Women Empowerment

Whither women empowerment?

We live in an unjust world where equality of the sexes is as distant as the stars in the firmament. However, a few recent developments seem to augur well in an otherwise cul-de-sac scenario.

The National Women Legislators’ Conference was held in Thiruvananthapuram recently in connection with Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. It is rather surprising that such a conclave of women legislators was held in the country for the first time in 75 years. Is it not indicative of the utter neglect of our oft-repeated aim of women’s participation in matters of governance?

President Sri Ram Nath Kovind hailed the role of women in our freedom movement, in the drafting of the Constitution and the remarkable contribution of women in battling the Covid-19 pandemic. He emphasised how the healthcare workers from Kerala set an example of selfless service to the whole nation. He recalled how the Constituent Assembly had 15 women among them, including three from Kerala. The first woman judge of the Supreme Court of India M Fatima Beevi also hailed from Kerala. He made these references to Kerala’s women achievers, obviously because this first-ever Conference was held in Kerala.

Less than 200 women were present at the Conference. That is not surprising because there are only 418 women legislators in the entire country. Out of 4,896 legislators, only 418 are women, a meagre 9 per cent (source: ECI data). What does this show?

Reservation of 33 per cent for women in parliament and assembly is still being talked about ad nauseum, with no serious intent to translate it into action. Indeed a sad state of affairs!

Some good news too trickled in lately. Geetanjali Shree has won the International Booker Prize for her Hindi novel “Tomb of Sand”, a first for a book in an Indian language. The top three ranks in the UPSC Civil Services Exam have gone to women. An Indian-American economist, Gita Gopinath became the First Woman Chief Economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Of course, we have had women in positions like prime minister, president, chief ministers, and even Judges in the Supreme Court. Notwithstanding all these evidences of women’s capabilities, we are still reluctant to provide them a fair chance in leadership and governance.

Social change is possible only when women enter the political scene in a big way. Political power is needed to change the world and women should be fairly and adequately represented.

Hillary Clinton said this most unequivocally: “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.” How true! There is disparity even in the wages of men and women for the same kind of work, globally. For every dollar a man earns, on average a woman is paid 54 cents. Based on today’s rate of progress, it will take 202 years for this gap to close, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). A significant amount of household work is disproportionally distributed. Globally, women spend three times as much time as men for unpaid work associated with household chores (WEF).

Even conceding that women have certain inherent disadvantages in relation to certain jobs requiring muscle power, they compensate substantially in professions like nursing and teaching with their high emotional quotient

Our patriarchal mind-set just refuses to accept the equality of women. Tradition has created stereotypes for the two genders, and religion has further deepened the same. Those who adhere to tradition and religious orthodoxy blindly believe and profess that women are the weaker sex. They will never allow women to become gurus, swamis, priests or moulvis, as it stands today.

What’s needed is a change of heart. Men should understand that women have the same mental strength, intellectual faculties, manual skills etc as them. Nature has endowed both men and women with several complementary faculties to live together. One is incomplete without the other. They are interdependent and inseparable.

Women are indeed the crown of creation. They are the beauty of the world. Without them, this world would be bleak and barren. There have been 58 women Nobel Laureates so far. No mean achievement! There would have been many more, had the world been more equitable.

We live in a world where the novelist George Eliot had to publish with a male pseudonym to camouflage her identity as Mary Anne Evans. She was afraid that she would be rejected otherwise. She authored several novels including Adam Bede, Silas Marner and The Mill on the Floss. Whoever knows how many gifted women have hidden behind the prejudicial blanket of male chauvinism!

Women empowerment shall not remain an empty slogan, but become a viable reality. Men have to shed their egos and accept the fact that women have the same abilities as they have, but that they have been long subjugated by male domination and an unjust hegemonic social order.

It’s time they unshackle themselves and assert their true worth and genius. When that happens, the world will change dramatically for the better, ushering in a society that is truly progressive, egalitarian and modern.

(The writer is Director, Little Rock, Brahmavar, Udupi)