Saturday, March 7, 2009

Empowering Women: A Step Towards Gender Equality

Woman, in Indian mythology, is the Jagat Janani—The Mother of All Creations. In Islam and Christianity, she is the quintessential female—Havva or Eve who, in conjugation with Adam, is the source of all living human beings. It is difficult to image a world without women. This is why March 8 is celebrated every year as International Women’s Day.

Demonstrations are staged in various parts of the world demanding more and more rights for women. It is more of a festive occasion for women from all strata of society to gather at all visible places and to be photographed with celebrities. The idea is to bring women to the limelight through achievements little known to them in various spheres, thus serving as an inspiration to their less fortunate sisters.

But the situation in recent past has changed drastically. Women have been identified as key agents of sustainable development and women’s equality and empowerment are seen as central to a holistic approach towards establishing new patterns and process of development. Women should be a key aspect of all social development programmes and a number of programmes have been initiated by the Indian Government for the empowerment of women. The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Constitution of India in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. The Constitution not only grants equality to women, but also empowers the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favour of women. In recent years, the empowerment of women has been recognised as the central issue in determining the status of women.

Importance of Education
Education especially among women is cornerstone for social development to improve the pros­pects of general welfare of society. Education would empower women to achieve many social, psychological, eco­nomic and political dreams which are denied to them customarily. Education would actually accord women certain advantages in areas where they have traditionally lacked access or differential rights. Welfare schemes and policy measures are just not enough to promote education among women.

The importance of education for empowerment of women is undeniable. However, India still has one of the lowest female literacy rates in Asia. Less than 40 per cent of the 330 million women aged seven and over 200 million illiterate women in India. This low level of literacy not only has a negative impact on women’s lives but also on their families and on the country’s economic development and prosperity.

It has been increasingly realised that nothing is more central to sustainable development than the economic, political and social participation and empowerment of women. A broad set of data shows that women’s education increases their control over resources and livelihood.

Growth of Entrepreneurship
An increasing role of women in nation-building is extremely vital. Women often the unsung heroines of our country contribute their best to the welfare and progress of the society without any glare of publicity.

Entrepreneurship of women will not only enable them to get better jobs and become economically self-sufficient or independent, but society will also gain. This education must be practical and well-adapted to their needs, especially in relation to health, nutrition and legal rights.

Employment gives economic status to women. Economic status paves the way for a better social status. Women have the potential and the will to establish and manage enterprises of their own. The Government and public enterprise should offer ancillary units to women entrepreneurs. On priority basis with the assistance of family members and the Government women can join the mainstream of national economy and thereby contribute to the country’s economic progress. In the present global competitive business and industrial situation the women entre­preneurs can play a greater role and project themselves, in yet another new dimension to the entire universe.
Health Status
Health is one of the indicators of deve­lopment of any society. The existing studies show that the women are relatively less healthy than men even though, they belong to the same class. It is estimated that 10 to 15 per cent of the rural population of developing countries live in environmentally-degraded or ecologically vulnerable areas.
Both women and men are involved in environmental degradation, but women, particularly poor women, are the first to suffer due to their dependency on the environment and work burden and the time entailed in the collection of water and fuel gathering.
A major section of women in the society are undernourished as per the weight-for-height index or the body mass index. Nutritional deficiency is more prevalent among illiterate women and those belonging to household with a low standard of living.
Domestic Violence Act
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act has come into force with the notification issued by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The Act aims to protect women against physical, mental and verbal abuse by husbands and live-in partners. The violators, according to the Ministry, face up to a year in prison, and heavy fines.
Primarily meant to provide protection to the wife or female live-in partners or his relatives, the Act extends its protection to women who are sisters, widows or mothers. Domestic violence under the Act includes actual abuse or the threat of abuse whether physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or economic. Harassment by way of unlawful dowry demands to the women or her relatives would also be covered under this definition.
One of the most important features of the Act is the women’s right to secure housing. The Act provides for the women’s right to reside in the matrimonial or shared household, whether or not she has any title or rights in the household. This right is secured by a residence order, which is passed by a court. These residence orders cannot be passed against anyone who is a woman.
UK Government’s Support
The Mahila Samakhya Programme, which works for empowerment of rural women across the country, has recently received a major boost. The visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that his Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) would fund it for the next seven years, releasing £825 million over the next three years. The British Prime Minister said, “I hope every girl in India will have the opportunity to go to school by 2011.”
Since its inception in 1989, the Mahila Samakhya Programme—an initiative led by the Ministry of Human Resource Development—has empowered Indian women through employment and education about their rights.

To conclude in the words of former President Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam, “Empowering women is a pre-requisite for creating a good nation, when women are empowered, society with stability is assured. Empowerment of women is essential as their thoughts and their value systems lead the development of a good family, good society and ultimately a good nation”. Women will gain power only when both men and women begin to respect and accept the contribution of women.

The status of women in the country, particularly in rural areas needs to be raised to address the issue of empowering women. Several actions plan have been initiated by the Government and various Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) which will translate the objective of empowering women into concrete action and measurable goals.

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