Women Empowerment - The Condition and Position of Women


L. Rajarajeswari
Asst. Professor
Department of Business Administration
Arul Anandar College
Karumathur–625514, Madurai District


Women empowerment has become crucial for alleviating poverty and procuring over all growth. This is particularly true in the present scenario, where phenomenal advancements are occurring in each and every sphere. Although women constitute half of world's population, yet they are the largest group which is excluded from the benefits of social and economic development. Empowerment of women is a gradual and complicated process. It involves changing the way of thinking of the whole society. From long time it has been stamped on the minds of the people that women are inferior to men. It is not easy to change the stubborn attitude of the people. In rural India, Women have inadequate access to education, health facilities and even the healthy diet.

Since beginning, Indian constitution has always given due consideration to the women category. The Eighth five year plan of Indian Planning claimed to provide benefits form the economic development to women equally. Ninth and Tenth Plans also emphasized on empowerment of women. Rashtriya Mahila Kosh was set up in 1993 to help the economically poor and deserving women. The status of the women has improved considerably in Indian society but even in the present situation, varied inequalities between men and women exist. The Working Group on Empowerment of Women for the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12), constituted by the Planning Commission in 2006, has emphasized the strengthening of Self-help Groups (SHGs) and community-based organizations for the empowerment of women.


"Women represent fifty per cent of population, make up thirty per cent of the official labour force, perform sixty per cent of all working hours, receive ten per cent of the world's income and caretakers of household affairs. Moreover, they are the active agents of change, the dynamic promoters of social transformation, and play a vital role in shaping the destiny of future generations. Yet, in the gendered social formations, they are placed below the hierarchy of men.

They experience multifold, subtle and open forms of discrimination throughout their lives. Women in general face different types of discrimination and it gets reflected in mortality rate, birth, basic needs, opportunities, employment, ownership and living conditions. Gender differentiation, today, appears to be one of the most pervading forms of discrimination. Resistances against marginalization and attempts to empower them have become common since the turn of the twentieth century. Empowerment increases their access to resources and power.

Empowerment of women means strengthening of their capabilities in the social, political and economic sphere. 'Power' is the key word in the concept of "empowerment", and it is the power of patriarchal ideology, which subordinates women, specifically as women need to be changed. Women's empowerment and material advancement helps them to improve their status in the society and strengthens their economic position.

So, if women are to be empowered, it is essential to supply them an increasing network of support services so that they are liberated from some of their gender-linked restraints. If women are to be economically empowered, it is fundamental to provide them with additional channels of credit, training, employment, greater exposure, leadership skills and social security. All these necessitate the creation of an environment through suitable policies and programmes, institutional arrangements at different levels and adequate financial resources. Policy makers in India are largely aware of this issue and have launched several innovative schemes for women's empowerment not only through government agencies, but also through dedicated non-governmental organizations.

Women, Poverty and Credit

The manifestations of women's poverty are many. They include hunger and malnutrition, ill health, homelessness and inadequate housing, insecure environments social discrimination, and exclusion from the mainstream. Feminization of poverty is the tragic consequences of women's unequal access to economic opportunities. Since poverty hits women the hardest, the eradication of poverty of women in India cannot be implemented through anti-poverty programmes alone, but it will necessitate their democratic participation in the political process and changes in the economic structure.

Poverty alleviation for women means not just an increase in their income but greater access to productive resources such as land, capital, technology and opportunities to develop the skills needed to improve their lives. There should also be opportunities for them to gain cultural and social capital this is possible only through gainful employment to women.

Women's active involvement in economic activities will lead to their socio-economic upliftment. They cannot become a self-determining force unless they are employed. The well-being of women is strongly influenced by variables such as their ability to earn an independent income. Find employment outside the home, to have ownership rights and to have literacy and be influential participants in decision making with in and outside the family. The ability to earn an independent income can be increased only by providing them with access to crucial inputs like land and credit. Of these two instruments, credit is of paramount significance, as it is the gateway to economic empowerment.

Credit is of particular relevance to women. It is a crucial input for expanding women's employment in small-scale enterprises. It encourages the adoption of improved technology to enhance the productivity of women's home-based income generating and cost minimizing work. Further a large number of studies have pointed out that increases in women's income improves the unique livelihood enhancement functions. The most important fact about credit is that it represents a form of economic empowerment, which can improve women's self-confidence and status with in the family as independent producers. Credit programmes can improve the bargaining power of the poor by providing an alternative to exploitative indebtedness. If women are provided access to credit, it will certainly act as a means to encourage their integration in the development of their countries.

