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Women Empowerment - Energy to rejuvenate Human Rights

 

Dr. R. Karuppasamy, M.Com., MBA., M.Phil., Ph.D., PLME(IIM) Ahmedabad,

Director - Management studies, SNS College of Technology, Coimbatore, Tamilnadu, India..

 

and

 

Ms. S. Lakshmipriya, MBA, M.Phil,

Assistant professor - Management Science [CA]

Sri Krishna Arts and Science College, Kuniamuthur, Coimbatore, Tamilnadu, India.

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Women constitute almost 50% of the world’s population. As per as their social status is concerned, they are not treated as equal to men in all the places. Empowering may be understood as enabling people, especially women to acquire and possess power resources, in order to make decision on their own or resist decisions that are made by others that affect them. A person may said to be powerful when he/she has control over a large portion of power resources in society. The extent of possession of various resources such as personal wealth, such as land skills, education, information, knowledge, social status, position held, leadership trains, capabilities of mobilization.


FACTS……

 

Of the 1.3 billion people who live in absolute poverty around the globe, 70 percent are women. For these women, poverty doesn’t just mean scarcity and want. It means rights denied, opportunities curtailed and voices silenced. Consider the following:

 

*      Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, according to the United Nations Millennium Campaign to halve world poverty by the year 2015. The overwhelming majority of the labor that sustains life – growing food, cooking, raising children, caring for the elderly, maintaining a house, hauling water – is done by women, and universally this work is accorded low status and no pay. The ceaseless cycle of labor rarely shows up in economic analyses of a society’s production and value.

*      Women earn only 10 percent of the world’s income. Where women work for money, they may be limited to a set of jobs deemed suitable for women – invariably low-pay, low-status positions.

*      Women own less than 1 percent of the world’s property. Where laws or customs prevent women from owning land or other productive assets, from getting loans or credit, or from having the right to inheritance or to own their home, they have no assets to leverage for economic stability and cannot invest in their own or their children’s futures.

*      Women make up two-thirds of the estimated 876 million adults worldwide who cannot read or write; and girls make up 60 percent of the 77 million children not attending primary school. Education is among the most important drivers of human development: women who are educated have fewer children than those who are denied schooling (some studies correlate each additional year of education with a 10 percent drop in fertility). They delay their first pregnancies, have healthier children (each additional year of schooling a woman has is associated with a 5 to 10 percent decline in child deaths, according to the United Nations Population Fund)

 

Around the world, women face significant challenges and obstacles to advancing in society. In many countries, women cannot procure bank credit or own property and have limited access to education.

 

Female political candidates face particular challenges of discrimination and even reprisals for stepping out of traditional gender roles to run for elected office (UN Development Fund for Women, UNIFEM).

 

The Council of Europe has stated that domestic violence is the major cause of death and disability for women aged 16-44. In the area of women's health, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), every minute a woman somewhere in the world dies in pregnancy or childbirth. This adds up to 1,400 women dying each day — an estimated 529,000 each year — from pregnancy-related causes.

 

WOMEN EMPOWERMENT??

 

WOMEN EMPOWERMENT is the ability of women to exercise full control over one’s actions. In the past, women were treated as mere house-makers. They were expected to be bound to the house, while men went out and worked. This division of labour was and is still in a few parts of the country one of the major reason because of which certain evils took birth in our society child marriage, female infanticide, women trafficking.  The government has passed many laws so as to empower the women. These rules have empowered them socially, economically, legally and politically. Not only the government but various non-governmental organisations have done a lot so as to improve the status of woman in our society. Child marriages have also been stopped.

 

It is now widely believed that empowerment of women i.e., providing equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities to women will go a long way in removing the existing gender discrimination. Women empowerment in contemporary Indian society in forms of their work, education, health and media images in the forms of their work, education, health and media images in the context of lineage, rule of residence and household chores, their context of lineage, rule of residence and household chores, their participation in social and political activities, their legal status in terms of marriage, divorce and inheritance of property, seeking wealth care should be taken into consideration. Empowerment in terms of knowledge and awareness of ones own life and society including legal raise their status with regarded to the lives. While empowerment deals with her or his expectation arising out of the situation. Similarly, a role deals with duties and obligations wile empowerment deals with rights. For instance, it is commonly assumed that the most is a woman, a wife a cook, a teacher of her children and daughter-in-law and so on.

