Since the older times, women have been treated as second rate citizens of all across the globe. The situation is almost the same everywhere-irrespective of the developed country or the developing country-caste, community, colour or creed a position which is comparable in many ways, with that of racial minorities. Women have been relegated to secondary position despite the fact that they numerically constitute about half the world population today.
This situation has caused immense loss to their self-dignity as human beings and also their independent entities, associated with men, apart from other matter, in context with intellectual and professional capability.
In the very beginning of civilization, women enjoyed a respectable position in society-at par with men. They actively participated in social, religious affairs as well as in warfare. The social, religious ceremonies were considered incomplete unless women participated in them. However, it was their physical constitution which acted as hurdles on the way to doing their various different difficult tasks.
Gradually, they became dependent on men for food, protection for their other necessities. It was due to the strong built-up of men they risked their lives in course of hunting and food collection. It is really ironical that superiority is not accorded to the fair sex who are responsible for carrying forward lives on this planet but to men who have muscle power with the help of which they can subjugate others.
Later, woman became the epitome of procreation, and was very often associated and identified with Earth, which supported lives with all her resources. This thought inspired in men a feeling of respect and regard which was reflected in their worship of women as goddesses. Despite this elevated position that she enjoyed, and are still enjoying in the form of being worshipped as goddesses Durga, Kali, Lakshami, Saraswati, etc. However, a woman is fated to be subjected, owned, and exploited like the very nature, whose magical fertility she embodies.
During the course of social development, the position of women also changed. When society was formed, patriarchy was established. Gradually, males became dominant in society. They were to write the codes for all times and obviously women were given a subordinate position. A prominent feature of hegemonic ideologies is the projection of the dominant viewpoint as universally true.
Patriarchy, as an ideological assumption, works on the same principle. And, yet, even in ages of strict dominance by males, society has thrown up women of calibre, who could match, even surpass, the skills of men. They made great progress in various fields of life and gained significant achievements as teachers, doctors, engineers, scientists, explorers, soldiers and pilots. This achievement is really plausible because they have been achieved in a highly adverse situation and at the cost of severe social criticism, indeed even ostracism.
The need for women’s empowerment arises from the subordinate position they have been accorded for a long time. The empowerment has been felt as a tool to bring about changes in their socio-economic condition. It has been felt on the part of nation as well as individual that no society can progress till women, a major constituent of society, lag behind.
Empowerment of women needs to begin with her participation in different spheres of life. Education is a great determinant in this regard. To achieve empowerment women have to be educated to be aware of their rights and privileges in a modern society. It is education which can bring about awareness in them related to their social status, injustice and differentiation meted out to them. Besides, economic independence is a major factor which can contribute in empowering women. India in the very beginning realised this need.
The architect of Indian Constitution was of the opinion that unless and until women are empowered, nothing was going to bring about any change in their destiny. At that time, the women, in the name of sansakaras were tied up with the bondage of superstitions, which they had to carry till the last breath of their lives. They were considered just a matter of joy and a source of amusement. She was, according the Hindu Shashtra, the bonded slave of her father when she was young, to her husband when she was middle-aged and to her son when a mother. Of course, all the epigrams, aphorisms, proverbs, platitudes and truism have been naked truth about the stature of women in India.
It does not mean that efforts have not been made to bring dignity in the life of women. There has been a long tradition of social reforms by our saints and social reformers which include: Raja Rammohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Mahadev Govind Ranade, and Jyotiba Phule, to name a few, who tried their best to bring changes in the life of women.
Their efforts, however, bore fruit to some extent, but did not make too much difference to the lots of the masses.
In this direction, Dr. Ambedkar tried to break down the barriers in the way of advancement of women in India. He laid down the foundation of concrete and sincere efforts by codifying the Common Civil Code for the Hindus and the principle is capable of extension to other sections of the Indian society. Besides, he also made provision in the Constitution to ensure a dignified social status to women. He, by codifying Hindu Law in respect of marriage, divorce and succession rationalised and restored the dignity of women.
In addition to this, the Sharda Act is also worth mentioning. It has set the seal of authority upon the piece of social reforms, which the heads of orthodoxy were imposing and impending. The Hindu Code Bill, which covers issues such as right to property, order of succession to property, maintenance, marriage, divorce, adoption, minority and guardianship, constitutes part of social engineering via law. Needless to say, it was a revolutionary measure.
It was really a first step towards the recognition and empowerment of women in India. This gives a woman right to property, which undoubtedly strengthens her social position.
Despite all these political measures, women’s empowerment remains a distant dream in India. In fact, political empowerment is a key to development in this society. It is a must for an all- around development of women. It is the need of the hour to ensure her participation in the decision-making at home, in community and at the national level. It is for the fulfillment of this need that the Women’s Reservation Bill was introduced in the Parliament by the BJP Government. But since then, ruling parties changed in power but the Bill could not see the light of the day.
The political parties do not seem to be honest in their perspectives. But before political empowerment, we must concentrate on imparting social education because without academic and social education, the political empowerment has failed to bring desired result as we have seen in case of 33 per cent reservation in local bodies ensured by the historic 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments. The uneducated women are quite unaware of their rights and privileges and are therefore subject to exploitation at the hands of government machinery, as well by family members.
Therefore, our efforts should be directed towards the all- around development of each and every section of Indian women, not confining the benefit to a particular section of women in society, by giving them their due share. It is a must to protect their chastity, modesty and dignity and ensure their dignified position in society. Without removing social stigma, enduring progress and development could not be achieved. For this, the governmental and non-governmental organisations including media should come forward and play an active role in creating awareness in society.
The task is not too difficult to achieve. The honesty and sincerity on the part of those involved is a must. If the lots of women change, definitely it will have a positive impact on society. Hence, the women’s empowerment is the need of the hour.