Women and Five-Year Plans

In pre-independent India, while provision of health and educational services had been increasingly demanded from the state social welfare programmes, they were administered mainly by voluntary agencies. There was no comprehensive nation-wide programme to provide welfare services. After the attainment of independent it was felt that socio-economic uplift of the masses required government assistance to strengthen the services rendered by voluntary agencies. The central government therefore created many agencies after independence.

First Five Year Plan (1951-56)

During the first five-year plan women's development began mainly as a welfare oriented programme. The central social welfare board was setup in 1953, which undertook a number of welfare measures through the voluntary sectors. It was setup to promote welfare and development service for women, children and unprivileged group providing assistance to voluntary agencies, improving and developing welfare programmes and sponsoring them in areas where they didn't exist. Following the creation of the central social welfare board, at the request of the central government, the state governments setup state social welfare for the same purpose.

Second Five-Year Plan  (1956-61)

Though priority was given to the development of industries, allotments were also made for the development of women in the second five-year plan. The plan organized women into Mahila Mandals to act as local points at the grassroot level for the development of women.

Third and Fourth Five-Year Plan (1961-62 to 1973-74)

The third and fourth five-year plans accorded high priority to education of women and introduced measures to improve material and child health services, including supplementary feeding for children and nursing mothers.

Fifth Five-Year Plan (1974-78)

The fifth five-year plan saw a shift in the approach to women's development from "welfare" to 'development' to cope with several problems of the family.

The new approach aimed at integration of welfare with development services.

Sixth Five-year Plan (1980-85)

The sixth five-year plan made a landmark in the history of women's development by including a separate chapter and adopting a multi-disciplinary approach with a three pronged thrust on health, education and employment.

Seventh Five-Year Plan (1985-90)

In the seventh plan, the developmental programmes for women continued with the major objectives of raising their economic and social study to bring them into the mainstream of national development. A significant step in this direction was to identify and promote the 'Beneficiary oriented programmes'. For women in different development sectors, which extended direct benefits to women.

Eighth Five-year Plan (1992-1997)

The eighth five year plan, which was launched in 1992, marked a shift from 'development' to 'employment' approach. It promised to ensure that the benefits of development from different sectors do not by-pass women. Women are to function as equal partners and participants in the development process.

Ninth Five-Year Plan (1997-2002)

In the ninth five year plan, two major steps towards gender justice were taken for the first time in the history of planning. The first one was the listing of empowerment of women as a major plan objective. The other was to propose inclusion of women's component in plans of all central ministries / departments.

Tenth Five Year Plan (2002-2007)

Over the years poverty alleviation programmes of various types have expanded in size and today there is a wide variety of such programmes which absorb a large volume of resources. The plan provision for rural development is Rs.7000 crores.

Several evaluations of the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP) show that the projects undertaken under sub-critical investment levels; unviable projects, lack of technological and institutional capabilities in designing and executing projects utilizing local resources and expertise, illiterate and unskilled beneficiaries with no experience in managing an enterprise, indifferent delivery of credit by banks (high transaction cost, complex procedure corruption, one-time credit, poor recovery), absence of linkage between different components of the IRDP rising indebtedness and scale of IRDP out stripped capacity of government and banks to absorb.

Framework for Women's Empowerment

One of the key underlying causes of poverty is the construction in different contexts of what it means to be a man, or a woman.  Gender is, in this sense, one manifestation of a general model of power which holds that individual and group behaviors produce social structures (ideologies, rules, institutions) which, in turn, reinforce and "normalize" those behaviors to the point where they are seen as common sense, as the "normal" order of things.  Identities, roles, and relationships are, in this view of things, socially constructed, as are the constraints and opportunities that certain actors face regarding control of, access to, and use of tangible and intangible resources. 

Gendered forms of power come into play in the social construction of identities, roles, relationships and distribution of resources, all of which are intimately related to women's human rights and the question of poverty.  These gendered "rules of the game" are not always perfectly obvious to women and men who live by them but can be surfaced, discussed, and challenged through personal and collective consciousness and actions.  In this way, women and men contest the flow of resources, agendas and ideologies. 

