Empowering our women

On 31st May, 2017, the results of the Civil Services Examination were declared and not surprisingly, the topper was yet again a woman. Nandini K.R of Karnataka, who topped the list of all the 180 candidates who made it to the prestigious and coveted Indian Administrative Services (out of a total of 1099 candidates who cleared the Civil Services examination this year), is just one among thousands of women whose success stories in diverse fields have inspired countless others, men and women. And yet the patriarchal mindset of the Indian Society has still to comprehend the power of its women. This narrow outlook of a greater section of the Indian social structure looks down upon women who are willing to break the stereotypes and march ahead.  While a majority of such groups can be found in the remote locations of this country where illiteracy still abounds, many urban localities are also in a perpetual state of confusion of whether or not a woman should be allowed to dress according to her choice, return home late from work and even continue to work after marriage. This is a sorry state of affairs because education has not been able to alter people’s way of thinking.  While there can be no restrictions on the thought processes of such groups, a woman should also be at liberty to decide what is best for her.

While it is easy to write about or even deliver a lecture on Women Empowerment, the loquaciousness of it all is a farce. Empowering a woman in reality is easier said than done. While I enjoy the privilege of making choices for myself, does every woman enjoy even half of what I do? This realization is both blissful and terrible. I feel blessed to be among the chosen ones to avail of all the good things in life even as the awareness that thousands of women aren’t as fortunate as I am, shocks me.  If this is what is meant by 70 years of Indian Independence, I beg to state that our people still haven’t known the basic essence of freedom – the liberty of women. It is only when a woman has the right educate herself and break the shackles of unjust curbs on her self-determination, can a society expect to call itself free.

Even as I am writing this article, I know that some girl in some corner of the country is facing unspeakable atrocities. She must be faced with an adverse circumstance from which there is no escape. I am compelled to wonder what help my article is rendering to her. Am I empowered enough to reach out to her and shield her from unwarranted troubles?

When we talk of women empowerment, it essentially means the creation of an environment where women have the power to make decisions on their own for their personal benefit as well as for the benefit of the society. A famous African proverb by the great Ghanaian scholar, Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey is, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation).”

In India, theoretically, women enjoy equal status with men as per constitutional and legal provisions. Arguably, our country has taken enormous strides towards inclusion of women. Women have been excelling in diverse fields, from literature to astrophysics to finance to civil services. But with headlines about dowry killing, female infanticides and domestic violence still making the newspapers, the purpose of inclusion stands defeated.

Here, in this current age, true development and growth can only be achieved by taking successful strides in eliminating deep-rooted ideologies of gender bias and discrimination like the confinement of women to the private domestic realm, restrictions on their mobility, poor access to health services, nutrition, education and employment, and exclusion from the public and political sphere.

Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai famously quoted “I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” This sentiment runs like an undertow waiting for an upsurge, an upheaval silently waiting to come to the surface.

Quite a good number of women have shattered the glass ceilings and risen above the petty beliefs of the otherwise ‘educated’ illiterates and earned accolades in diverse fields right from the Armed Forces to academics to films to an array of activities where they have outshone men. If this isn’t empowerment, I don’t know what is. But this is only the beginning and there are miles to go. For instance, a recent incident that has been making headlines is the Supreme Court’s intervention in the age-old practice of Triple-talaq or Talaq-e-biddat. This practice had crippled Muslim women’s sense of dignity and self-respect. They were at the mercy of their men folk whose domination upon them had been strengthened by this repulsive custom. But in a respite to the women now, the Supreme Court is on its way to take some stringent steps to curb this practice and a majority of women have come out in open support of this intervention. We hope that justice prevails and the women’s self-esteem is restored.

It is time, women were given the right to self-emancipation and freedom from all shackles of dependence and deprivation. There are numerous ways in which a woman could be liberated, ranging from social empowerment, economic self-sufficiency through occupational freedom, legal knowledge and of course, political empowerment. It will not be easy changing the deep-seated perception that women are inferior, dependent and dispensable, resulting in a culture of disregard for women in Indian society. But it does not mean that change is implausible. Time is needed to eradicate the perception. But with the push towards the right direction and a lot of effort directed, this task might just be achievable. What is needed, is an organized approach from the Government and law enforcement agencies of the country focussed in the right direction that would rest only with the liberation of women from all forms of evil.

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