Empowerment of Women: Indian Context


Dr. Vijay Pithadia
Assistant Professor & Kidevices Chair
School of Management Studies
Shri Lauva Patel Trust College For Women
Amreli-365601 GJ
Ashish Sharma
University Institute of Management
Jabalpur MP


We reconcer P G Bhati [The Oriental Insurance Co Ltd],Nishith Bhatt [S K School of Business Management], R K Balyan [Chiman Patel Institute of Management Studies], Raju M Rathod [P G Department of Business Studies], P M Mungalpara [S B I Life Insurance Co Ltd], Anand P Mankodia [U V Patel College of Engineering], Dinesh Kanani [Shree Stationers] , Patricia A Bryant [Research Frontiers Incorporated], Yashwant Solanki [Yojna – Gujarati], David Jamison [South Carolina State University],
M M Kothari [The Economic Challenger], Krishna Chaitanya V [Dhruva College of Management], D P S Verma [University of Delhi], A Kumar [Bhavnagar University], Ramji Shiyani [Junagadh Agricultural University], P F Kotur [J N Medical College & K L E S Hospital & M R C], Masooma Bharmal [The Times of India], R K Prabhakar [Sardar Patel University], Matin Khan [University of Lucknow], M R Bansal [Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar University, Agra], H S Ballal [Manipal Academy of Higher Education], S P S Virdi [Punjabi University], A K Koul [National Law University], N Balasubramanian [Bharthiar University],
S Sundaramurhty [Jaya Engineering College], B Sudhakar [G R G School of Management Studies], Naresh Kumar B N [Alliance Business Academy], Virat Dhebar [TUV SUD Group], Bret L Undem [Acacia Research Corporation], Manish Shah [L J College] & Achuyat Patel [M T Dhamsania] for conception & remarks.
I appreciate the efforts of my MBA students Parul Bhati, Poonam Bhalara, Vasanti Boricha, Seema T P, Aiswarya Murli, Bindu Thomas, Tripti Kishan, Rajni Sethu Madhavan, Shabana Sidique, Shreeja K Subhash, & Namita Valsraj for research coad juvancy.

"The voice of the working woman" a document of U.N.O. 1982 makes a significant statistical statement. "Women make up 50% of the world's population, comprise 33.3% of the official labor force, perform nearly 66.6% of all working hours, receive 10% of the world's income but own less than 1% of world properly".* This statement alone justifies, serious, positive, down to earth policy on empowerment of women. It is also true that women of late have made their presence felt, with a difference, in the present male dominated society in all the spheres of work, appearing as winning competitors in decision making areas of Governance as well. In spite of such vast areas where women have proved their excellence, it is still considered as complementary to men's efforts. They are still a suffering lot. Most of our people are eager to pray prevedic image of our women, & put them out of competition.

Durga is accepted as embodiment of shakti & is worshiped, Saraswati is worshiped as an embodiment of learning, Laxmi is worshiped as an embodiment or wealth, Sita, savitri are worshiped as embodiment eternal values. They claim & accept that our religion is safe in their hands. They remain in temples.

What is needed is attitudinal change. Let them be treated as individuals, on par with them as partners. Yes, they are willing to be a good mother, good wife, a good daughter, but let then also be accepted as a good partner & not viewed as competitors.

Article 14, 15, 16 of the constitution of India guarantee equality before law, equal protection under law and equal opportunity of work, It prohibits discrimination against any citizen on grounds of religion caste, Sex. It permits opportunity to all. This can be possible only if attitudes of men & women change.

It has been proved beyond doubt, that women have proved them selves, in all spheres & this has to be accepted without any reservation. The time has come when men of the family and & all the members of the society as a whole give willing encouragement & patronize their efforts. They are allowed work with dignity. Creation of warm and respectful environment & encouraging atmosphere is the need of times. It is true that women are more sensitive to their role, as a mother and wife, Men should actively and willing share in their domestic obligations. This will create a sweet home atmosphere & will ensure happy work atmosphere out side also.

Let it be accepted as a necessary well come situation and be not viewed as an encroachment on their right to work. The issue of women and social change in India is not as simple as it appears. Historical contingencies have been an important factor in changing our society. Women have always played a crucial role, inspite of the limitations imposed in each period, in bringing about silent changes without any beat of drums.

