What is meant by the term “Women Empowerment”?
It means a process in which women drift away from the stereotype roles set for them, and establish an independent status and personality of their own in the society. Itempowers women with the ability of decision making in every aspect of their life. They are no more restricted to domestic work, and have the complete access to the opportunities of life. This increases their potential and capabilities as they are provided with opportunities without any restrictions and limitations.It is considered as one of the best social transformation in Indian society as well as in other parts of the world. It took ages for various classes of women to uplift their social status and position in a male dominated society, where women are always considered inferior to men. The key to social change is through empowering the women. It is very much seen that women have always been deprived of an equal status in terms of social and economic opportunity.However, on taking everything into consideration it is seen women constitute an important part of the society and without it, overall development is not possible. Women empowerment is one of the prerequisites and fundamental for development of the society as women constitute 50% that is half of the population.
Position of Women in Ancient and Middle age
Position of women since the ancient time waslittle better and acceptable however in the middle age their status became very restrictive and unsatisfactory. In the ancient time, women were associated as Devadasi or Devaradiyar in this tradition women were treated as servant of god, given in marriage to god and were given respect and dignity.It was the Muslim Conquest in the Medieval period that led to a deteriorating condition of women. The social taboos suppressed and controlled the roles that women performed in society. They were considered only to do domestic work and played roles of a mother, daughter and sister.Females were never given the position of an earning member of the family; males always made the earnings as well as the financial decisions with regard to it. Women empowerment removes gender discrimination, and both females and males can be a source of income. The stereotype mindset never accepted women equal to men. Women empowerment ensures utilization of equal rights ensured by the constitution of India, in having an equal social status in the society, whether it is in workplace or in educational opportunities.
Crimes and ill practices faced by women
There were a number of ill practices towards women which were exclusive and only prevalent in our Indian society. One of these practices was the sati system in which widowed women of Hindu communities either by themselves or by use of force, due to age old traditions and customs commit suicide. In Sati system the widow is burned to death on her husband’s funeral pyre.This was considered as a devotion and sacrifice for death of husband.Another cruel and inhuman practice faced by women is Honour killing. This is practised in certain parts of India such as Haryana, Rajasthan, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Girls were usually murdered by their own family members if they have brought any kind of dishonour or shame. This decision is supported by local villagers and neighbouring villages. One more crime against women is Marital Rape, at first it was ignored and not given much importance by law. But in recent years there has been criminalization of marital rape. Women of our society has also been a victim of domestic violence also referred as intimate partner violence (IPV).Apart from this, there is an age old traditional custom wherein dowry is given on marriage to the spouse and his family. It is often seen that the spouse or his family is dissatisfied with the amount or incapability of give more dowry, they burn their brides. Dowry deaths were very common in every caste and class in our society, to prevent it legislative measures have been taken.
Initiatives to empower Women
Women has been recognised as one most of the most disadvantaged and deprived groups of the society, this include specially those women who are uneducated and unaware of their basic rights. Women and girls are said to constitute a weaker section in the society. A lot of initiatives for empowering and uplifting status of women have been taken. Women are empowered in legal, political, economic and social aspects. One of the initiatives seen in recent years are the Women Self Help groups also known as SHGs.In these members work on all the problems which affect and supress their lives, whether it is a political or social or economic issue. They are against ill-treatment of women, domestic violence, child labour and marrying girls at young age, trafficking of women and children. It is through these women self-help groups that a lot of child marriages have been reduced in urban and rural areas as well. Also, women groups have targeted the social exploitative practices which are prevalent in certain rural areas of India, one of these practices is the Jogini System or the temple concubine system. A lot of women are exploited in this for many years, women groups try to rehabilitate and eradicate this social practice from our community.
