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The world has been fighting for gender equality and women empowerment for years. Women have come a long way as far as their status in society is concerned. However, many people tend to retain misogynist attitudes. This essay analyses the status of women in Indian Society in the economic, social and most importantly personal spheres. It particularly focusses on the participation of women in Indian economy (with respect to factors responsible for under participation in the workforce, disproportionate responsibility of unpaid care work and problems faced by women working in the informal sector) and role of men in empowering women.
Keywords – Women empowerment, Socialisation, Indian economy, patriarchy
Where women are worshipped, there lives the God
Wherever they are not worshipped all actions result in failure. (Manusmriti 3/56)
This verse is from Manusmriti, a Hindu religious text in Sanskrit which was written by Manu and Bhrigu to put forth ideals of duties, rights and responsibilities of a person who is a part of society. Equal respect and status for women was something that was envisioned in the 2 century BC in India. However, even today, many women in India have to struggle for something as basic as sanitary hygiene and maternal healthcare.
On one hand, Indian women have made the country proud by their achievements in numerous fields, whereas on the other hand the death and exploitation of some women are still being mourned by society. Tania Shergill has become the first Indian woman parade adjutant to lead an all- man contingent at an Army day function, whereas the country still hasn’t recovered from the mourning of Nirbhaya and Dr Priyanka Reddy who became victims of the brutal rape.
India has seen many movements of women empowerment. The Government of India has also introduced various schemes for making women economically and socially empowered. Such schemes have undoubtedly helped in improving the status of women in our society. However, there is still a long way to go as far as absolute women empowerment is concerned
Thus, this essay aims to bring forth the lesser-explored aspects of women empowerment in India with a special emphasis on the process of socialisation that influences the way women are perceived in society.
It aims to critically evaluate the status of women with respect to the following points-
- Participation of women in the Indian economy and
- The role of men in women empowerment.
It critically analyses issues faced by women working in the formal as well as informal sectors of the economy and suggests measures to improve the prevailing conditions. It further comments on the responsibility of men in women empowerment and how deliberate changes in the socialisation process can bring about a significant change in the way women and gender roles are perceived in society.
Women in Indian Economy
India’s GDP per capita increased from US$375 to US$1,572 between 1990 and 2015. However, India’s female labour participation rate stood at a mere 27 per cent compared to 96 per cent for men. According to the IMF, India’s GDP will increase by 27 per cent of men and women have the same rate of labour force participation. Thus, women empowerment is important for the economic empowerment of our country.
Under the participation of women in the economy can be attributed to various factors like –
- Patriarchal norms that deny women the freedom to work unless it is required to make ends meet,
- The significant wage gap,
- Lack of quality jobs for women reinforced by gendered occupational segregation
- The disproportionate responsibility of unpaid care work as well as unpaid work.
Lack of decent working conditions like gender-respective toilets, convenient work hours and implementation of laws against sexual harassment is impeding women from participating in the workforce. Though many movements and policies have been introduced to improve working conditions, the disproportionate responsibility of unpaid care work has been neglected to a large extent.
One of the main reasons for the disproportionate responsibility is the patriarchal ethos of society. India has been a patriarchal society where women are expected to take the sole responsibility of all domestic affairs including raising children, ensuring that they have a good upbringing, looking after the elderly members of the family and cooking food. In many households, intentionally as well as unintentionally, the girl child is expected to help her mother in household chores whereas nothing is expected from the boy.
As a result, men are made to believe that helping in household chores is not their responsibility and end up not helping their wives in the future. Thus, the burden of keeping the house in order is on women who have to struggle every day to manage their career ambitions with their familial responsibilities. This often leads to mental stress, anxiety, working mother’s guilt and ultimately job resignations.
In order to change such deeply perpetuated practices, it is necessary to imbibe values of gender equality and consciously alter gender roles in the family. Doing household chores should be viewed as a gender-neutral responsibility and such responsibility should be equally shared amongst the members of the family.