 

WOMEN'S RIGHT IN INDIA

 

From time immemorial, the women in this land of ours were treated as a sort of thing. Her placing in the society was not at par with other human being. She has no rights. She cannot move nor do anything at her will. In Hindu Shastras, she has been branded just like animals. From the verses of Ramayan as written by Mr. Tulsi Das, " Dhol, ganwar, shudra, pashu, naari- Ye sab tadan ke adhikari," one may easily draw inferences as to what status has been granted to our mothers. Similarly, we can understand that of Dropadi of Mahabharata was reduced to the status of a bitch, as she was the wife of five husbands (Pandwas). She was not only, the wife of five husbands; she put at stake in gambling by none else than the so called Dharmraj Yudhishthar! In 'Manusmrati' the ancient Hindu Code-book, the status granted to women is quite visible and she was put to the lowest rug of humanity as she was treated at par with the animals and slave by the proprietors of Hindu Dharma. Such was the placement earmarked to our mothers, sisters and even great grand mothers that the heads of humanity bend upon down with shame!

 

That is why Dr. Ambedkar was of the firm opinion that until or unless, by applying dynamite, the Hindu Dharma-shastras are not blown up, nothing is going to happen. In the name sanskaras, the Hindu women are tied up with the bondage of superstitions, which they carry till their death. They are also responsible for inculcating these wrong notions learnt by them through baseless traditions and preaching of the Shastras in the budding minds of their offspring. Otherwise also the women in India have remained a matter of joy and a source of amusement as such she was used and misused by men just to serve their evil ends. She has been used just like a machine for procreation. It has also been mentioned in Hindu Shastras that the woman is the bond slave of her father when she was young, to her husband when she is middle aged and to her son when she is a mother. Of course, all the epigrams, aphorisms, proverbs, platitudes and truisms bear necked truth about the stature of women in India. It does not mean that no efforts have been made in the past to bring dignity to women.

 

As in Europe, Christianity inaugurated the Era of equality, liberty and fraternity by preaching that a prince and pauper are equal in the eyes of God. There is also a very long tradition of social reforms by our saints and other social reformers. But the proprietors of the orthodoxy thwarted these efforts. In the absence of any legal sanction or authority, these efforts could not sustain.

 

In this direction Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has tried to brake 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. Prior to these efforts of Dr. Ambedkar, the destiny of the Indian women depended upon the wrong notions and perceptions chalked out by the proprietors of orthodoxy. The prevailing two schools of Hindu Law viz. 'Mitakshara' and 'Dayabhag, created and sustained inequality. According to 'Mitakshara' the property of a Hindu is not his individual property. It belongs to what is called coparcenary, which consists of father, son, grandsons and great grandsons by reason of birth. The property passed under Mitakshara by survivorship to the members of coparcenary who remain behind, and does not pass to the heirs of the deceased. Whereas Dayabhag recognised the property held by the heir as his personal property with an absolute right to dispose it of either by gift or by will or any other manner that he chooses. The chaotic conditions of the Hindu law were reduced to eat propositions in the form of judicial pronouncements and codification was the legislative recognition of the judge made law. Dr. Ambedkar himself had explained lucidly the reasons for consolidation and codification.  Gender discrimination continues to be an enormous problem within Indian society. Traditional patriarchal norms have relegated women to secondary status within the household and workplace. This drastically affects women's health, financial status, education, and political involvement. Women are commonly married young, quickly become mothers, and are then burdened by stringent domestic and financial responsibilities. They are frequently malnourished since women typically are the last member of a household to eat and the last to receive medical attention. Additionally, only 54 percent of Indian women are literate as compared to 76 percent of men. Women receive little schooling, and suffer from unfair and biased inheritance and divorce laws. These laws prevent women from accumulating substantial financial assets, making it difficult for women to establish their own security and autonomy.

 

In Rajasthan, all of these problems are aggravated by high levels of seasonal migration. For many men in Rajasthan, migration is required since rural parts of Rajasthan often lack a sufficient economy to provide income for a family year-round. Women are commonly left behind to care and provide for the entire household. This is increasingly difficult because it is estimated that an average woman's wage is 30 percent lower than a man's wage working in a similar position. While these mothers work, they must also tend to domestic responsibilities. This formula for supporting Rajasthani families leaves little resource for the growth and development of women's rights and education levels

 

WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN INDIA

 

The empowerment of marginalized women through education, advocacy of rights, and the creation of vocational opportunities is essential to the sustained growth of the women community. The following are some opportunities that can be created for women empowerment.