With this conceptualization of power and social change, empowerment should be conceived of as both process and outcome that comprises three dimensions—agency, structure, and relationships. 

    AGENCY:  the aspirations, resources, actions and achievements of women themselves; carrying out their own analyses, making their own decisions, and taking their own actions.  Every person has agency, every person analyses, decides, and acts.  Agency is a continuum, from less to more.  Empowerment involves a journey through which poor women increase their agency.

    STRUCTURE:  the broader social structures that condition women's choices and chances.  Routines, patterns of relationships and interaction, and conventions that lead to taken-for-granted behavior; institutions that establish agreed-upon meanings, accepted ("normal") forms of domination (who "naturally" has power over what or whom), and agreed criteria for legitimizing the social order.  Individual agents both produce and are, in important ways, produced by structure.  Structures can be both tangible and intangible; they are composed of both behavioral patterns that can be observed and counted but also the ideologies that underpin why some behaviors – or thoughts – are socially acceptable (acceptable to whom?).

    Examples include kinship, economic markets, religion, castes and other forms of social hierarchies, educational systems, political culture, resource control/ownership dynamics, forms of organization, and many, many more.

    RELATIONS:  the social relationships through which women negotiate their needs and rights with other social actors, including men.  Both agency and structure are mediated through relationships between and among social actors while, at the same time, forms and patterns of relationships are deeply influenced – frequently in hidden ways – by agency and structure.  Empowerment, in part, consists in individual women building relationships, joint efforts, coalitions, and mutual support, in order to claim and expand agency, alter inequitable structures, and so realize rights and livelihood security. 

These three dimensions are intimately related, structuring and influencing one another.  The graphic (below) helps to visualize the way that agency, structure, and relational dynamics interact to create (or undermine) an empowerment process

Causation in this framework model:

    1. There is no one, uniform causal pathway.  Causation can flow from any of the three dimensions to another.

    2. There is no guarantee that changes in one dimension lead to changes in any of the other two.

    3. Processes of empowerment are nonlinear:  individual or group empowerment can come and go, weaken and strengthen, move forward, freeze, or regress.

    4. Sustainable changes in empowerment are only possible when changes occur across all three dimensions.

Women's empowerment differs from culture to culture and context to context.  It cannot be applied uniformly across the developing world.  To uncover local women's own definitions and indicators of their empowerment, the framework asks researchers to at least consider the relevance of 23 sub-dimensions of agency, structure, and relations.  These sub-dimensions were selected because they have been shown to be widely relevant to women's empowerment across a great many studies and across numerous social, economic, cultural, historical, and political contexts.  In other words, a wide variety of studies have shown an apparent positive relationship between increases/improvements in the sub-dimensions and women's empowerment. These 23 sub-dimensions are briefly defined below:

WE Framework Sub-dimensions

    1) Self-image; self-esteem (Positive images of self; belief in one's abilities to influence, act, decide; feelings of self-efficacy.)

    2) Legal / rights awareness (Knowledge of laws around issues of women's social positions, status, equality, etc.; knowledge of rights under the law.)

    3) Information / skills (Access to information, capacities and skills that a woman deems helpful or necessary.)

    4) Educational attainment (Access to and ability to deploy formal and informal forms of education, e.g. adult training / learning.

    5) Employment / control of labor (Fair and equitable access to employment opportunities; fair and equitable working conditions; freedom to chose forms of labor.)

    6) Mobility in public space (Freedom and safety to circulate in public spaces; Ability to use transport e.g. bike, bus, taxi.)

    7) Decision influence in household finance & child-rearing (Kinds of decisions that women can make over household resources, processes, people, investments, etc.)

    8) Group membership / activism (The degree to which women are free to join groups as a result of their own wishes to do so.)

    9) Material assets owned (The kinds of material assets e.g. land, goods, animals, crops, money, that women have the power to control.)

    10) Body health  / integrity (Access to core health services of acceptable quality; freedom to make decisions over what happens to a woman's own body; a right to bodily well being and pleasure; exposure to gender-based violence/coercion.)

    11) Marriage/Kinship rules & roles (Degree of freedom and control of marital resources; equitable inheritance, divorce, and family law more generally; control of one's own body; cultural, social, and historical norms, conventions, customs in the household, extended family, clan, and other relevant social groups.)

