India Still Has to Cover a Long Distance to Ensure Women Empowerment, Social Activist Says

© AP Photo / Aijaz RahiAn Indian woman holds a placard as she participates in a march to mark International Women's Day in Bengaluru, India, Sunday, March 6, 2022.
An Indian woman holds a placard as she participates in a march to mark International Women's Day in Bengaluru, India, Sunday, March 6, 2022.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.03.2022
Celebrated on 8 March, the International Women’s Day has always aimed to raise awareness about gender equality and recognise women's accomplishments since 1975. Every year a theme related to contemporary events, trends and struggles is given for the occasion. This year, it is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”.
International Women’s Day reflects a call for a gender-equal world, which is free of biases, stereotypes, and discrimination. And one that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive where the differences are valued and celebrated.
Honouring the achievements of women in India, Sputnik talked to Ranjana Kumari, Director of the Centre for Social Research, and chairwoman of Women Power Connect.
In the interview, Kumari deliberates about the issues and challenges faced by women, how effective the government’s initiatives have been in tackling those challenges, and how much women's empowerment has actually happened. She also suggests what it may take to empower women in a society like India, which is considered male-dominated.
Sputnik: As we celebrate International Women’s Day this year, what challenges do you think women are still facing in a country like India?
Ranjana Kumari: Most of the challenges come from cultural and religious traditions. Many things including the laws are justified in the name of religion and they are mostly against women. So, I think the biggest challenges as of now are the customary practices that have been codified as law. Along with this, we have personal laws as well, according to religion.
So, I strongly feel that we have to do away with all those laws so that women can also have their democratic rights.
The second major challenge is the absence of women on leadership positions. I see this as a challenge because even if we want to change things, it becomes difficult.
Sputnik: A lot of initiatives have been made by the federal government to empower women in the country. Do you think these initiatives are enough for women’s empowerment?
Ranjana Kumari: When we say a lot of initiatives, I think most of these are in some or the other form trying to give a certain kind of dole to women. This is not really encouraging empowerment. It is the methodology adopted within the patriarchal framework that women are weak so give them something, whereas the need of the hour is to enable them.
For example, it is better to impart skill training to women rather than giving any kind of monetary assistance. However, when we look at the skill development programmes of the country, not many women are joining them. There are not many startups (founded) by women. Yes, I agree that women entrepreneurship has grown over the years but they have to be given better credit facilities, marketing linkages and other things.
So, when we say a lot of initiatives, I feel there’s a limitation to all these programmes as they don’t really break free from the patriarchal framework where they are not trying to really empower women.
By enabling women, I mean to say that we have to encourage women in education. Pandemic has pushed a lot of women, especially girl children out of education. So, we have to ensure that we have to get all the girl children back in school. Then we should really ensure that women are given the skills.
Along with this, we have seen that due to the pandemic almost 12 percent of women have fallen out of employment. So, we need to ensure that the participation of women in the job market has to be increased.
The government should ensure that they (the women) get back to their jobs. This could be done by encouraging the corporate sector to employ more women while also hiring more women in the government sector too.
Sputnik: What do you think is real women’s empowerment?
Ranjana Kumari: The real definition of women empowerment is that when women are able to make decisions about themselves and their family and when they get all the rights as citizens of the country governed by the Constitution.
So, a woman should be able to make decisions for herself at both levels – as a citizen of a nation and also as an individual in a family.
However, as of now in our society, the decisions for women are taken by someone else at every step like what they must wear, where they must go, what they should study, whom they should marry and many others. The role of women in all these decisions is very limited.
Apart from this, nobody is making an assessment about the care economy which is taken care of by the women.
By care economy, I mean raising the children, educating them, taking care of the elderly in the home, providing support to the husband and male members of the family. Nobody really counts all that.
Unless we recognise the role of women as homemakers, we are only doing cosmetic changes and not really working towards women empowerment.
So, as long as all this is not there it's very difficult to say that Indian women are empowered. I am not a pessimist to say that nothing is happening. But we still have to cover a long distance to ensure women empowerment.
Sputnik: Despite so many efforts to improve the gender gap, there are still significant inequalities. What are the possible solutions to improve this?
Ranjana Kumari: We were making good progress before the pandemic covering the gender gap in terms of birth of girl children. A lot of sex selection centres, hospitals and doctors were really brought to books. But after the pandemic, the (law enforcement) agencies have not acted upon these things.
In fact, the PC-PNDT (Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) board which used to meet regularly has not met for almost two or two-and-a-half years now, not even virtually.
So, we need to put back the system in place to not lose the gains that we made in terms of bridging the gender gap.
Apart from this, we will actually get to know what is happening in terms of gender gap after the 2021 Census comes out.
The Centre for Social Research has implemented programme in five districts of Haryana state where we are working with the local authorities to ensure that the law about determining the sex before birth is strictly implemented.
Sputnik: The federal government launched the “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” (“Save the Girl Child, Educate the Girl Child”) scheme to generate awareness and improve the efficiency of welfare services intended for girls. Do you think the scheme is functioning in the right direction?
Ranjana Kumari: The scheme started with great enthusiasm but then in between it got derailed. We need to put it back on track to get proper results.
As a nodal agency for Haryana, we have seen a lot of lax in terms of implementing the laws. The centres, which are doing sex determination, are mushrooming again.
The reason behind this is that technology has become much advance and now you don’t need big machines to determine the sex of the foetus. Now a very small device is needed and this technology is reaching people’s homes. So, unless all these things are corrected we can’t expect better results.
Apart from this, we also need to change the public mindset and this can’t be done by the government alone.
The government agencies have to join hands with civil society organisations, schools, colleges, Panchayati Raj (local village council) representatives, Asha workers (healthcare workers working in villages) and others. So, a multi-stakeholder approach has to be adopted.
It also has to be ensured that the law enforcement agencies act and stop those centres, and punish the people involved in illegal activities.
Sputnik: What message would you like to give to the women on the occasion of International Women's Day?
Ranjana Kumari: I think it's an important day in our lives as women. We need to recognise our strength, and also that we have to resolve that we should not tolerate any form of injustice and violence.
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