·         Create village self-help groups in which women independently establish financial institutions that manage profit-making programs.

·         Help a Women's Empowerment Project that provides training for members, holds quarterly meetings, and provides vocational support.

·         Educate the public about women's issues to ensure that local women receive equal opportunities and compensation, while promoting gender sensitivity.

·         Assist an organization's Community Action for Safe Motherhood Program, which provides training and ongoing technical support to NGOs on community-based information and service for adolescents. This program educates women on primary health issues to combat common health problems. They also work to train traditional birth attendants.

·         Assess the success of past women's leadership programs and make suggestions for improvements.

·         Assist projects that focus on mobilizing local women to protect natural resources by controlling farmland development, composting, and preserving water.

·         Establish workshops that introduce microenterprises to those in tribal communities; help provide skills training to increase levels of employment and reduce migration; and empower women to create their own income-generating activities

 

In recent years many steps have been taken so as to increase the participation of women in the political system. The Women's reservation policy bill is however a very sad story as it is repeatedly being scuttled in parliament. Further, there is the Panchayati Raj system, where women have been given representation as a sign of political empowerment. There are many elected women representatives at the village council level. However their power is restricted, as the men wield all authority. Their decisions are often over-ruled by the government machinery.

 

All this shows that the process of gender equality and women's empowerment still has a long way to go and may even have become more difficult in the recent years. Empowerment would become more relevant when women are actually treated as equal to men. This division of labour that a women is supposed to do only household chores and the men are the only one who can earn a living for the family, has to be removed.

 

Further, women should be better educated , better informed – only then can take rational decisions. It is also necessary to sensitise the other sex towards women. It is important to usher changes in the societal attitudes and perceptions with regard to the role of women in different spheres of life. Adjustments have to be made in traditional gender specific performance of tasks.

 

Meanwhile, a woman needs to be physically healthy in order to work equally. This is sadly lacking in a majority of women especially in the rural areas. They have unequal access to basic health resources and lack adequate counselling. The result is an increasing risk of unwanted and early pregnancies, HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases.

 

There is no doubt that the status of women has improved a lot. Evil practices such as the purdah system, child marriage and the like, have not been completely eradicated but have seen a downfall.

 

Thus, a clear vision is needed to remove the obstacles to the path of women's emancipation both from the government and women themselves. Efforts should be directed towards all round development of each and every section of Indian women by giving them their due share.

 

THE 1993 WOMEN REVOLUTION

 

The World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 produced the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, recognising "women's rights as human rights" which was one of the most discussed "new" human rights debates. By the end of the conference 171 governments signed an agreement on various aspects of human rights, and the declaration unequivocally stated:

 

"The human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights. The full and equal participation of women in the political, civil, economic, social and cultural life, at the national, regional and international levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex, are priority objectives of the international community".

 

Now human rights systems provided a way for women to hold governments, communities and international institutions accountable to basic human rights standards. A crucial part of this is the recognition of human rights education and respect of ones rights. The fundamental principles of human rights accorded to each and every person - the entitlement to human dignity - gave women language for recounting violations and impediments to exercise their human rights. The international covenants, agreements and commitments about human rights gave women political credence and a leverage position of reference. In understanding women's rights as human rights this also involves a gendered lens. A human rights perspective needs to recognise the interconnectedness of gender and other aspects of identity such as race, class, religion, age, sexual orientation, culture, refugee, IDPs or migrant status. Discrimination and violence against women are shaped by how gender responds with such circumstances. For example rape of women in war and armed conflict situations has shown that the gender racial/ethnic components of sexual violence in conflict cannot be separated out.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MEASURING WOMEN EMPOWERMENT

 

We propose the following next steps for measuring women’s empowerment:

 

1. Development of a framework of domains or dimensions that can be applied across settings would be the natural next step for building on the strengths of the existing literature on the conceptualization of empowerment. Procedures for determining indicators for each domain, at different levels of aggregation and across contexts, should also be developed. This effort would move the measurement of women’s empowerment agenda forward considerably by allowing for greater specification of exactly what aspect of

Empowerment i.e., which dimension is of interest, and realistic specifications of the type of change that can be expected over a specific period of time, and given specific interventions. It would also move forward efforts to develop context-specific measures that more closely resemble what they are meant to measure and reduce the reliance on proxy measures.

