Patriarchal societies have often instigated women to remain confined to their families. Under the legal and customary subjection of their husbands or other male family members, it was also prevalent in the pre-independent period. On the contrary, women enjoyed more rights and freedom in the Vedic period compared to medieval and British times. During pre-Gandhian times gender inequality and gender violence were all pervasive. Women were regarded as the root cause of all evil and responsible for the downfall of men. But in the 21st century women’s empowerment has become one of the most critical concerns and various steps are being taken to work in the same direction such as the implementation of the women’s reservation bill as a law, implementation of various schemes such as Beti Padhao Beti Bachao to promote women empowerment, incentives like Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, scholarships to meritorious female students, etc.
Status of Women’s Education in India
Women comprise nearly half of the country’s population. However during pre-independence times, a large amount of inequality existed in terms of social, economic, and political inequality, and social discrimination based on gender was prevalent as a result women were not allowed to receive education as their male counterparts. To raise his voice against this Gandhiji believed that lack of education and information was the root cause of all the evils against women. He also said, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate an entire family.”
To promote education among women Ghandiji promoted basic education as the pattern of national education with the distinctive feature that it makes productive work and is the main basis of the whole educative process. He also stressed providing education to mothers, so that they could provide education to children effectively and the development of the nation depends upon women.
According to the census 2011, the literacy rate in the country was 82.14 for males and 65.46 for females highlighting a large amount of inequality and widespread variation in women’s social status. To look into this menace several incentives like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, gender-responsive policies, and several campaigns to promote girls’ education were taken up but still, there is bleak light and this issue needs to be dealt with urgency along the lines of Sustainable Development Goal 4 to promote quality education and ensure women-centric development.
Women’s Political Stance during Independence
Gandhiji acted as a protagonist in drawing large women to the mainstream of the freedom movement. Moreover, he considered women as a potential force in the struggle to build a new social order. He delved into the realms of society to promote the issue of women’s freedom and strength to build a humane and exploitation-free society. Gandhi often said, “ It is good to swim in waters of tradition, but to sink in them is suicide.”He uplifted the women’s political stance by taking them along with him to break the salt law as well as depicting them as the main characters during the Swadeshi movement. To support this he worked to change the psychology of various women as well as various stereotypes attached to it by promoting the epitomes of Sita and Draupadi and encouraging women to be independent and fearless.
After India attained independence, its Constitution guaranteed equal status for men and women in all political, social, and economic spheres. Part III of the Constitution guarantees the fundamental rights of men and women and India is considered as one of the most resilient democracies in the world but a truly representative democracy seeks adequate representation of women in politics. After the 73rd and 74th Amendments in the constitution, women were guaranteed 1/3rd reserved seats in the local institutions, and currently, the passage of the women’s reservation bill also seeks to provide 1/3rd say to women political leaders in national politics.
Several steps have been taken to bring women to the upstream of society recently the minimum age for marriage of women has been raised to 21 years from 18 years, and daughters have been conferred with the equal status of a coparcener in Hindu families, providing them inheritance rights. But women’s participation in various domains such as defense, police, science, and bureaucracy remains at a low They act as a torch bearer to bring more women-friendly legislations and laws to bring women out of the centuries’ centuries-conservative customs and rules.
Gandhi’s views on Women’s Social Status
The perception of the self is a matter of conditioning. He was pivotal in the improvement of uplifting rural women’s subordination in society and became a symbol of peace in times of extreme discrimination. He was against social practices of sati, child marriage, oppression of widows, ‘purdah’, the dowry system, etc. He took various steps to abolish the practice of child marriage as he believed that men and women should be capable of making their own decisions with maturity. To cope with these evil social practices he promoted women’s education and stressed creating awareness among women regarding their rights by ensuring their political representation, economic upliftment, property rights, etc. which could help women break the shackles of domesticity.
In the present India, women are breaking all odds by representing the country at international, and national levels. From Kalpana Chawla to Mirabai Chanu women are challenging the sky as their limits. Recently the success of Chandrayaan 3 witnessed the presence of women scientists, The first female tribal President of India is setting an example to the world that India is working along with women to build a better and collective nation. Social practices of sati, dowry, female infanticide, etc. have been abolished. No country can truly develop if half of its population is left Behind so new India is seeking women-led development by providing an equal voice and desired platform to women.
Empowerment of women is a prerequisite for the development of society, as it enhances both the quality and quantity of human resources available for development. Women’s empowerment and achieving gender equality are essential for our society to ensure the sustainable development of the country. But India is currently dangling with several challenges of social evil such as there is the large-scale prevalence of domestic violence, and rape incidents as recently the most devasting case in Manipur, women are considered soft targets of acid attacks, Lakshmi is the true survivor of these, mushrooming incidents of eve teasing, the practice of dowry, unequal treatment to women in the family, etc. Despite several steps taken in this direction, women are not able to live a life full of dignity and freedom. So stringent policies and legislation should be formulated to minimize violence against women and reduce their exploitation.
Moreover, empowerment means creating an atmosphere in which one can make decisions and make choices either individually or collectively for revolution. It is a multi-dimensional process that facilitates individuals or groups of individuals to realize their full identity and powers in all spheres of life. The empowerment of women plays a vital role in solving many social problems and uplifting the status of women in the economic, social, and political fields as they are traditionally underprivileged in society.
As per Gandhian thought, the empowerment of women, without sharing our intellectual, financial, and material resources, is not possible. No social reformer has done as much as Mahatma Gandhi has done to bring out masses of illiterate women from the four walls of their houses. So, in the present era also there is a need to know about the Gandhian efforts for women empowerment. Several policies have been implemented to promote women’s empowerment by regular analysis of those policies so that timely amendments can be ensured and various grassroots initiatives such as Jal Jeevan Mission that ensure a better quality of life for domestic women, recent change in the terminology of various words related to women in the use of legal language, better educational infrastructure, good working environment that is women inclusive needs to be promoted.
Thus we can say that the Gandhi Ji, so far, can be considered the best friend of women in India and the world.
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