Learning to cook and do all domestic chores should be taught to each and every child in the house, irrespective of gender, with an intention to make him/her independent and moreover imbibe a sense of dignity for all kinds of labour. Such small changes if imbibed in the formative years of one’s life will go a long way in encouraging men to take equal responsibility in domestic affairs of the family and support women in their responsibilities.
Women in the Grey Economy
Most of the women are engaged in the informal sector of the economy. In South Asia, women working in the informal sector comprise 95 per cent of the total employed women. Women employed in this sector are those who are working as housemaids, street vendors, farmers engaged in primary sector farming and other related occupations.
Working in this informal, or grey economy, as it’s sometimes called, leaves women often without any protection of labour laws, social benefits such as a pension, health insurance or paid sick leave. They routinely work for lower wages in unsafe conditions like risks of sexual harassment. The lack of social protection has a long-term impact on women.
They are often subjected to sexual and mental harassment, unhygienic working conditions, physical torture and meagre payment. Most of the times, the money earned by them is handed over to the male members of the family leaving the women with no right over it.
Women working in these sectors come from economically backward strata of society who cannot afford to quit their jobs nor can raise their voices against injustice because of their unfortunate circumstances They tend to be extremely vulnerable to unjust norms of patriarchy and ignore any kind of torture that is inflicted on them. They are made to believe that the male member of the family has the right over money and they should blindly surrender to his demands. They are also made to believe that any kind of violence inflicted on them by their husbands is a way of expressing love.
It is important to reach out to such women and debunk their stereotypes through awareness sessions. It is important that such women understand gender equality, realise that such patriarchal norms are unjust and raise their voices against it.
We need strong social legislation to protect the rights of such women. Policies like Skill India should attract more women so that women can upgrade their skills and get access to better employment opportunities. Through such measures, women can be provided with secure jobs and contribute to the economic growth of the country.
He for She
Indian women have come a long way as far as their status in society is concerned. Recent data shows that there is an increase in the literacy rate, child marriages have significantly reduced and girl child deaths have fallen significantly. The government, as well as international organisations like the UN, have started various schemes to ensure that the statistics further improve and women become socially as well as economically empowered.
However, the safety of women in all kinds of settings is still a huge problem. Sexual crimes against women have become very common although there is a lot of public outrage against rape and sexual harassment at the workplace. Women are still not safe in public spaces. The Women, Peace and Security Index given by Georgetown Institute for women, peace and security placed India at 133 ranks out of 167 countries, with Norway being at the top.
The safety of women has been a topic of repeated discussions in our country. There are many policies and helplines to ensure that women report any kind of gender violence. However, there is an urgent need to ‘nip the problem in the bud’. Thus, importance should be given to changing the way men perceive and understand women. Policies should help men, who are victims of patriarchy adjust to the changing society.
Women empowerment shouldn’t be viewed as a women-centric movement. It’s time that it expands its scope to encourage men to talk about gender violence, gender roles, consent and female objectification. Women consist of 48 % of the population of our country. Their safety is significantly influenced by how the rest 52% of the population perceives and understands them in social spheres. Thus, it becomes important that the rest 52% of the population acknowledge their responsibility in empowering women and feel free to participate in discussions regarding the same.
Globally, India has one of the largest cohorts of young men between the ages of 13- 26 years. However, most of them cannot escape the stereotypes of masculinity which have been entrenched within patriarchal societies even though the global idea of ‘what is to be a man’ is being redefined.
According to a study published by Oxford university press, notions like ‘no’ means a ‘societal no’ and actually it is a ‘yes’, eventually, girls start ‘enjoying’ the forced intercourse, ‘nice girls’ don’t get raped prevailed among convicted rapists in America.
Such studies that focus on the mentality that urges men to commit any sort of gender violence should be encouraged even more in India. Many organisations like the Yaari Dosti foundation have started working to change the mentality of men by conducting awareness workshops and discussions. Encouraging discussions among men, creating safe and confidential spaces so that men can openly talk about their problems without being worried about their ‘image’ is something that should gain popularity and public support.
Today, we often hear of the phrase, ‘Think globally, act locally’ in various contexts. Now it is time that we understand this concept in terms of women safety. Today, the notion that women are no less compared to men as far as their capability is concerned is prevalent in the world. However, we need to take innovative steps at the local level to transform this notion into ground reality.
