Will greater political rights alone improve the plight of women? That’s the question at hand. The keyword here is “alone”. Hence, my answer is a firm no. The plight of women need to be addressed from several different perspectives: socially, economically, religiously, and education-wise, among several other angles.
Not just women, but all marginalised sections of society must be allowed to voice out their struggles while people pay attention, and must be given the power to raise them up in all these standards, not just in politics. Politics and legislation most certainly help, but they can only go so far.
Greater political rights is just a small step in the gigantic procedure we must go through as a country for women’s empowerment. It is most certainly a step, one of the first few steps. However, on no account is it the final leap or the only step.
Alone, it doesn’t have the power to improve the plight of women. But in the end, whatever we do, we must work fast to unload the heavy burden off the backs of our women. It is imperative to improve the condition of women in our country as soon as possible.
Current Condition of Women
Women have been the victims of deplorable crimes since the beginning of time, or at least since when we can remember. They have also borne the brunt of repugnant customs, vices and traditions for many years together. They are not permitted to live a quality life, on the basis of socio-cultural practices as well as age-old traditions.
Two of the most heinous customs that are followed are Sati and female infanticide. Sati was the practice that widows followed, wherein they threw themselves into the funeral pyre of their husbands. Thankfully, Sati was abolished in 1829. It is, however, still practised in remote areas of our country, despite having been banned.
Female infanticide is the deliberate killing of new born female children. In countries with a history of female infanticide, the modern practice of sex-selective abortion is often discussed as a closely related issue. Female infanticide is a major cause of concern in several nations such as China and India.
We often hear of cases where baby girls have been dumped in public trashcans, where they were left to be gnawed at by rats or eaten up by ants. Or instead, sometimes, they are administered an overdose of drugs, especially opium.
These practices are mostly observed in rural areas. However, there is no shortage of crime against women in even the metropolitan cities such as Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. On the roads, trains, colleges, any public space in short, we observe eve-teasing, leering and sometimes even groping of young girls.
Then there is the dowry system still in practice, as if the bride is a burden that must be sold off to become someone else’s problem. When in reality, that burden is actually a diamond that multitasks and miraculously manages everything. We also know about the prostitution and female trafficking that occurs on a large scale.
They are denied both equality and education. They are compelled to follow malpractices such as forced child marriage, polygamy, Triple Talaq, etc. Probably the most sickening fact of these crimes is that the criminal almost always goes scot-free, without facing the slightest punishment. The women have to bear the consequences and shame of the criminal’s actions.
And when asked why they don’t speak up in retaliation, the ready-made answer is usually either shame or fear. But the real reason is that they do voice it out. It is just that no one care enough or bothers to listen. The murder of an Indian girl is a symbol of a culture that will not let women flourish.
India is on the path of modernisation. If on one hand, the gross domestic product (GDP) rate is growing, then on the other hand the problems of women including acid attacks, rape, dowry deaths, honour killing, trafficking and others have increased at a steady rate.
Women – the Equal Sex
Jawaharlal Nehru once said, “You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women.” Going by this statement, India should be under ruins! The media no longer reports even one fourth of the brutality that women go through on a daily basis, yet the small part that they do report is often gruesome enough to make us pale.
Women are often referred to as the “Weaker Sex”. I truly wonder where this title came from though, unless it is based solely on physical strength. Muscular strength is in no way equivalent to mental capacity. In either case, there is no clear dominator, winner or loser. In certain fields, men come up first, whereas women dominate the other.
So I do not understand the theory behind weaker and stronger sexes. Nor is it reasonable that women are undermined in decision making, or that their roles shrink in front of men.
The Vedic ancestors realised the woman’s status. In Vedic times women had equal stand and opinion. The Goddesses were as much praised as the Gods. In fact, the oldest traceable civilisation in Indian History was the Indus- Saraswati civilization, who worshipped Goddess Maitridevi, also known as Shakti.
The Political Rights of Women
The breakdown of law and order due to the increasing corruption can only mean that the difficulty of things are going to increase, especially for women in India. Realistically, women have just begun to raise their voices, but tragically, the people are no ready to listen yet.
At present, only 6 percent of the seats of the Indian parliament are reserved for women. There are persistent barriers to the entrance of women into positions of decision-making and equitable participation remains a not thought of challenge.
This is not, however, the state of affairs in all countries. In Thailand, women are the primary contributors to the country’s economic growth.
The Thai Government is working to reverse the feminization of poverty, and is embarking on strategies to improve women’s education, health and empowerment. Overall, its efforts are aimed to both protect the rights of, and promote opportunities for, women throughout the economic and social development process.
The problem is that even genuinely well-meaning policies barely even scratch the surface. The real issues of literacy, health, maternal mortality, empowerment and security are often lost in the rhetoric.
Changes to Be Made
The most important change to be made is in the education of women. As several studies reveal, women are much more unlikely to be illiterate than men and girls have much less access to schooling than boys. On the other hand, it has been generally found that the returns to educating women are higher than those of men; hence the adage, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate the nation.”
Education can enhance the career mobility in a woman’s life. She can stand for her rights and can get recognized for her economic contribution. She can fight to get the freedom in the various spheres of life. The repression will no longer be the reality of her life.
Another important thing is to become financially independent. Economic freedom is a must for all women of today. Women should not be restricted to food preparation and household duties alone. She has every right to speak her mind on the various matters involved including the financial issues.
They should also have access to the resources available to men. These resources can make her life as she won’t be dependent on her parents or husband to start up with her work. She can move ahead with her financial goals without any dependence.
The government should come up with special facilities like better infrastructure, health care facilities and child care facilities for women. Organisation is an essential tool for women to gain confidence, increase their representation and acquire a voice in local, national and international employment policy making.
Last, but definitely not the least, women should become more mobile and approach the concerned authorities to get her rights. The legal framework provides plenty of rights to women. The problem is that the women themselves don’t know of these rights, and are helplessly unaware.
The time is here when she has to stand up for herself and reject the ill-treatment given by the society. It is her life and therefore she must do whatever it takes to solve her grievances and make her life more fulfilled.
What this country really needs is more women to understand their individualism and worth, and to rule their destiny while more men must respect the women’s potential.
Women in political power cannot change social behaviour. It is something that grows back in every individual. A woman can still decide to stay back and care for her family full time but she should get that respect, that liberation she deserves.
In the present society, some women are working and contributing equally in financial terms. However, even the educated women take up the entire responsibility of their family along with their work solely upon themselves. She should ask for sharing of responsibilities in household chores.
Men should become equal partners when it comes to taking care of the household tasks. This includes the upbringing of children and providing them with the quality time.
Accept it or deny it, change is required in our country, change that comes from within. Let us change as individuals, as a community and as a country. Not simply to help ourselves and our country grow, but because women are also people. They are not simply someone’s sisters, daughters, wives or mothers. They are someone.