Women’s empowerment, as the term per se, has been hammering the Indian minds from the days of our struggle for freedom. Not to rule out that there have been initiatives during all stages of Indian history to establish the deserving position of women in the society, but changes gained velocity during (and after) the War of Independence from the British. The movement is mostly remembered for the likes of Sarojini Naidu, Gandhi, and Raja Ram Mohan Roy. That is the history. Besides the history, the culture makes India one of the few countries where a woman is worshiped in various forms and stages. Since Independence, there have been widespread discussions of the issues related to women such as dowry, female infanticide, foeticide, sex ratio, and female illiteracy. It has been artistically captured in a recent movie Matrubhoomi (2003), which shows the future of several districts of India if our culture does not improve.
It has been widely acknowledged that the problem is also severe whether in states which are economically developed like Punjab and Haryana, in states which have a high female literacy like Tamil Nadu, or in states which have cultural practices unsuitable to a mother and child safety like Rajasthan. In such a case, it is no surprise that a sitting woman MLA from Bihar, a state which has quite low female literacy rate, suffers from domestic violence (Lawyers Club India, 2010). Now, what is the direction of the movement of women’s empowerment? Do people kill the girl child primarily because of dowry or poverty or illiteracy? These are the popular reasons advocated by most people, but the position of women is no better even in the societies of reverse dowry (some tribal pockets of Rajasthan and Orissa) and relatively not-so-poor and literate communities like Tamil Nadu (Aravamudan, 2001). People have innovative mechanisms to kill a girl child. Some girls die in the womb; others die soon after birth, and those who survive may die due to malnutrition. Additionally, a high current maternal mortality rate of 407 means over 0.13 million mothers die every year at the time of delivery—one mother every five minutes (Indian Express, 2006).
Unfortunately, while most leaders of the movement for women’s empowerment will take no time to jump into discussions over women’s empowerment, they are whirlpooled in so many discussions that they hardly have time to do much work on the ground. The real problems lie under the blanket. Today, for most of such “activists”, the only aim is a 33 percent reservation in as many horizons as possible. I doubt if that is the most important thing they need to focus on. Is 33 percent reservation or representation a valuable indicator of women’s empowerment? One of my female colleague once said that it is the domestic violence against men that is the true indicator for women’s empowerment. A recent study conducted in Turkey and published in the Indian Journal of Social Work highlights that domestic violence against women is reduced in case of educated as well as employed women and educated but unemployed men. However, the realities are not so promising in India. The problems of anaemia, low birth weight, malnutrition, IMR, MMR, rape, and domestic violence are not exclusive to India, but the issues of child marriage, sex-selective foeticide, dowry, and “honour killing” are much more pronounced in India than elsewhere. As a mistake, the real indicators of women empowerment such as anaemia, malnutrition, and female illiteracy are given little attention.
Thus, girls are killed for varied reasons but they are not killed for money, not for honour, and not for pleasure. They are killed because they are weak—physically, socially, and sometimes, economically. When I asked a villager in Madurai about women’s empowerment, he innocently said that it is a mix of a woman’s education and her ability to earn. Strength is derived from knowledge, income, health, and authority. It is time that we think in these specific terms of strength that can combat the weakness. These are the factors determining the strength of a woman and are thus the relevant indicators of women’s empowerment. Let us not measure it in terms of “violence against men” and percent reservation, but rather, work to improve the knowledge, income, and health of the women around us. Those who are looking for a marriage, say no to dowry, and say yes to a girl child.
Kunj Bihari Pratap, PDM 10
- Aravamudan, G. (2001). Born to die. Retrieved December 25 from http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/oct/24spec.htm
- Indian Express. (2006). UNICEF: India slips on MMR, unlikely to meet 2015 target. Retrieved December 25 from http://www.indianexpress.com/news/unicef-india-slips-on-mmr-unlikely-to-meet/19195/
- Lawyers Club India. (2010). Bihar woman MLA beaten by husband. Retrieved December 25 from http://www.lawyersclubindia.com/forum/Bihar-woman-Ruling-Party-MLA-beaten-by-husband-28656.asp
- Matrubhoomi: A nation without women. (2003). Retrieved December 25 from http://www.planetbollywood.com/displayReview.php?id=041406045817 and http://funatoz.com/movie_review/Matrubhoomi