    12) Inclusive & equitable notions of citizenship (Degree of inclusiveness and equity of laws and practices around what it means to be a citizen; Degree to which women's human rights are enshrined in the law of the land and to which such rights are believed/respected by citizens.)

    13) Transparent information & access to services (Degree to which duty bearers ensure that women have the chance to know what is needed for enjoyment of human rights, how they can access this, and what to do in the event that they are denied information or services.)

    14) Enforceability of rights, access to justice (Enforceability of human rights claims as well as specially designed laws and judicial services to promote gender equity; degree to which customary and formal authorities enforce such rights, and that judiciary authorities upholds such rights and hold duty bearers accountable)

    15) Market accessibility [labor/credits/goods] (Equitable access to employment, credit, inputs, and products; fair prices; control of capital, etc.)

    16) Political representation (Extent of women elected and appointed to public office – in the formal and informal spheres – and their degree of influence once there; degree to which women's rights and women's issues are visible and influential in the formal, public, political space.)

    17) Share of state budgets (Allocations the state offers for important services, guarantees, and enforcement mechanisms around issues central to gender equity)

    18) Density of civil society representation (The density and quality of civil society organizations that address gender inequity and social exclusion .)

    19) Consciousness of self / others as inter-dependent (Awareness of own power in relation to others, and reliance of others on self; relational norms/patterns of exploitation.)consciousness of "subordinate power" in hierarchical relations e.g. with husband, mother-in-law ability to see leverage and mutual advantage in joint actions both for self and for others;)

    20) Negotiation/ Accommodation habits (Ability and interest in engaging duty bearers, the powerful, but also other marginalized social actors in dialogue; relational norms/patterns of conflict and compromise)

    21) Alliance/Coalition habits (Extent to which women and women's groups form larger alliances and coalitions and seek collective gains.)

    22) Pursuit / acceptance of accountability (Skills, confidence, and knowledge to hold duty bearers and the powerful accountable; recognition that human rights also bring forms of accountability to every individual)

    23) New social forms (Social and structural recognition of non-traditional household forms; generation of new kinds of organizing, new or altered relationships, new kinds of behaviors.)

To summarize, the 23 sub-dimensions written above may or may not be important in a particular social context and the concrete indicators that would show improvement along one of the sub-dimensions may well differ from place to place, era to era in the same place, or even from group to group of women in the same place and time. Women's empowerment is targeting these sub-dimensions as they appear so frequently in the gender and women's empowerment literature. 


    1. Ambedkar, S.N, Shilaja Nagendra, 2005,Women Empowerment and Panchayati Raj, ABD Publishers, Jaipur, India.

    2. Archana Jain,2006,Micro Credit, Micro Enterprises linkages in generating self-employment for women workers, Himansu Roy, Calcutta.

    3. Arunthati Chattopadhyay, 2006,Empowering women, Yojana Gender Equity, Vol.50, pp.30-33, By the Ministry of information and Broadcasting – New Delhi.

    4. Arun Kumar,2002, Empowering Women, Stamp & Sons publishers, New Delhi.

    5. Binoy N. Verma,2004,Women and Rural development programmes,  B.R. Publishing Corporation, (A Division of BRPC (India) Ltd) Delhi.

    6. Chaudhary, S.N, 1994,Empowerment of  Women,  Deep & Deep publications, p-159, Rajouri Garden, New Delhi.

    7. Khan, S.R. Chowdhury, A.M.R Ahmed, S.M. & Bhuiya, A, 1996, Women's Education and employment, population, Journal, Vol.11, No.1, pp-45-57.

    8. Krishan Chand Ramotra,1995,Socio-Economic status of women in Maharastra, The Indian Goegraphical Journal, vol.70.

    9. Radha Devi, D,1995,Status of Women in India: A comparison by State, Asia Pacific population Journal , Vol.8, No.4, pp.59-75.

    10. Rajula Chandran,1999,"Women Empowerment in Agriculture", Employment news weekly, 20-26, March New Delhi.

    11. Sheetal Sharma,2006,Educated Women and Empowered women, Yojana, Vol.50, pp.52-57

    12. Sushama Sahay, 2005,Framework for measurement of women's Empowerment : Difficulties and Changes, Vol.5, No.1, pp.158-171.

L. Rajarajeswari
Asst. Professor
Department of Business Administration
Arul Anandar College
Karumathur–625514, Madurai District

Source: E-mail April 24, 2012


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