Editorial Articles


volume-48, 2 - 8 March, 2019

 

Gender Equality For

A Better India

Shreya Bhattacharya

March 8 marks the International Women's day, a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, a day to evaluate the status of women in the society, and also a day to call for accelerating gender equality. The theme for this year is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”. It focuses on innovative ways in which we can advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure. Gender Equality has become one of the most central concerns of the 21st century. This article will look into the issue of gender equality and women empowerment and their various aspects in the present scenario.

Gender

Gender refers to socially constructed identities, and roles for women and men. They are not just personal identities; rather these are social identities. They arise from our relationships to other people, and depend upon social interaction and social recognition. It is learnt from birth through childhood socialisation. One example of socially constructed differences is, women's role in most societies has traditionally been to take care of the household, and the children, whereas the role of men has been to work outside home, be the bread-earner for his family, and thus, becoming head of the family. Gender constructions are, however, not static, but dynamic and fluid; they vary from culture to culture, and also keep changing over time. We learn what is expected of our gender from what our parents teach us, as well as what we pick up at school, through religious or cultural teachings, in the media, and various other social institutions. The political, social, economic, cultural, religious and other factors create hierarchical relationships between women and men in a society. Historically, the distribution of resources, power and rights has been in favor of men, while disadvantaging women. They have been excluded from the decision making process. From the beginning of time, they have been denied even such basic rights as access to literacy and property. 

Glaring Inequalities

Inequality on the basis of gender constitutes one of the history's most persistent and widespread forms of injustice. Women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world. This inequality exists in every sector. In South Asia, only 74 girls were enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys in 1990. However, by 2012, the enrolment ratios were the same. Instead of attending class, millions of girls and women around the world spend 200 million hours each day fetching water that is often dirty and dangerous to their health. In 155 countries, at least one law exists which impedes women's economic opportunities. The gender pay gap costs global economy $160 trillion. Only 23.7% of all national parliamentarians are women. One in three women experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally; 55% of whom are women and girls.

As per the Gender Gap Report, 2018 published by World Economic Forum, when it comes to political and economic leadership by women, the world still has a long way to go. Across the 149 countries assessed, there were only 17 that had women as heads of state, while, on average, just 18% of ministers and 24% of parliamentarians globally were women. Similarly, women held just 34% of managerial positions across the countries where data was available, and less than 7% in the four worst-performing countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia,

Yemen and Pakistan). Unfortunately, India ranks 108th in the report.

Gender Equality

Equality is a fundamental human right.  It is the right of different groups of people to have a similar social position and receive the same treatment. Equality on the basis of gender is a pre-requisite for making a just and sustainable society. UNICEF defines it as,

"Gender Equality means that women and men, and girls and boys, enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities and protections. It does not require that girls and boys, or women and men, be the same, or that they be treated exactly alike."

According to ABC of Women Worker's Rights and Gender Equality, ILO, 2000:

"Gender equality, equality between men and women, entails the concept that all human beings, both men and women, are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles and prejudices. Gender equality means that the different behaviour, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally. It does not mean that women and men have to become the same, but that their rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Gender equity means fairness of treatment for women and men, according to their respective needs. This may include equal treatment or treatment that is different but which is considered equivalent in terms of rights, benefits, obligations and opportunities."

Gender Equality means equal opportunity and equal access to resources and rewards for both women and men in all spheres of life. This needs to be attained across four key sectors - economic opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment, and health and survival. An important aspect of promoting gender equality is the empowerment of women, with a focus on identifying and redressing power imbalances and giving women more autonomy to manage their own lives.

Women Empowerment

Women's empowerment is critical to achieving gender equality. It is the skill of women to exercise full control over their activities. It means control over intelligent assets, material resources, and even over their philosophies. Women are missing of chances in different fields of employment and are segregated on account of they are women. Deep biases and severe poverty against women create a pitiless cycle of inequity that keeps them from satisfying their maximum capacity.

Empowerment is the helping tool for women to attain equality with men and to reduce gender bias noticeably. Women play an important role in the development of different sectors and contribute for economic improvement in the visible and invisible form. Hence there is a need of social, political, economical and cultural empowerment of women simultaneously to remove this cruel cycle in which Indian women have been entrapped very badly. The actual truth is dreadful conditions and exploitation of women specially women from deprived sections of the society and those belonging to rural areas.

Constitutional & Legal Provisions for Women Empowerment in India

After the independence of India in 1947, the constitution makers and the leaders recognised the equal social position of women with men. The Constitution of India guarantees equality of sexes, and in fact grants special favours to women. As per the Article 14, the government shall not deny to any person equality before law or equal protection of the law. Article 15 says that government shall not discriminate against any citizen on the ground of sex; while Article 15 (3) enables the state to make affirmative discriminations in favour of women. Article 16 gives equality of opportunity in matters of pubic employment and directs that no citizens on the basis of sex can be discriminated against. Article 42, under  Directive Principles of State Policy, directs the state to make provision for ensuring just and human conditions of work and maternity relief. Above all, the constitution regards a fundamental duty on every citizen through Articles 51 (A), (E) to renounce the practices derogatory to the dignity of women.