 

2. Better, more coordinated efforts at data collection are needed. For example, the process component of women’s empowerment cannot be effectively captured in any measurement scheme without the availability of data across time. Attention to process also requires a discussion of the appropriate time periods for data collection of various types of indicators. At the aggregate level, a broader range of more sophisticated, gender disaggregated data is needed with regard to the labor force, market conditions, legal and political rights, political and social processes. At the household level, data need to be 36 more frequently collected for important but relatively under-utilized indicators such as time use or violence against women.

 

3. Greater attention to measuring women’s empowerment at meso levels is required along with efforts at documenting the impact of program and policy interventions. For programmatic and policy evaluation, existing models of monitoring and evaluation that are effective need to be tapped, and their adequacy for women’s empowerment as an outcome or intermediary process should be assessed. At a minimum, quasi-experimental evaluation designs and the collection of baseline and endline data must be considered in implementing programs aimed at empowering women. Measurement of institutional and normative change in communities requires new and innovative approaches. One approach to consider is the business school model of case studies. Documentation through narratives which are then analyzed using qualitative techniques would be another option. Exploration of the work on collective action may also provide further guidance. This is clearly an area where a review of lessons learned from related efforts and cross-disciplinary approaches would be helpful.

 

4. Greater interdisciplinary engagement is necessary to develop indicators and approaches that capture the key elements of women’s empowerment, have scientific merit, and have acceptability among important stakeholders. Although at this stage we have drawn only from literature that has been at the core of the discourse on women’s empowerment, it is clear that continued efforts at moving this work forward would benefit from drawing on a wide range of disciplines. Moreover, based on what we reviewed from sociology, demography, economics, and anthropology, it is clear that there is overlap but not much interaction across disciplines. Further interdisciplinary engagement would greatly facilitate the task of translating the current consensus on conceptualization to the actual measurement of women’s empowerment.

 

CONCLUDING PROMOTION OF WOMEN RIGHTS AS HUMAN RIGHTS

 

The promotion of women's rights as human rights was one of the main objectives of this paper in ratification and implementation of the subjects discussed on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women has become an important instrument in empowering women in any region. Even where ratification has been without reservation, implementation has been slow in a number of countries, thereby allowing existing discriminatory practices against women to continue under the sanction of religious principles or cultural and customary values. Given the differences and the degree of sensitivities posed by the cultural and religious particularities of individual countries of sub regions, a rights-based approach to gender equality may provide some common ground which can yield positive results.

 

In recent years, trafficking in women has attracted a great deal of attention. It is now widely seen as one of the worst forms of the violation of women's rights as human rights. It has become a serious problem without borders, affecting countries within Asia as well as other parts of the world. Women have been trafficked for prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation such as sex tourism and pornography, domestic workers, labourers in sweatshops and on construction sites, as beggars and brides. The increasing use of new information technologies, in particular, the Internet, presents a new dimension to the problem faced. Poverty and economic deprivation have also subjected women to trafficking. In many instances, trafficked women are becoming victims of highly organized networks. Women victims in these situations lack legal protection and legal rights. Although reporting on the problem has increased, it is unclear whether this is a reflection of a growing problem or whether it is the result of increased attention to the problem at the national, regional and international levels. Quantitative estimates of the dimensions of the problem are not available as there are almost no reliable estimates, although many countries are beginning to compile information on the problem. The General Assembly, in its resolution 52/98 of 12 December 1997, emphasized the need for more concerted and sustained national, regional and international action over the alarming levels of trafficking in women and girls.

 

Violence against women constitutes another form of gross violation of women's rights as human rights. It has become a grave social problem, requiring urgent attention. Although the problem in the region is not new, it has so far attracted limited social recognition and legal redress owing to the complexities of patriarchal values, traditions, norms and standards. Even laws often discriminate against women and offenders go unpunished. Violence against women takes a variety of forms, including physical, mental and sexual abuse. While many countries in the region are engaged in combating violence against women in cooperation with NGOs and women's organizations, there is a need for more cooperation at the regional and sub regional levels, particularly in those areas which affect women from several countries.

 

References

 

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