Historically speaking with the coming in of Aryans, patriarchy got well established even before the varna became caste. The daughter was not greeted as was the son in the Vedic period. Various sacrifices were performed for the birth of a son. The Atharveda implored, "The birth of a girl grants it elsewhere, here grant a boy." Women were blessed to be mothers of "heroic sons". Vivekananda possessing the Vedic mind in this century thought, that the educated girls, "will inspire their husbands with noble ideals and be mothers of heroic sons".

Despite the patriarchal onslaught women did challenge the world view of their periods. While Gargi, Maithaily, Apala, etc., did so in the Vedic period Sita, Draupadi etc., did in the Epic period. When Sita is said to have spurned Ram and moved into the earth. What more rebellion do we expect? It was a non-violent blow to patriarchy. King Ashoka had to face brave women in the battle of kalinga which changed him thoroughly. The coronation of Razia Begum as Sultana in the early medieval period was no less an event which angered the Turks. Mirabai flouted the patriarchal norms of the Rajputana, even though for a male deity. Noorjahan and Jahanara's role in the Mughal times cannot be easily forgotton. Come Modern period reminiscent of Rani of Jhansi, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Pandita Ramabai etc. No wonder many important contributions of women have been neglected and ignored. These women (and many more whom history has gulped), though few, are those from whom the present day feminists draw inspiration. 

(i) Reform Movement : It was in the 19th Century that enlightened men like Ram Mohun Roy, Dayananda Saraswati, Keshab Chandra Sen, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Jyoti Bhai Phule, Govind Ranade, Maharishi Karve, Bhandarkar etc., championed women's cause. But most of these social reformers wanted to improve the position of women within the family as wives and mothers and not to expand their role in society. Their micro-productive (domestic) role as nurturants was recognized by Gandhi and stretched to the public space.

(ii) Nationalist Movement: Gandhi's whole philosophy of non-violence was drawn from the life of Indian women, who quietly, ungrudgingly bore all insults and beating of their wayward husbands in order to reform them.

Gandhi has to be given the credit for involving women in the nationalist movement. He was the first mass-mobilize who saw the potential of women for an organized movement.

Under his guidance in 1931, in the Karachi annual session, the Congress Party passed a formal resolution committing itself to the political equality of Indian women much before their European sisters had even won the right to vote.

(iii) Women's Movement: After Independence, the Constitution came in force in 1950 proclaiming equality between the sexes, among others. Five year plans started from 1951 establishing Central Social Welfare Board and Mahila Mandals. Despite these and many other measures, the Report of the Committee on the Status of Women (submitted in 1974) pointed out that dynamics of social change and development had adversely affected women and they manifested all signs of a backward group, that is, declining sex-ratio, lower life-expectancy, higher infant and maternal mortality, declining work participation, increasing illiteracy, rising migration etc.

The tabling of the Report and the International decade for women (1975-1985) heightened the awareness of people on the plight of Indian women, Women's movement for freedom from patriarchal practices and oppression, started. For the first time unlike other movements a movement of women sprouted, which saw them as individuals in their own right. It was no more men crusading for women's issues but women and some men for women's issues. This new consciousness gave rise to not only feminist (women and men) activists but also feminist-activist-researchers. And a whole body of literature appeared and continues to pour day in and day out.

What awakened and brought together women's organizations all over the country to fight against oppression of women was the Mathura rape case, in 1980. Soon the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1983 was passed penalizing custodial rape. 

No wonder, less than 35% of our women are literate and only about 4% go on to receive higher education. 85% of women workers are still sediment in the unorganized sector where the legal measures have no meaning for them.

The plight of Indian women continues to be a matter of concern. What the Constitution proclaims for women, the reality springs up by opposing the very tenets, principles, ideals of the Constitution. It is side that a siege has been laid on women. They have been captured by the very institutions which attempt to safeguard and protect their lives and interests namely family, marriage, educational institutions, employment establishments, political mega-structures, policing outfits, legal machinery etc. Whether it is child marriage, infanticide, foeticide, wife battering, sati, widowhood, bigamy, polygamy, sexual harassment, physical torture, martin cruelty, rape by intimates, strangers, dowry extortions, dowry murders, pre-marital and post marital suicides etc., all these forms of oppression of women map and draw the contours of our decadent capitalist, consumerist, corrupt, patriarchal society.