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 has determined the age for marriage, provided for monogamy and guardianship of the mother and permitted the dissolution of marriage under specific circumstances. Under the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, an unmarried women, widow or divorce of sound mind can also take child in adoption. Similarly, the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 says that any person who gives, takes, or abets the giving or taking of dowry shall be punished with imprisonment, which may extend to six months or fine up to Rs.5000/ or with both.

The government has also taken giant steps to empower Muslim women. The ordinance "The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Second Ordinance 2019" was recently re-promulgated. It seeks to "protect the rights of married Muslim women and prevent divorce by the practise of instantaneous and irrevocable 'talaq-e-biddat' by the their husbands" and to "provide the rights of subsistence allowance, custody of minor children to victims of triple talaq i.e. talaq-e-biddat"

For better gender balance at workplaces, several legal provisions have been taken by the Government. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act was enacted in 2013 to help those who face sexual harassment at work. This law mandates every company to have a well-documented mechanism to address complaints about sexual advances and demands for sexual favours at work.This Act entitles every woman a safe work environment and offers guidelines on initiating action against any sexual misconduct. The Act also has provisions for organising workshops and awareness programmes on sexual harassment.

The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 has amended the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, increasing maternity leave available to the working women from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for the first two children. As per the provisions of the new law, the employer may permit a woman to work from home if it is possible to do so.

Recent Government Initiatives

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao initiative was launched in early 2015 to usher in a transformational shift in the way our society looks at the girl child. There is a strong emphasis on mindset change through training,sensitization, awareness raising and community mobilization on the ground. Due to these efforts, the sex ratio at birth improved in 104 districts among those identified as gender-sensitive. 119 districts reported progress in first trimester registrations and 146 districts improved in institutional deliveries. Buoyed by the success of this initiative in these districts, BBBP has now been expanded across all 640 districts of the country.

Pradhan Mantri Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana was introduced to ensure the financial security of the girl child. As per the latest official data, more than 1.26 crore Sukanya Samriddhi accounts have been opened with around Rs 20,000 crore deposited in them.

To secure women and particularly girl child against violence the government has made the death penalty for the rape of a girl child under 12 years. It has also ensured that the minimum punishment for the rape of a girl under 16 years is increased from 10 years to 20 years.

MUDRA Yojana was launched by the Government to boost financial empowerment of women, making them beneficiaries of formal financial institutions. It provides collateral-free loans to entrepreneurs and help them achieve their dreams.Another programme, Stand Up India, also provides entrepreneurship loans of up to Rs 1 crore to women or SC/ST entrepreneurs. Over 9 crore women, till date, have availed entrepreneurship loans jointly from MUDRA and Stand Up India. Women constitute over 70% of MUDRA's beneficiaries.

The recently launched POSHAN Abhiyan is an initiative to tackle malnutrition through multi-modal interventions. Multiple ministries are coming together and ensuring a targeted approach through the power of technology in this battle against malnutrition. Mission Indradh-anush is a program that aims to boost the health of pregnant women and children through vaccination. More than 80 lakh pregnant women have been immunised under the mission.

Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana provides economic support to pregnant women and lactating mothers. It ensures timely checkups, an important factor in ensuring the health of mothers and children. Cash incentive of Rs 6,000 is offered to pregnant or lactating mothers to help them afford better nutrition. More than 50 lakh women are expected to benefit from PMMVY every year.

Ujjwala Yojana, launched by the government, is a programme that provides free LPG connections, has clocked over 5.33 crore connections even before its deadline. This helps women have healthier, smoke-free lives while also helping them save the time and energy spent on looking for firewood.

Conclusion

The Empowerment of women has become one of the most important concerns of 21st century not only at national level but also at the international level. There is no denying the fact that women in India have made a considerable progress in the last seventy years but yet they have to struggle against many handicaps and social evils in the male dominated society.  There is a need to take measures to reduce women's unpaid work, initiatives to ensure women's equal access to decent employment opportunities, resources and finance, and helping to develop and implement gender-sensitive budget processes. The Government is making all efforts to ensure Gender Equality but those initiatives alone would not be sufficient to achieve this herculean task. We as a Society must take initiative to create a climate in which there is no gender discrimination and women get full opportunities of self decision making and participating in the social, political and economic life of the Country with a sense of equality. It has been found that the strong correlation between a country's gender gap and its economic performance. If we as a nation aspires to be the World Power in near future, we need to make gender equality a critical part of the nation's human capital development.

The author is a Mumbai based Journalist, e-mail: shreyabh. journo@gmail.com

Views expressed are personal.