Equality & Dignity: Women’s Birth Rights
The world celebrates March 8 as the Women’s Day. But merely the celebration of this day should not make the chimera that women are treated on a par with men—not even in developed countries, what to speak of India! Hence, the subject of our cover story this week is empowerment and uplift of women. The reason for picking up this subject is to sensitise the humanity of the fact that despite suffering for thousands of years, women are still vastly discriminated against and oppressed. It is ironical that we make gargantuan claims for the uplift and empowerment of women, but on empirical grounds, their plight touches an abysmal depth. This fact can be substantiated by the fact that in the contemporary society, women even before birth are subject to cruel discrimination—female foeticide. And even after the birth, women have to face blinkered thinking at every step in their life. The orthodox elements in society emphasise that women should be confined within four walls of the home. No wonder, even after more than 60 years of Independence, a stark gender divide still persists in the country. According to National Sample Survey Organisation, only 7 per cent of Indian women work in the formal sectors. Most are in jobs traditionally considered feminine such as education and health care. Fewer than 5 per cent opt for careers considered to be ‘masculine’ such as real estate, finance, retail, etc. The reason for this stigmatised condition are the customs and traditions prevalent for centuries, ignorance of their rights, patriarchal society, economic system, unchecked male domination in all walks of life, and the high percentage of illiteracy among women. If girls aspire to pursue higher education, owing to stereotype thinking, they are prevented from entering professions which are considered to be male-dominated professions. In India, an increasing number of women are fighting long-standing prejudices. Women still face enormous pressure to conform to social mores and are limited to traditional roles within families, which poses as much of a barrier to businesswomen as to working women at companies. Only a fewer number can dare to break the still-too-thick glass ceiling prevalent in our society. In spite of this gloomy scenario, women are striving hard to excel in every field—whether it be the field of science and technology, research and development, information technology, or corporate world.
It is lamentable to note that women, who are more patient, calmer and receptive, and can bear more pain and has more tolerance than men, and are stronger in conviction and in perseverance, are compelled to play a secondary role only. We worship Goddesses Lakshmi, Durga and Saraswati being representatives of wealth, power and knowledge respectively. Women were glorified in epics and puranas for their service to their men. Serving a father first, then a husband, and later her children and grandchildren, has been a woman’s destiny. Puranas mention the names of Sita, Savitri and Anusuya and glorify them for their devoted service to their husbands. They even say that a woman can easily get salvation by serving her husband. Yet women are often not treated as persons with dignity who deserve respect from laws and institutions instead they are treated instrumentally as reproducers, care-givers, sexual receivers, agents of family’s general prosperity. After Independence the Constitution of India gave equal rights to men and women in all walks of life. But even today one cannot say that all women in India enjoy equal rights with men in all matters. Subjugation and exploitation of women is a product of man’s vested teachings and women’s acceptance of them. So, it is high time women’s empowerment must be seen as a process wherein we must consider about women’s awareness and consciousness, choices with live alternatives, resources at their disposal, voice, and participation. These are all related to enhancement of women’s capabilities and decisions they take individually or collectively for themselves. In a nutshell, it can be said if India is to be a superpower, there is a compelling need to resolve certain basic issues about the socialisation processes of women, evidently e-components—education, employment, earnings, empowerment, entitlement to property and effects of violence. That will be the greatest tribute to Women’s Day.