“Women Empowerment” is a government slogan. There is a ministry for Women and Child development. There are laws against female foeticide, domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace. Determined women are carving their own niche in every field including those which were entirely male dominated till 1947. Despite all this they remain second class citizens in almost every sense in rural areas across India.
Crime against women continues to increase, female foeticide is very common among educated women, incidents of sati still take place. The head of the family continues to be a man. The story does not end here. In fact what underlines the inferior status conferred upon woman is their status in the field of politics. Throughout the world women face obstacles to their participation in politics. In 2005, the rate of female representation was only 16% globally. This figure has increased in recent years.
The largest democracy in the world India elected its first woman president in its 60th year of independence. Many prominent women played a leading role in the freedom movement. The important place assigned to women in India dates back to the time of the Vedas and Smritis. During the Vedic age the position of women in society was very high and they were regarded as equal partners with men in all respects. Who had not heard of Maitri, Gargi, Sati Annusuya and Sita?
Rani laxmi bai, begum hazrat mahal, sarojini naidu, vijaya laxmi pandit, sucheta kriplani, kasturba Gandhi, aruna asaf ali and many others constitute the Womanhood of India who in the hour of peril for the motherland forsook the shelter of their homes and with unfailing courage and endurance stood shoulder to shoulder with their menfolk, in the frontline of India’s national army to share with them the sacrifices and triumphs of the struggle The majority of women in the Indian Parliament are from the elite class.
While their public role challenges some stereotypes, their class position often allows them a far greater range of options than are available to poorer women. Caste has been an important feature of Indian society and political life. Through the Panchayat Raj Instituition over million of women have actively entered the politics. Some of the notable women leaders in india include. Sushma Swaraj, She was elected as a member of Rajya Sabha in 1990. she was the first woman Chief Minister of Delhi Mayawati first won for the Lok Sabha elections in 1989 from Bijnor.
She is current Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Mamta banerjee In 1984, she became one of India’s youngest parliamentarians ever, beating veteran Communist statesman Somnath Chatterjee, for the Jadavpur seat in West Bengal. She was also the General-Secretary of the All India Youth Congress. In 1993 one of the most important step for the empowerment of women and increasing their participation in decision making was taken by reserving 33% seats for women in panchayat raj institutions. This paved the way for election of around one million at the village, block and district level.
By now most states with a few exceptions like Bihar have completed at least one five year term. What has been the experience of around 7 to 8 lakh women during their first tenure? What lessons can be learnt for the future from this experience? GIVEN THE CHANCE , THEY EXCEL we should look at several other examples in which women got an opportunity to play an independent role. In such situations time and again, we see them making remarkable achievements for development of their village and quite often resisting the presence of vested interests with a lot of grit and determination. THEY BRING NEW PERSPECTIVES t is quite clear that when conducive conditions exist for women to play a leading and active role in the decision making of the village, the entire village community benefits. This increased participation of women is often associated with better utilisation of financial resources, increased harmony in village and prioritisation of some important but neglected aspects of development such as girls’ education and sanitation. Social reform measures such as reduction in alcohol consumption and domestic violence clearly get more prominence when women come to the forefront in rural communities.
Corruption has been one of the main problems of panchayat raj institutions. Interviews in several villages confirm that when women representatives function in an independent way, possibilities for corruption are lesser SELF RELIANCE As Rehana, a social worker of Sultanpur says, “Women are known to use money very carefully at home and somehow manage the family budget even when income is low. Women show the same abilities when they manage the village funds. ” Her colleague adds, “When men are in-charge of development works, they indulge in a lot of wasteful spending in inaugurations and completion ceremonies.
Women know how to be frugal and concentrate on the real work. ” Women representatives have shown the capacity to increase the panchayat income to make the development work more self-reliant. Women are generally known to have a greater capacity for resolving disputes The rise of Indian women as panchayat leaders is a spectacular achievement given that India has one of the worst records with respect to the way it treats the female sex. Malnourished, suppressed, uneducated, violated and discriminated against, Indian women have the odds stacked against them.
Even birth is a hurdle, thanks to widespread female infanticide in rural areas. But for every Saroja who will be married at 13 because her mother, a devadasi (prostitute) in Chikanahalli Village, Karnataka, cannot afford to pay a dowry, there is a Lakshmi, who is serving her second-term as the panchayat leader of Kadinamala village in Kotagiri district. An illiterate Dalit, Kenchamma could not read or write. Perhaps as a result of her personal travails, she made sure that she brought education to all the children in her village, including a disabled child.
Ask these women about political reform, and their answers reflect concerns that every women and mother can relate to. They focus on three things: healthcare, education, and the funds to make these two things happen. Kenchamma, a trained midwife, established health camps to improve awareness among the villagers. She also knew from personal experience that, often, it is the mothers who neglect their health the most. Panchayat women leaders have been especially active in bringing education to their villages even though they are frequently held hostage by caste politics and quotas.
Rural education is a quagmire of poor policies that nobody in government seems to have the will to change. Women panchayat leaders talk about building separate bathrooms for girls, which studies have shown will reduce the number of female drop-outs after puberty. They bring safe drinking water to their students. All these are not just palliatives, but are necessary developments in rural education. WOMENS RESERVATION BILL While the Indian constitution is one of the most progressive in the world and guarantees equal rights for men and women, Indian women have always waited anxiously for their equal dreams to be translated into reality.
The women reservation bill will reserve the 33 percent seats in Parliament and state legislatures for the females. The bill will provide Reservation for women at each level of legislative decision-making, starting with the Lok Sabha, down to state and local legislatures. If the Bill is passed, one-third of the total available seats would be reserved for women in national, state, or local governments. And this number will be 181 . The Bill seeks to reserve for women 181 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha and 1,370 out of a total of 4,109 seats in the 28 State Assemblies.
Women have less than 10 percent representation in India’s parliament even though they make up 44 percent of the voting population. The women’s reservation Bill was finally passed in the Rajya Sabha with 186 members voting for it and only one voting against it The passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha has brought forward some interesting scenarios for the Indian polity. This struggle for political rights by women’s groups has been the longest in the history of independent India as the proposed constitution amendment bill had been deferred several times by successive governments since 1996.
The opposition to the bill is coming from the conservative and orthodox forces of ‘ghunghat’ and ‘hijab’ because the women are still subjugated to remain within the ‘purdah’ (veil). These forces represented by fundamentalist men are not used to accepting women at par, questioning, arguing or participating in any kind of discourse. The most vocal opponent of the bill is the other backward classes (OBC) leadership of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Ironically, these are the most backward states of the country in terms of gender equality.
It is evident from the OBC opposition, especially the ‘Yadav trio’, that they have not given opportunity to their women. Besides changing the face of politics, the womens reservation bill is bound to alter the gender dynamics of Indian society gradually. ‘It’s a well-known fact that women are not considered or treated equally with their male counterparts, especially in the rural landscape; so this bill will give them the opportunity and the exposure