Be it any denomination, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh etc., the forms of oppression of women may vary but the content is same, over-powering, emaciating and agonizing. The question is not merely of women being killed and murdered but also of the on-going throttling and murder of various emotions, ambitions of millions of young girls, that is, girl-children and women which take place on each day from sunrise to sunset.

This does not mean that women have reconciled to this fact. The discontent is brewing amongst oppressed women. The young girls of rural and urban areas have started voicing their likes and dislikes. The employed women, though encountering role-conflict, have learnt to become firm and assertive. They now seek and demand their husband's cooperation in performing household chores. Many men have started correcting the wrongs done by them and begun to question the patriarchal privileges given to them. So what if 90% families are traditional. What matters are the 10% families that are egalitarian, cutting across religion, caste and class barriers?

Marriages are not always arranged now. Lots of choice marriages (love marriages, love-cum-arranged marriages) are taking place (free from dowry and gifts). Men are tending to be more considerate. Further, marriage is no more taken to be the only option. Many women prefer to remain single, while still many other couples have started living together without marriage. The awakening and liberation of the top five or six percent of our women is beginning to have a trickle down effect in the sense of registering a greater awareness of women's problems and restrictive social practices that affect their growth and potential. Today due to them, women's cause has acquired a moral and political legitimacy. Due to this today hardly any one may stand up publicly and oppose women's fundamental rights or deny them political participation, notes Mrinal Pande. To keep up this tempo & encouraging atmosphere both men & women have play important combined role to keep peace at home & at work places.

Though in fewer numbers women have been entering the traditional male bastions, as scientists, pilots, police, engineers, architects apart from being bureaucrats, teachers, doctors, businesswoman, entrepreneurs, journalists etc. These women with one voice proclaim together "Earlier we had tongues but could not speak. We had feet but could not walk. Now we have got the strength to speak and to work".*

What is Empowerment?

Empowerment strategies are varied and refer to those strategies which enable women to realize their full potentials. They consist of greater access to knowledge and resources, greater autonomy in decision making, greater ability to plan their lives, greater control over the circumstances that influence their lives and finally factors which would free them from the shackles of custom beliefs and practices. Unless they themselves become conscious of the oppression meted out to them and show initiative to push forward it would not be possible to change their status much. Some of the empowerment mechanisms could be identified as follows:

Literacy and higher education;
Better health care for herself and her children;
Higher age at marriage;
Greater work participation in modernized sector;
Necessary financial and service support for self-employment;
Opportunities for higher positions of power including Governance
Complete knowledge of her rights; and above all
Self - reliance self respect and dignity of being a woman;

Several measures have been introduced to encourage women education. Incentives have been provided for larger enrollment of Girls in schools and higher seats of learning. Reduction in fees, provision of bicycles in rural areas, scholarship, exclusive schools & colleges for girls and many more literacy programs like each one teach one, project approach, continuing education approach are other measures. The % of literacy has risen, more girls are enrolled in technical education, like medicine/ engineering, Management etc. They are proving their merit in competitive examination.

Women have become sensitive to better health care for them and their children. In new Panchayat Raj System (under 73rd amendment ) & in Urban bodies (under 74th amendment) they occupy 33% of the elective seats with decision making powers, which enables them implement; & oversee all such welfare programs.

Early marriage is now a rarity especially in urban area. However inspite of fixing minimum age of marriage for boys & girls, it stills occurs at places. Women organisation actively works to restrict this menace.

Women are working in most of the modern sectors. Some of the sectors are exclusively owned by women, with women in higher management seats.

There are a large number of self help groups exclusively for women. They are managing if with profit. This is giving them confidence.

The opportunities for higher positions of power have increased under Panchayat Raj Institutions & municipal bodies. They have developed confidence in occupying such seats of power and function without the crutches of their male relatives.

