Radha R Ashrit
According to the most recent report by the United Nations, “Women and girls comprise half of the world’s population and, as a result, also half of its potential.” As a result, the development of any nation is directly proportional to the development of the women and girls living in that nation. Women were valued by society in ancient Indian culture, and society at the time considered women to be Janani, which means mother and worshipped women as Devi, which means goddess.
The subject of women’s empowerment in India is both complicated and continuing. In spite of the fact that women have made considerable strides in various disciplines, such as education, politics, and business, gender inequality and discrimination continue to be pervasive issues in many aspects of Indian culture. Frequently, the problems are deeply rooted in society’s cultural and socioeconomic norms.
Articles 14 through 16 of the Indian constitution, which mandated equal rights for men and women and went into force on January 26, 1950, have been in place since the country became independent. Smt. Indira Gandhi became the first female head of state in a modern nation in India in 1966, following in the footsteps of Smt. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka held that position in 1960.
Providing women with permanent commissions in the armed services and increasing the length of maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks foster an atmosphere conducive to social and economic empowerment and establish an enabling environment
The patriarchal ideology that permeates Indian society manifests itself through culture, customs, rituals, and power dynamics inside households to perpetuate gender inequity. Just 18% of families in India are led by a woman, while men head most households in India.
Women’s empowerment indicators such as participation in household decisions (from 64.5% to 72.5%), usage of bank accounts in their name (from 64.5% to 72.5%), and owning of mobile phones (from 66.6% to 74%) have shown greater progress over the past five years, according to the most recent national Family Health Survey 5 (NFHS-2019-21). Research has shown that women’s education, economic position, health status, and safety are strong predictors of women’s empowerment.
Focus areas of Women’s Empowerment in past years
In India, there has been a significant focus on women’s empowerment in the following important areas:
Between 2015-16 and 2019-21, there was a rise in the average household’s degree of educational attainment. The median number of years that females have spent in school has increased from 4.4 years in the NHFS-4 (2015-16) survey to 4.9 years in the NHFS-5 survey (2019-21). During the same period, the percentage of girls who did not complete secondary school fell from 31% to 28% of the total female population.
When students are between 6 and 14, there is no difference between the school attendance rates for males (94%) and girls (93%). However, when students are between the ages of 15 and 17, males are more likely than females to attend school (72% versus 68%). 1.4% of men and 0.9% of women aged 15 and older are classified as having some kind of handicap, but the likelihood of having a disability is slightly higher among men.
The mother and the child’s life and well-being need access to medical treatment during pregnancy, delivery, and the postpartum period after birth. The percentage of women in India between the ages of 15 and 49 who received ANC increased from 84 per cent in the NFHS-4 (2015-16) survey to 94 per cent in the NFHS-5 survey (2019-2021).
The percentage of births in hospitals or other medical facilities has skyrocketed recently, climbing from 39 per cent in 2005–2006 to 79 per cent in 2015–2016 and 89 per cent in 2019–21. Marrying off children too young is a major contributor to high birth rates and poor mother and infant health in females. In the past five years, advancements have also been made. The same thing may be inferred from the decline from 27% to 23% in the proportion of women aged 20-24 who tied the knot before reaching the age of majority.
There has been an increase across the country in households with access to improved drinking water and electricity sources, which are indicators of improved quality of life. The number of households that have sanitary facilities that have been upgraded has also increased. Similarly, the percentage of homes nationwide that cook with clean fuel has also climbed over the past several years.
Women with higher levels of education and economic position are less likely to be victims of physical or sexual assault in the home than other women. The same group of ladies does seek assistance to safeguard their safety.
India’s government has implemented many new policies and reforms in recent years to advance the cause of gender equality and the economic independence of all women and girls. To empower women financially, some key initiatives include creating Jan Dhan accounts for 22 crore women and providing them with low-interest loans under the Mudra Yojana. The Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao initiative was launched with the purpose of empowering women via the medium of education.
The goal of achieving universal access to fair, affordable, and high-quality healthcare services that are responsible and responsive to the requirements of the population is the primary focus of the National Health Mission. Providing women with permanent commissions in the armed services and increasing the length of maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks foster an atmosphere conducive to social and economic empowerment and establish an enabling environment. Laws that are intended to prevent rape are also being made more stringent.
In addition, the Ujjwala programme, the Swadhar Greh programme, and the Mahila Shakti Kendra are some significant examples of the policies and programmes implemented by the central government to combat the issues that women in general face. These are some of the significant examples of the policies and programmes that have been implemented. To guarantee women’s overarching empowerment in the country, the government, the business community, non-profits, and the general public must all work together. A collective behavioural change is also necessary through jan andolan and jan bhagidhari.
The views expressed are personal.
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About the Author
Radha Ashrit, Director, Development Monitoring & Evaluation Office, NITI Aayog.