Who is an Empowered Woman?
by Jyotirmoy Jishnu
When we look into the history of Women’s Empowerment, we can see that with the coming of medieval times, the status of women gradually deteriorated and patriarchy started to root deep in Indian society.
So now in the 21st century, while we sit down in the comforts of our homes, we ask ourselves, “Who Is An Empowered Woman?” We often find ourselves standing on two boats that sail in two opposite directions. Firstly, since we are discussing empowered women, we can say that some women from the society broke the chains of patriarchy and rose to higher positions, which were closed for centuries. Secondly, this implies that not all women in the society are empowered which means that as a society we failed.
One word that is so closely connected to the process of women’s empowerment is – Feminism. I remember Angela Davis- an American woman whose fight for her right to teach resulted in the second wave of feminism. Now that was a society of the 1970s where women had to fight for their rights and even after five decades, women are still struggling to take the movement to its ultimate goals.
The idea of women's empowerment is subjective and different for everyone. Most people still believe that “allowing” women to function signifies women's empowerment. For many people, “allowing” women to go out, wear what they want, eat whatever they want, do whatever job they like, and so on means women’s empowerment. It is very common to hear men referring to themselves as feminists when they “allow” the women of their houses and give them choices to do what men of their house generally do. Therefore, until people give up this idea of “allowing” and restructure this kind of social consciousness, women would not be truly empowered. But what does even women empowerment mean? It is not bestowing women with muscular power but guiding them to achieve their natural rights and helping them to fight against all the obstacles they face in the path of their growth.
How does one get to know that he or she is powerful? In the late 1950s, the Indian Constitution defenestrated gender inequality. Despite legally abolishing gender discrimination, we can still see many shreds of evidence where men prosper and women do not. Here, society plays an important part in establishing gender roles. According to the GOI Census report of 2011, only 64.8% of men and 53.7% of women are literate, which means that not many women know about their legal and political rights. The lack of education declines women’s empowerment and society strengthens such a gender gap. Men who support patriarchy are empowered with such belief because they have been socialized in that way by their parents and relatives. Men are given all the important roles as they are given more liberty whereas women are forbidden from performing some tasks. Thus, while legally empowering women is important, it is also necessary to change the socialization process through good parenting.
Then comes the “caste” issue. The problem of gender inequality in India is intertwined with the caste system. The women from the socially established “lower class” face more social issues than the men of the same class. It is because people believe in the fact that women are by default weaker than men and thus women are not allowed to conduct tasks. Thus, ‘class’ is a pan-world demarcation that puts another stamp of discrimination upon women. To make things little more clear, let us take an example that would explain the intersectional nature of gender discrimination.
Following the table, we can evidence how various factors affect the social standing of women (A-H). This chart represents the social standing of Indian women in which ‘A’ is the most vulnerable while ‘H’ is comparatively privileged. Along with these basic markers of discrimination, there is also religion, sexuality, body size, shape, etc., that play a complicated role in slowing down the process of women’s empowerment.
Today, when we try to locate the image of an empowered woman, we tend to look up to only women with successful jobs. In reality, empowered women are those who have the freedom to make their own decisions. A woman may choose to be a homemaker and still be considered empowered if she is not suppressed or exploited by society.
I believe that Michelle Obama (American Attorney and Former First Lady of United States) is as empowered as Kanaklata Baruah (Freedom Fighter) and Aaideu Sandikoi (Actress). Though “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” represents women's empowerment, it is useless until a social consciousness is formed against female infanticide and female foeticide. We need women to take birth to empower them. So what is the most need of hour is “Sabko Padhao, Sabko Bachao”. This is how everyone would understand the situation at hand, and equality with equity would be established in the society.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ytharth.
Jyotirmoy Jishnu is a history graduate from Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi. He has a keen interest in the contemporary social issues and how past has colored it differently. He is currently a Gandhi Fellow and is working for Piramal Foundation in its projects of NITI Aayog in 112 Aspirational Districts of India.