All these measures have given tremendous self confidence, respect and dignity of being women.

Gender Planning

Development of gender planning implies taking account of the fact that women and men play different roles especially in the third world and therefore have different needs and provide both the conceptual framework and the methodological tools for incorporating gender into the planning of their socio-economic programs. 

The role of Government of India in Women Empowerment 

The first few plans followed a welfares approach and treated women as recipients of aid. The first five year plan focused its attention on the problem of high infant and maternal mortality and then undertook steps to develop school feeding schemes for children and creation of nutrition sections in the public health departments and maternity and child health centers. The focus of second plan was on the problems of women workers. Hence policies were initiated for equal pay for equal work, provision of facilities for training to enable women to compete for higher jobs and expansion of opportunities for part time employment. The main thrust of the third plan was the expansion of girls education. On the social welfare side the largest share was provided for expanding rural welfare services and condensed courses of education for adult women. The fourth plan continued to emphasize women's education. The fifth plan gave priority for training of women in need of care and protection, women from low income family's needy women with dependent children and working women. 

It is only during the fifth plan a separate Bureau of Women's Welfare and Development (WWD) was set up in 1976 as part of the erstwhile Department of Social Welfare in order to intensity the country-wide efforts launched during the International Year of the Women. The Bureau was entrusted with the major responsibility of implementing the National Plan of Action for Women besides coordinating the activities relating to women's welfare and development. 

The sixth plan for the first time in India's planning history contained a separate chapter on Women and Development. To make the International Women's Decade a success it emphasized on three strategies via economic independence, educational advancement and access to health care and family planning. Hence varieties of programmes were taken up under different sectors of development to ameliorate the socio economic status of women. In the rural development sector the IRDP gave priority to women heads of households and about 35% of total number of beneficiaries under TRYSEM was women. A new scheme viz Development of Women and Children (DWCRA) was started in 1982-83 as a pilot project in the blocks of the country. Many voluntary organizations were requested to avail funds from the government for the above schemes and benefit women. Another Program S.G.S.Y. was launched in the Year 1999. Which provided that 50% of S.G.S.Y. groups should be for women? They were provided facilities of loan & subsidy from the Govt. & Banks. Under Science and Technology for Women varieties of activities were taken up. Projects were sponsored for development of smokeless chullahs use of solar cookers setting up of bio-gas plants and devices for improving the water purification system. A number of technology demonstration cum training centers at selected focal points all over the country were set up by the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) to provide expertise and resources to women entrepreneurs. 

During the seventh five-year plan an integrated multidisciplinary approach was adopted covering employment education health nutrition application of science and technology and other related aspects in areas of interest to women. It is only during the seventh plan 'Women Development Corporations' were established for promoting employment generating activities for women. 

Thus with the beginning of International Women's Decade in 1975 a number of schemes were introduced and earnest efforts were made by the government to improve the status of women. In spite of implementation loopholes theses policies strive their best to integrate women into the mainstream of society. Thus the Department of Women and Child Development being the national machinery for the development of women plays a vital role assisted by the Central Social Welfare Board and the National Institute of Public co-operation and Child Development. While the Central Social Welfare Board is an apex body with state level branches to encourage voluntary effort in the field of women's development NIPCID is an advisory –cum- research – cum national level training institute in the field of child development with a separate division for women's research and development. In India legislations and programs favoring women had never been wanting. But unfortunately the spirit behind these policies is hardly appreciated by the implementing authorities.

Today, in accordance with the changing role of government, public administration has to deal not only with restructuring the economy but more than over before, with ensuring that growth is accompanied by social justice. Government has to make timely, appropriate and adequate interventions to ensure equitable distribution of the fruits of economic development as this cannot happen on its own in a market-oriented atmosphere. Many voices are heard now, saying that the new structural adjustment program is going to push back already marginalized groups which include poor women; that in opening up economy, we are jeopardizing the lives of women, who are the most vulnerable among the vulnerable. They would be thrown out of existing employment, perhaps into trades which entry of multinationals and increase in tourism might engender, and there would emerge a situation as we see in some of the south-east Asian countries.

