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Women of India - unite to break the shackles

By: K Parthasarathi
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n political parties are formed to protect and secure the interests of different classes of people, why not one to champion the womens causes? Imagine the sea change it would bring about in the country.It has the numbers on its side

If more than fifty percent of population comprising of women have not obtained their rightful share and empowerment in social, political and cultural spheres, it speaks very poorly of the country. What the growing women’s movement seeks is not a gratis or a favour but a legitimate right. If the SC, ST and backward classes demand reservation on the basis of percentage of their population on the plea that they have been oppressed and suppressed, it applies with greater force in the case of women. Sadly this movement is sporadic, not wide spread and limited to the educated class amongst women and mostly in urban areas. It has not made any dent in the rural areas where the plight of women is at its worst. The attitude of men by and large remains still attuned to the medieval era where women were looked upon as objects of pleasure and as a social device to cook, wash, take care of the parents and children and also earn money to supplement the income. She was treated as a beast of burden and is still so in the interior villages. In some states they do arduous work as much as men folk do at much lower wages and take care of the additional family responsibilities too.

The awareness to their inalienable right of equality with men and what it can do to change their lives is not extensive. The equality we talk about is not confined to social sphere but extends to political, economic, educational areas too with a larger participation consistent with the size of their population. A few sops here and there would not help much. As a first step it is only their political empowerment that would usher the desired changes in innumerable areas where there is presently gender discrimination and inequality. The opening of white and blue collared jobs reserved for men till now to a few educated womenfolk does not signify things have been set right.

It is rather depressing to note that India despite all the glittering growth in the recent times we talk about ranks at the bottom of about hundred odd nations in the gender gap index as revealed by World Economic Forum. Indian women figure unfavorably in several parameters like literacy, mortality, child mortality, jobs, and comparable wages with men, sex ratio, post and prenatal care and their place in society. It would be naïve to expect men to bring about the much needed changes on their own. The key lies only in their political empowerment where they would have an equal say if not more in guiding their destinies.

The promise to bring about a Women’s representation would ever remain a promise unless pressure is brought upon the political class. Even if the bill is introduced in the current session of the Parliament, its discussion and passage is beset with many difficulties. Whether there would be an increase in the total number of constituencies to accommodate the addition and if not which constituencies out of the existing are to be earmarked and which parties are holding those seats currently and the relative strength of major parties, whether there will be a quota for the backward classes within this addition meant for women are all questions that would defy easy solution.

What would be the basis for earmarking women’s constituencies, urban or rural is another snag. The simpler alternative of stipulating the parties to nominate women for at least one third of the constituencies as a mandatory measure may not ensure that one third of the houses would be women unless the constituencies are identified and reserved. The existing male representatives who have been nursing these places would not easily agree to give up. Fighting an election is a difficult job involving hard work and needs lot of personal money.As of now only the rich men can fight an election.

Are their women with such resources outside the families of the existing legislators to stand for election? This should not become a political farce with wives and daughters of the existing political class replacing the men. Even then the presence of large number of women legislators would bring greater sensitivity to the women’s issues. The women’s groups should be vigilant to ensure that the male dominated legislature does not bring about a half hearted measure and pressure should be mounted from now on what kind of changes is needed. We hardly see any such effort from them in this regard.

This political empowerment of women alone would transform the society from its patriarchal nature to one of gender neutral social order. We should strive for an order when the women are able to feel that all laws of the country are equal and that they enjoy all the options that men have. The traditional way of looking upon man as the head of the family and a wage earner with a subordinate role for the woman as a home maker and care taker of children should yield to an equitable relationship. There should be equal representation of women in all institutions, offices of government and private establishments. While the percentage of girls up to school level is almost equal to those of boys if not more, surprisingly the ratio drops down significantly at college and at higher levels of learning especially when the girls outperform the boys in the school examinations.

Why is there very low percentage of women in seats of higher learning like Business schools, Engineering colleges and civil services? What are the difficulties in their way of progressing side by side with male students given their academic competence? Equal presence in the educational institutions at all levels is the first prerequisite towards empowerment and economic independence. What are the existing social and financial barriers that prevent this happening? Why not reserve seats in institutes of higher learning too for women? There should be a peremptory change in the way we look at women in our familial, social and official spheres.

Women’s movement should not be content only with dowry deaths, domestic violence against women, immoral traffic, female feticide and such like matters but should transcend to the vital areas like the way society looks upon women. This movement should spread across the entire country in every nook and corner to tap their hidden strength. Sadly the women’s movement is isolated to small pockets of influential women and is not representative in character of the wider cross section. People perceive that they do not speak for all the women including the poor, working class and the destitute. The composition of the movement should be inclusive of all strata of society, all religions, literate and illiterate and all income groups. They can enlist the support of willing men too to organize and spread the message. This should be strictly an apolitical mass movement and with the kind of voting power they have they can easily bring about the desired changes.

Even if there is agreement for greater presence of women in the legislatures in the near future, women should not allow the divisive forces of party politics to enter their movement. Where women’s issues are concerned, they should speak in one voice cutting across all party affiliations as otherwise the movement would suffer. A united approach alone can bring about a sea change in the perception of the society towards women, greater gender equality, and total absence of discrimination in educational and employment opportunities. When political parties are formed to protect and secure the interests of different classes of people, why not one to champion the womens causes? Imagine the sea change it would bring about in the country.It has the numbers on its side.

Successful women should cherish the values of the movement and work towards its goal and not be content with their personal attainments. The long entrenched vested interests will not give in easily for the sweeping changes to come about. It is a long drawn process for which an aggressive, affirmative and sustained action is called for.

K Parthasarathi

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