Reaching out to men from rural India and other small towns where women are still living and dying behind veils should be prioritised. Issues like porn addiction, prostitution, masculinity and most importantly understanding “consent” in a romantic relationship should be discussed and addressed in safe and whenever required confidential spaces.
Media is one of the largest sources that reach classes and masses. It is a means of informal social control. Messages propagated through media like films and television cater to a huge as well as diverse audience. People are influenced to a great extent by the message that has been given, directly and indirectly, through the content of films and television. Bollywood is an industry that has survived for more than a hundred years. The depiction of women in Bollywood has been a topic of debate and discussion for years.
Excessive nudity and item songs tend to glorify the objectification of women. Indian women are three times more likely than men to be portrayed with some nudity (35% compared to 13.5%). They are also three times more likely to appear in revealing clothing than men (34.1% compared to 12.2%). Such scenes make some men believe that if women are wearing ‘revealing clothes’ or are seen drinking alcohol, they are “characterless” and wouldn’t mind having sexual relations with them. Also, stereotypes of Adarsh bahu and Adarsh beti who willingly surrender to patriarchal norms get unintentionally glorified and tend to normalise sacrifice that women have to make once they get married or are rendered helpless in circumstances of gender violence.
Thus, one of the main focus of ‘acting locally’ should be consciously avoiding any kind of female objectification and subjugation in entertainment media as media has a huge outreach and influence. Fortunately, films that show women in strong roles have been appreciated by the audiences in recent times. Films that gave recognition to homemakers have highlighted the importance of sacrifice and hard work that women make. Film critics have also become alert to any kind of objectification and gender violence showed in films. Such awareness has become crucial in changing the perception of women in society.
Man’s behaviour is learnt behaviour. Hence, the behaviour of men and their perception of gender roles are influenced by their socialisation. Lundberg defines socialisation as,
“complex processes of interaction through which the individual learns the habits, beliefs, skills and standards of judgement that are necessary for his effective participation in social groups and communities.”
In the process of socialisation, an individual learns culturally approved habits, ideas and attitudes. He is fitted into the social group by being taught the rights and duties of his position. His drives are guided into approved channels of expression. The cultural rules and restrictions are so internalised that they become part of his personality. Thus, it is extremely necessary that men internalise the values of gender equality during the process of socialisation itself. Men, as well as women, should be socialised in such a way that they respect all genders and advocate equality of gender.
Engaging young boys along with young girls in domestic work, ensuring that young boys develop respect for women, encouraging men to take part in workshops and awareness sessions regarding porn addiction and prostitution and producing media content that propagates gender equality will help in internalising the norms required for empowering men to adjust to the changing needs of society. When men will be empowered to change the deeply entrenched patriarchal norms, women empowerment will automatically get a boost.
‘Just as a bird cannot fly with one wing only, a nation cannot march forward if the women are left behind.’ – Swami Vivekananda
India won’t be empowered enough to become a superpower if her daughters are not empowered in the true sense. In order to realise gender equality in society, it is necessary to get away with unjust patriarchal norms. Imbibing values of gender equality during the formative years of one’s life will go a long way in getting away with such norms. It is important to become conscious of what is happening in our surroundings and day to day life as far as personal and social interactions between men and women are concerned.
Small changes like making domestic chores a gender-neutral responsibility, allowing women of the family to express their opinions, ensuring equal responsibility of unpaid care work, building hygienic gender-responsive toilets in public places and workplaces, safe working conditions and flexible working hours can go a long way in changing the way women are treated in the society. Initiatives are required in the personal sphere as well as the public sphere to ensure safety and empowerment of women in our country. Though a lot has been done in the public sphere, the personal sphere has been neglected.
A girl must not have to choose between marriage and career. The very fact that she has to choose between a family and a career is a restriction in itself. She should have access to logistical support in her workplace, cultural support in the social and emotional support in the family to have a family and a career. That’s when we can say that they have been empowered in the true sense.
By Mrunmayee Chitale,
ILS Law College, Pune
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