When Chhavi Rajawat, a young, female MBA graduate became the sarpanch (village head) of a small village in Rajasthan, it hit the headlines for more reasons than one. Her’s is a tale that actually is a mix of many stories.
This jeans-clad smart female from India had created quite a stir at the 11th Info-Poverty World Conference held at the United Nations. She is a live example of the changing Indian society and signifies the arrival of the women on one of the hitherto male bastion, and also signifies slow but emerging acceptance of the women power in every sphere of social activity.
For countless women, Rajawat, who rides a horse named Magic and conducts village meetings dressed in jeans and T-shirt in an Indian state where women cover their face with a veil as part of the tradition, she is a symbol of empowerment of women to which they all aspire.Quite often there is some confusion when we use terms like “gender equality”, “women’s empowerment” and “female autonomy”. While they may be used differently to suit the context, these are all essentially the order in which women are evolving in modern society today.
The present century is witness to the highly patriarchal past of the human civilization. Women all over the world were oppressed, be it within the premises of their homes or outside. However, with the refinement of life and human race, some simmering of gender equality issues have emerged wherein, more and more women, as well as the governments are focusing on equality of women and their empowerment.
By and large in the third world countries like India, women are more likely to be poor and illiterate as compared to men. Not only that, they are also often a victim of traditional biases that give them little or no rights to property ownership, lack of education , employment, medical care and control over their own destinies. They are also often the victims of acute domestic violence.
For a balanced development, not only sociologically but also mathematically – as they constitute fifty percent of the human race, it is imperative that every section of the society develops equally and in harmony with each other. Be it the rich and influential or the not so rich. Therefore, it is important to harness the capabilities of women irrespective of the strata of society to which they belong.
The first step therefore, is to initiate a change in the mindset not only of men, but also women themselves. While there are many things that can be done at the institutional or the governmental level like equality in education, medical treatment, job opportunities, etc; more can come in form of change in attitudes of the masses.
For women’s empowerment and equality it is therefore fundamental that women have the right to decide upon their choices without coercion or violence and have the freedom to participate more fully and equally in society.
Importance of Gender Equality
Gender equality ensures same opportunities, rights and obligations for women in every sphere of life. This in turn implies equality in opinion, equal opportunities, financial independence and equal access to facilities like education and business as well as the opportunities to develop their personal ambitions.
Shifting of Roles
The roles that men and women play in a society are overlapping and changing rapidly. Unlike in the medieval times, these roles are not biologically determined these days, but are more interchangeable and are socially determined. Therefore, for a stronger social fabric it is important that a woman’s potential contribution is harnessed to the optimum.
Key issues and Stages of Women’s Empowerment
- Identification of Needs and Concerns –To address any issue regarding women, firstly, the role that they play needs to be determined. This is governed by factors such as age, urban/rural orientation, social status and educational attainment. While women in general may have many common interests, the choices that they have may widely vary from region to region. Certain groups need more attention in order to address specific concerns.
- Education for the Girl Child – Although education is important for all, it is more so for the girl child. Governments across the world have realized that investing in girls’ education leads to overall reduction of poverty. Educated girls generally marry later and have smaller families. Similarly, educated women are more aware of health care and are better caretakers. Education also helps them to know about their rights and privileges. An educated mother generally has a greater influence in a household which help in securing more resources for herself and her children.
- Giving Women More Autonomy – This can be done by focusing on letting women manage their own lives as far as issues like size of their family, education, employment, etc are concerned. Empowering women by giving them equal say in deciding such issues results in families benefitting, which in turn has ripple effects for the development of future generations. A woman ought not only to have control over her fertility but also the number and spacing of children.
Women’s empowerment deals with the entire gambit of day to day life which includes right to education, health and an equal status in work environment. It should also include the political empowerment that would guarantee women equality in basic human and legal rights, control of resources, land etc, and an equal opportunity in employment and earning. Women’s empowerment benefits the society at large and is the magic key to a family’s as well as a nation’s well being.