Constitutional Provisions for Women
However, Indian constitution has made a number of reservations in educational, profession, employment opportunities for an overall upliftment of women and gender equality. It is these provisions which provide protection and equivalence to women in a male dominated nation.There are a lot of constitutional privileges given by constitution of India to the women and girls of our society. These are fundamental rights embedded in part III of the constitution including Article 14, Article 15 and Article 16. These constitutional provisions ensure positive discrimination or protective discriminationtowards women to equalize and counterbalance all the types of disadvantages faced by women since ages.One of the most fundamental and significant constitutional provision is Article 14 Equality before Law for women its basis is gender equality. No gender would be dominant on the other. To promote equality and eliminate any type of discrimination in the society the state ensures “no discrimination on the basis on religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”Article 15 clause 3 of the Indian Constitution is an exclusive provision in the interest of women and children. Before the evolution of Constitution there was no employment opportunities for women but later on constitutional provisions ensured Article 16 that is equal opportunity of employment to both men and women. This is also applicable in case of appointment to any office.There have been many instances where both men and women work as labourers but are not given the same amount of wages. Women are usually hired at less wages. To remove such gender discrimination constitution ensures “Equal pay for equal work” under Article 39 clause (d). Another constitutional provision inserted considering the women is proper and just conditions of work and provision of maternity leaves under Article 42.As women constitute a part of weaker section of the society and for the betterment of these sections under Article 46 of the Indian Constitution protection is provided to women against any kind of social injustice or any type of exploitation.Apart from these common provisions for gender justice and equality. The constitution makes certain reservations under Article 243 for girls and women so that they can achieve a high and dignified status in the society and be equal to the men of our nation.One third is the ratio out of the total number of seats in every panchayat reserved for women, this reserved ratio includes the women of Scheduled caste and scheduled tribe as well. This reservation is provided under Article 243 D clause 3. Under Article 243 D clause 4 it is stated that in case of offices of chairpersons in panchayat at each level, one third of the total seats are reserved for women.Under article 243 T clause 3, One third is the ratio out of the total number of seats in every Municipality reserved for women, this reserved ratio includes the women of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe as well. In municipality, these seats are issued by rotation to different constituencies.
Other Legislative Measures for Women
Apart from these constitutional provisions the state has ensured certain legal provisions as well in order to protect and validate the constitutional mandate. A women reservation bill was passed in 2008 for reserving 33% that is one third of the seats of Lower House of Parliament of Indiafor women, this bill was introduced in order to enhance and encourage women’s participation and employment opportunities.These legislative measures are ensured by the state to protect specially working women from any kind of violence and exploitation. Beside the common crimes such as murder, robbery etc there are other serious crimes against women which are prevalent in our society and in order to control and avoid such crimes, proper punishment and penalty in enshrined under Indian penal code. One of most unacceptable crime against women is rape and its provision is stated under Section 376 of Indian Penal Code. There are other crimes against women such as kidnapping and abduction for different purposes section 363 to sec 373., and dowry deaths, homicide for dowry, any kind of assault, molestation, domestic violence, sexual harassment. Apart from Indian penal code there are other special laws to protect and safeguard the interest of women. Since ages women and girls are exploited due to old traditions and beliefs whether it is in regard to religion or marriage. To secure women special laws has been enacted by the state. There are various acts to stop violence such as Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, The prohibition of child marriage, 2006, Commission of sati (Prevention) Act,1987 and one of the most important is the protection of women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.Also, in past few years, a lot of acts relating to proper marriage and its registration had been enacted by the state. In this way women are no longer physically and mentally exploited by men and their family members. The principle is formation of uniform laws for all and proper provisions are given for divorce and maintenance as well. Some of the legislative acts relating to marriage are the special Marriage Act,1954, The Hindu marriage Act, 1955, The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, The Family Court Act, 1956. In respect to employment services and conditions, separate laws have been enacted for women such as the maternity benefit act, 1961, the employees state insurance act,1948, Equal Renumeration Act,1976.
Special schemes for the welfare of Women
Certain special initiatives have been taken for the betterment of women.One of the major steps was the foundation of a statutory body known as the National Commission for women in January 1992 under the National Commission for Women Act,1990. Its main objective is the redressal of grievances and provide recommendations on all matters affecting women. It suggests legislative measures and amendments whenever needed. Also review all the legislative measures relating to women and send reports to the central government. It takes initiatives to uplift the socio-economic conditions of women.Another initiative was reservation made for women in local self-government through the 73rd constitutional amendment.One of the recent welfare schemes for women and girls initiated by the government is the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Yojna. It started on 22nd of January in the year 2015. This scheme addresses two crucial problems one is the declining Child sex ratio and otherisilliteracy among girls of India. There are not given equal education as that of boys, and this gender biasness is eliminated under the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Yojna. Its basic aim is the survival of girl child and protection of the same, and completely eliminate the practice of female infanticide. The rate of female infanticide was the highest in Haryana and northern regions, this scheme was started from Panipat Haryana. This initiative is known as Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme launched in the interests of working women. In this aid and support is given to NGOs for running creches. It is to help those working mothers, who are out for their work and don’t have anyone to rely for care of their young ones. In the daytime the creches are open and take care of babies and young children.Another policy is the National Policy for the empowerment of women, 2001. It is for the betterment, advancement and development of the condition of women.There are some organisations to help women fight the threats and evils of the society. These organizations also carry out awareness campaigns. These organisations help women to become socially and financially self-reliant and independent. They provide emotional support and metal assistance to the rape victims or victim of physical violence or sexual violence. They aim at providing psychological counselling and rehabilitation to the victims.One such organisation is the Azad Foundation which was started in May 2008, and till now it is established in many cities of India to help all those women who are a victim of abusive relationships and violence by their husbands. Women continue to stay in such unhealthy relationship due to financial dependency and lack of funds.