These warnings of gloom and doom that await the poor in India, particularly its women, with the onset of liberalization and globalization, need to be met with declaration of government intent to take measures to look after equitable distribution of the fruits of economic growth. While its role in direction, ownership and production will diminish, Government's role must continue to intensively intervene on behalf of the weak and the poor, so as to improve the quality of their lives. It must provide so to say, a cushion for the injustices to or the neglect of, these groups by market forces and by privatization.*

Voluntary Efforts and Women Empowerment in India 

In serving the cause of poor and women voluntary organizations are considered to be superior to the government for certain obvious reasons. The members of a voluntary organization are willing to spend time energy and even money for an activity which they think is good. This motivation and commitment make them work more sincerely for the cause when compared to government officials. The above argument does not mean that all voluntary organization are committed and sincere and all government departments are not so. There are exceptions in both. But by and large voluntary organizations are better placed when compared to the government in the dissemination of development efforts as office bearers & other member are emotionally involved with the cause & are not concerned with receipt of Grant in Aid only. The second advantage enjoyed by voluntary organization is flexibility in operations. Revisions and modifications in the light of experience are possible as against Govt. organization which works with fixed predetermined norms. Thus there is feedback and learning through experience. The limited size of operations ensures efficiency and immediate accountability to the target group. Moreover a new society needs a new value system. The voluntary organizations are best suited to carry out this task.

Some NGOs keep the goal of achieving mobility i.e. they assist one particular target group and once the target group 'takes-off' and becomes self reliant the voluntary organizations move on the other groups. Thus they are ever dynamic in socio-spatial terms.

Thus there are heterogeneous groups-some engaged in consistent activity some in sporadic actions the actions themselves ranging from those which providing welfare activities to those which aim at structural change. Though it is true that voluntary organizations have come a long way from mere service providers to development oriented dynamic entities they are not free from criticisms.

There are organizations which were started on a very small scale but grew up to unmanageable size taking up multiple activities to earn national level recognition and fame. Unfortunately many among them have failed to develop second line leadership and thus are slowly fading away. A few have failed to keep their size within manageable limits and hence have become inefficient units grip over their activities.

Institutions building are an important function in which many voluntary organizations have failed miserably. This refers to continuous articulation of the philosophy vision and mission of the organization among the members especially the volunteers. The rules and regulations and the system of functioning should be institutionalized. The democratic character of an institution can be kept up only by institutionalizing the execution strategies and programs. The young knowledgeable educated girls need to come in large numbers & work through voluntary organizations for causes which are adversely hindering the progress of rural women.

It is also true that in the case of external interventionists (the educated elite working among the poor) the volunteers are unable to get rid of their paternalistic superior attitude. They always want the target group to be dependent and subservient. They fail to appreciate the point that the target group is capable of taking over the tasks and performing well. Voluntary organizations simply fail to acknowledge that the target group has problem solving skills.

Another important drawback which afflicts many voluntary organizations is lack of funds. For many the budgets are so small that there is no provision for technical personnel. Consultancy services are also out of reach for such voluntary organizations in view of their cost. In these days when voluntary service has become highly specialized there is a dire need for the creation of an appropriate agency to provide guidance, monitor the projects and provide counseling services and arrange financial and technical assistance to needy voluntary organizations which are groping in the dark.

Women entering into the business field are not something uncommon today. Though it is very difficult to single out the reason for the emergence of women entrepreneurship in the recent past, it is a fact that more and more women evince interest in choosing business as a career. The following are considered to be the major contributory factors: the influence of women's movement, changing psychological attitude of women, the need to maintain a decent standard of living amidst the rising cost of living, gender discrimination in the labor market, restricted vertical mobility and above all the rising aspirations of women to lead an independent assertive life, and finally facilities offered to women for starting enterprises. Upper middle class and middle class women with the required education and information are comparatively better off in venturing into business when compared to the poor illiterate, marginalized women. While the former, with the support of other members in the family do have something to offer as 'security' obtain loan, the latter group of women have nothing to pledge or offer as security. These women who invariably find employment in the informal sector face problems such as job insecurity, meager wages and exploitation. Gross unemployment and underemployment suffered by them have forced these women to take up self employment, and wherever women have formed 'groups' they have successfully solved the problems like risk, finance and marketing in their self-employment. S.G.S.Y. is a good example to prove this.

