Women empowerment: The eternal back-burner

Reading time: 6-7 minutes

“A woman is human.

She is not better, wiser, stronger, more intelligent, more creative, or more responsible than a man.

Likewise, she is never less.

Equality is a given.

A woman is human.”

-Vera Nazarian

Remember the old fable of “The Blind Men and The Elephant”.  The story goes like this. It was six men of Indostan to learning much inclined, who went to see the Elephant (though all of them were blind), that each by observation might satisfy his mind.  One exclaimed it was very like a wall, and the others said spear, snake, tree, fan, rope etc., Though each was partly in the right, and yet all were in the wrong.

Feminism and women empowerment are much like the fable of The Blind Men and The Elephant. Rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean, and prate about women empowerment yet none of them see the concept as a whole.

What is the state of feminism today?

If the purpose of a word is to be the messenger of meaning, there can be no word more laden with a preconceived notion and unconsidered opinion than feminism. And unlike a coin, it has more than two sides. Even though much has been achieved in the past decades there are still social evils and male domination which persist to flood which has fueled to what feminism is today. When society screamed feminism, even people who believed in gender equality steered clear of it merely due to its incomprehensiveness and the fact it is laden with varied and different definitions on what it stands by.

When questioned whether or not feminism is understood, the weight of this answer leans to the left as not. “Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes” is what the Oxford Dictionary enumerates Feminism to be. But to the thoughts of certain segments of the public, there is much more to it.

What it simply indicates is that it’s a movement to achieve equality where women are deprived of it. However, it does not restrain itself to the constraints of this definition, for some go to the extremities and destroy the very meaning it tries to achieve. To simply put it in perspective, Guardian writer Julie Bindel voiced that she advocated for women holding absolute power and sending all men to concentration camps.

This is certainly not what feminism supports, what this focuses on is female supremacy and not on achieving equality. This is what is assumed to be feminism by some. It is not about dominion and annihilation of men. What simply began as to voice to get right to property, equal working conditions and vote has evolved to more.

Further ideologies were infused, and it has resulted to a point where people think if one identifies themselves as feminist that they are bound to hate men. To follow it does not mean that one has to cut off all ties with men, leave their father, husband and sons and lead a solitary life fighting for rights. Feminism is not about opposing marriage or motherhood. But it fights against where women have little to say about who they are marrying or when they are forced to abort a female child or to keep procreating due to pressure.

It has created a label that men cannot be feminist, as the society will view them not manly enough as they support a woman’s cause. Due to being afraid of such black lash they don’t come forward and support, instead, they hold their voice, terrified of becoming an outcast. While others think advocating women rights inadvertently means to give up their own rights.

Society considers people who fight for their rights as a threat, mere speaking is enough to assume they pose as a danger. Rebecca West eloquently quoted “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” These misconceptions are what curbs the growth of feminism to achieve gender equality in its purest sense.

How can we understand the modern mindset?

Be it stated, dignity as the quintessential quality of a personality and a human frame always desires to live in the mansion of dignity for it is a highly cherished value.

When the word of the hour is Women empowerment, the meaning of what they believe goes astray once they assume that it is about matching with men’s world whether it is right or wrong. “What men do we also do the same, it does not matter whether the act is to be followed or wrong to be stopped in general.” Empowerment is a positive term, it is to liberate women from the chains that confine them, it’s a sign of growth to a society which achieves thus. It’s done in mind that constructive development is achieved.

However, if women seek empowerment under the expectation that it is about justifying their actions on the fact that men do it, not considering the essence of the act, then that is not empowerment. What this leads to is a herd mentality, simply following like sheep without thinking, deprived of reasoning with a false satisfaction of being empowered.

This, in fact, should not be a basis for progress to be defined as. It does not matter whether men do it or not, because women are not to be reflections of them, a wrong done should be condemned and not be copied to deliver a message of equality. What we strive to achieve is our basic rights which were denied eons ago due to gender differentiation. This is not a movement about matching with the men’s world. Nevertheless, this is the vision that the young have. What we lack is a clear understanding that a wrong is a wrong even if a stronger person commits it. Neither does it justify the action, nor should it give a thought of committing it.

Women empowerment in India?

The welfare of the people is the ultimate goal of the Constitution. Social justice is a comprehensive form to remove social imbalance by law harmonizing the rival claims or interests of different groups and/or sections in the social structure or individuals by means of which alone it would be possible to build a welfare state.

A plethora of judgements from the apex court strives to instill that there will be no greater achievement than succeeding to accomplish gender equality in the country. The Hon’ble Supreme Court again observed that gender discrimination is unacceptable to any society in the following words: “It would not be an exaggeration to say that a society that does not respect its women cannot be treated to be civilized”.

But has India taken genuine steps to achieve women empowerment? An affirmative step taken in this realm is the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments. The reservation of seats in the panchayat and municipalities are provided under Articles 243(d) and 243(t). Women are required to participate more in the democratic system in the grass root level, it allows them to be involved in the decision-making system.

The Government has also addressed the issue by integrating all women’s programs under the National Empowerment Women’s Mission. It is to support the economic strength of girls and women through skill development, microfinance, vocational training and entrepreneurship.

In 2001 the National Policy on women’s Empowerment was adopted to focus on women’s progress, development and empowerment. Are these schemes effective is the end question. The condition of women has still not changed, according to sources about 10,000 women in Bhopal, Indore among few are forced live on footpath and begging, the government has not sanctioned shelter homes which were to be done under the Nirbhaya project.

There are little girls who are picking garbage instead of donning a school uniform, are they not considered to be educated under the Sarva Sakshtra Abhiyan. While the Social Justice Department declare that the women begging before temples or elsewhere do not come under the ambit of their schemes, the politicians on the other hand make empty but glamorous promises. This clearly represents why these grand at first schemes are adopted, what begins as an assured promise to help women is just an under-hand technique used to lure in votes and to increase their popularity.

In conclusion…

For true development to be achieved, the words used as swords or shields should be clearly understood. Feminism is not narrowed down to women, it lets boys learn ballet and play with dolls, it will support if men want to cry. Gender doesn’t matter, it’s a fight against how the society has dictated us on gendered standards.

Feminism is not conferring special rights to women, it is only about the simple equality. Our unwillingness to question the pre-existing system is why we have not advanced. Woman empowerment is to promote growth and the wellbeing of women in all fields, it is not achieved when one becomes the president of the country but when women all over the world are free to walk, to talk without any fear. This is what we need to strive for and achieve.

India today can only wistfully dream this to be a reality. A woman has to be regarded as an equal partner in the life of a man. It has to be borne in mind that she has also the equal role in the society i.e. thinking, participating and leadership.

-This article is brought to you in collaboration with Vaishnavi from Sastra Deemed to be University, Tamil Nahu.

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