Judgments which raised the position of Women
Apart from the schemes and legislative measures there are certain judgements which completely changed the position and condition of women and empowered them to fight against the evils of society. Instant triple talaq Bill, in the year of 2017 there was a lot of debate on the matter of instant triple talaq in the Muslim community. It is through this a lot of men ill-treatedand exploited women and took the advantage of this instant triple talaq. It was considered if the spouse says talaq (meaning divorce) three times to the wife, they are instantly divorced.Recently, it was stated that divorce solely on the basis of instant triple talaq would be considered void and illegal according to the Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Marriage Ordinance of 2019. The abandoning of wife by their spouse in this way was clearly considered unconstitutional.In 2017 another landmark decision was made in the Ram Rahim Case; in this he was accused of rape and sexual assault and justice triumphed and conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim was made and he was sentenced with 20 years of imprisonment.It can be seen that women are being empowered day by day and justice is given to them against all the crimes. This can be reflected in one of the landmark cases that is the “Nirbhaya Case” in this the supreme court convicted the Nirbhaya’s rapists and death sentence was given to them.Also, there has been certain judgements passed by the courts with proved to be a turning point for all the women of the society. Since many years’ women have been victim of many crimes, one such brutal crime is throwing acid. There are a huge number of acid attack victims, and this crime was at a very high rate in India. One such victim was Laxmi who took a major step towards this in 2006. In case of Laxmi vs Union of India, she gave a petition to initiate measures for control and supervise sale of acid and in addition to this provide reasonable compensation to the victim. After this ruling was made of restricting the sale of acid and given after valid identity proof and reason as well. Also, sale of acid to a person below 18 years of age is illegal.In recent years, there has been a lot of landmark judgements which have protected and uplifted the condition of women, and assured proper human rights to them in India.
Position of Women in other countries
Other than India, there are some countries which support and promote women empowerment. One of these is New Zealand here there is very less difference or negligible gender pay gap as compared to other countries of the world.Employment services are provided however there is always some amount of gender inequality in offices, workplace etc.New Zealand is regarded as the best country in handling the problem of pay differences and income disparity between men and women. Other countries such as Belgium, Norway, Spain, Denmark are also working upon this issue.With respect to political aspect of empowering women. Iceland is considered as having the most politically powerful women. It has been seen that women are usually dominant at parliament and politics; the ratio of politically strong women is quite low as compared to men in a lot of countries. One of example of this is India. However, Iceland is observed as a country in which a very high percentage of women are involved in parliament, politics etc. In a gender gap report, it was found out women constitute 44% of the ministers of Iceland. It is not just in the parliament but also women have made a rapid growth in politics. In Finland there are about 63% of politicians.Sweden is considered as one of the best countries according to Nine Thousand Swedish women as it includes the principle of gender equality. According to a report, on the basis of Sweden’s government efforts it is among the top countries for women.In addition to this, USA is said to be one of the best and ideal country for women entrepreneurs. Usually men are associated with the field of business and finance but USA gives a lot of scope to the women to break the social norms of being only restricted to law, education, health etc and promote them in science and technology as well. USA has eliminated a lot of stereotypes which stopped women to move ahead from men and succeed in the society. Although it is still working and making efforts for the interest of women.
Women in modern times, have gained high status and position in the society. With reservations in almost every field and profession women have made a significant name of their own. In the recent years it is evident that women are equally eligible and responsible to hold the positions as that of prime minister, president, speaker of Lok Sabha, union ministers, governors etc. Now, it is noticed that women are empowered and have the freedom to participate in the aspects of education, politics and literature and service sector.
 Suttee by James Atkinson, 1831, in the India Office Collection of the British Library (c) British Library Board 2009
 Article 15 clause 3 of Indian Constitution
Dr. J.N. Pandey, Constitutional Law of India: Right to Equality, Central Law Agency, Fifty third Edition,2016
 Article 15 clause 1 and 2 of Indian Constitution
 108th Constitutional Amendment,2008
 Criminal Manual, Indian Penal Code, Universal Law Publishing,2018