The Need for Fostering Self-Employment among Women

Women are trying their level best to attain equality in various ways which are different over time and among societies. After the World War II, a large number of women in western countries resented their deprived status. There was a general awakening among women about their secondary status. They do follow various strategies to overcome subordination and to fight against gender related disadvantages directly and indirectly. Self employment is one among the many strategies and is considered to be the best strategy since simultaneously it helps to change women's own self perception and also helps to attain social status.

The other possibility is individual strategy. Women are generally concentrated in low paid jobs, and secondary sector occupations and hence the opportunities to climb up are very limited. Their success and upward mobility in career are much restricted. Only a few women occupy the managerial or executive position.

Female business proprietorship is an attempt to tackle this kind of subordination, Female proprietorship provides economic independence to women and at the same time they directly enter the main stream and do not remain in the periphery. Especially in developing countries, women proprietors are successful in obtaining material independence from men and this economic independence provides a basis for female solidarity. In these circumstances, individual action fosters collective action to combat subordination. 

Collective Endeavor: Choice of the Area and Sample 

The middle class educated women, though face multifaceted problems in undertaking business ventures do enjoy certain advantages like education, access to information, credit worthiness, exposure etc. over the poorer women. The poor, downtrodden women in spite of their shortcomings, are no less competent than the upper class women in self employment is amply borne by empirical reality where they have taken up self employment such as snacks vending, pickle making, papad making, tailoring, vegetables/fruits vending etc., in order to supplement family income. One may argue whether these are comparable to the large scale modern trades, taken up by educated women. One has to agree that these enterprises run by poor women are tiny, risks are minimum and do not call for innovative, novel sales strategy etc. But still to the extent, goods remain unsold or perish, they face the risk of loss and even if it is a small amount, it matters much for these women who have no access to finance. 

Though there are innumerable home based producers in India operating on their own, and some assisted by NGO (Non Government Organization) for it was observed that: - 

(a) There is consistent business activity in the case of enterprises, which receive help from an NGO when compared to units not assisted by any NGO.
(b) Identification of micro enterprise owners is too difficult since they are highly scattered.
(c) NGO intervention has benefited these tiny enterprises in much way?

The main finding is women of lower strata need a catalyst organization to help them to realize their potentials, to link them with financial institution and give them a firm footing in business. The 'group concept' provides necessary mental courage to withstand crises and carry on their activity without break. Moreover, the concept of group formation is the best strategy to enlighten women on certain important social issues like small family norm, healthy environment, education etc. This is tried in a big way in our country through its program of S.G.S.Y. started on all India bases.

It is in this context at the concept of empowerment of women assumes great significance. Empowerment is envisaged as an aid to help women individually and collectedly to achieve prosperity on their own or, at least, to reduce gender gap considerably. Empowerment would also enable women to perform certain social roles which otherwise will be difficult to perform, But there are some very positive indications, that time is not far off, when women power in India will be matter of envy for even the most developed countries of the world.

In view of its numerical strength as voters, no political party will ever wish to annoy them but will continue to appear as a champion of their cause in securing reservation for them in the legislatures & parliament as proposed in the bill. Success is round the corner.


"Empowerment of Women" Edited By: K. Shanthi
Published by: Anmol Publications, New Delhi – 1998

" Women Empowerment & Challenge of Change"  Edited By: Latika Menon
Published by: Kanishka Publishers, Distributors, New Delhi – 1998

"Indian Women: The Power Trapped" Edited By: Indu Prakash Singh
Published by: Galaxy Publications, SFS Flat No.3, Pocket B, Alaknanda,
(Ganga Apartments) Kalkaji, New Delhi – 1991

"Women in Hindu Literature" Edited By: R.P. Sharma
Published by: Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi – 1995

Dr. Vijay Pithadia
Assistant Professor & Kidevices Chair
School of Management Studies
Shri Lauva Patel Trust College For Women
Amreli-365601 GJ
Ashish Sharma
University Institute of Management
Jabalpur MP

Source: E-mail August 3, 2005


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