trafficking and 35 percent forced labour victims who are trafficked are females. In other areas like employment women had a share of 39 percent in 2018 and 27 percent at managerial positions. There is a gender pay gap of 22 percent and around 24 percent political participation nationally and 26 percent political participation locally. A need is felt to create additional jobs for women in the industrial sector.
Indian reality
Principles of gender equality and aims of gender justice are embedded in the Constitution of India. According to the Indian Economic Survey (2019) with the implementation of schemes such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Sukanya Samridhi Yojana, mandatory maternity leave rules etc have improved women predication in several areas especially decision-making.
The Ministry of labour, Government of India points out four factors which lead women to join working force including- Inadequate income of the principal earner which forces a women to work and supplement; mishaps, such as incapacity of the bread winner; death of the bread-winner; women’s desire for economic independence for securing higher standard of living along with desire of women to give expression to their own talents and skills.
Socio-cultural status
It is not just Indian phenomenon, where patriarchy rules, women are treated indifferently all across the globe. Status of women in the Indian society is a debatable topic since ages. The roots of women domination through socialisation and conditioning of children from an early age lie in the traditional Indian family structure. Such norms nourished the patriarchal dominance among males and inferiority among females. Literature also suggests that struggle of women for equal status and justice becomes even more difficult as society doesn’t change their mindset for women. Though the Indian Constitution awards equal rights to both men and women in the form of Equality before Law (Article 14), independent political participation, right to inheritance and property etc, the natural tendency of women to assert their rights as equal partners is deeply threatening to men from the patriarchal community; they perceive equality between the sexes as a threat to their masculinity. Besides, formulation of legal reforms, legal aid to the needy, women in India have a long way to go into practice. The crime situation against women in India has seen a rise in the past few years.
Women drop out of labour force
Literature suggest that education, age of marriage, household income, urbanization besides other socio cultural norms play an important role in influencing the women labour force to work. Most importantly, it’s the trade-off between the burdens of work and family that act as the biggest barrier for her to enter into the labour market.
According to Niti Aayog report, female labour force participation in India is on a decline. It stands at 17.5 per cent. Looking at the demand and supply side, as per economists there is a U-shaped curve between the number of years of education and female labour force participation rates. At extreme conditions such as low education level and income women find themselves with lesser options and decide to work to support their families. But as soon as males in their families start to work, women pull themselves out to give attention to household chores. Those women who have some schooling and have completed high school often find themselves in a fix as they often don’t find jobs matching their intermediate levels of education and thus succumb to stay at home. However, women with graduate degree find it easier to enter the workforce with jobs matching their educational levels and skills. Besides, some communities consider it to be taboo for women to do menial jobs and thus adding pressure on women to discontinue working.
On the other hand on demand side, women decide to join work only as a supplementary worker. Fundamentally, she confines herself to household duties and decides to work only during serious financial crises.
Considering the rising enrolment rate of women in secondary schools and colleges show that India is showing signs of improvement as far as access to girl education is concerned however one can’t deny that we have failed to create large volume of jobs especially for rural women in sectors that could have easily absorbed them or given platform to their skills. Besides, as far as official statistics is concerned it’s quite painful that women’s contribution to the economy often remains undocumented. According to world’s women, women work as much as men, infact they work longer hours than men especially considering the household chores and taking care of children. Almost, 30 minutes longer in developed countries and 50 minutes in developing countries. Although gender differences in hours spent on domestic work have reduced due to less time spent on household chores by women and to some extent an increase in time spent on childcare by men.
The major challenges according to the Niti AAayog report on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) India Index for gender equality include- strengthening gender-disaggregated data systems as there is acute gap for gender equality in several sectors especially for transgender. Effect of climate change and related risks on women and girl child need to be accessed, gender wage-gap across sectors is 50-75 per cent, a large portion of women are in informal employment with little or no social protection, inequalities still exist as far as women landownership is concerned, lack of maintenance of land records is also indicated as a major setback to monitor progress.
Along with financial independence, in order to prove her individuality and give expression to her creative side, women have to play dual roles and majority of men in various studies show signs of resentment to their wife’s job when it starts to interfere with their household. On the positive side, husbands are also recognizing the fact that money is important and financial burden of sharing household responsibilities equally reduces the burden from one person. However, changes in economic status of women has brought attitudinal change in the working women. The extent of change, however, depends on education, professional background and most importantly the attitude of family members towards them. Thus, attitudinal change can be seen as a vehicle for gender equality and also an effective tool to implement and accelerate the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and importantly SDG-5 to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.
(This is an excerpt from the book written by author “Women Empowerment: An Indian Reality”)