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Empowerment of Women: Indian Context
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Empowerment of Women: Indian Context

What is Empowerment?

Empowerment strategies are varied and refer to those strategies which enable women to realize their full potentials. They consist of greater access to knowledge and resources, greater autonomy in decision making, greater ability to plan their lives, greater control over the circumstances that influence their lives and finally factors which would free them from the shackles of custom beliefs and practices. Unless they themselves become conscious of the oppression meted out to them and show initiative to push forward it would not be possible to change their status much. Some of the empowerment mechanisms could be identified as follows:

Literacy and higher education;
Better health care for herself and her children;
Higher age at marriage;
Greater work participation in modernized sector;
Necessary financial and service support for self-employment;
Opportunities for higher positions of power including Governance
Complete knowledge of her rights; and above all
Self - reliance self respect and dignity of being a woman;

Several measures have been introduced to encourage women education. Incentives have been provided for larger enrollment of Girls in schools and higher seats of learning. Reduction in fees, provision of bicycles in rural areas, scholarship, exclusive schools & colleges for girls and many more literacy programs like each one teach one, project approach, continuing education approach are other measures. The % of literacy has risen, more girls are enrolled in technical education, like medicine/ engineering, Management etc. They are proving their merit in competitive examination.

Women have become sensitive to better health care for them and their children. In new Panchayat Raj System (under 73rd amendment ) & in Urban bodies (under 74th amendment) they occupy 33% of the elective seats with decision making powers, which enables them implement; & oversee all such welfare programs.

Early marriage is now a rarity especially in urban area. However inspite of fixing minimum age of marriage for boys & girls, it stills occurs at places. Women organisation actively works to restrict this menace.

Women are working in most of the modern sectors. Some of the sectors are exclusively owned by women, with women in higher management seats.

There are a large number of self help groups exclusively for women. They are managing if with profit. This is giving them confidence.

The opportunities for higher positions of power have increased under Panchayat Raj Institutions & municipal bodies. They have developed confidence in occupying such seats of power and function without the crutches of their male relatives.

All these measures have given tremendous self confidence, respect and dignity of being women.

Gender Planning

Development of gender planning implies taking account of the fact that women and men play different roles especially in the third world and therefore have different needs and provide both the conceptual framework and the methodological tools for incorporating gender into the planning of their socio-economic programs.

The role of Government of India in Women Empowerment

The first few plans followed a welfares approach and treated women as recipients of aid. The first five year plan focused its attention on the problem of high infant and maternal mortality and then undertook steps to develop school feeding schemes for children and creation of nutrition sections in the public health departments and maternity and child health centers. The focus of second plan was on the problems of women workers. Hence policies were initiated for equal pay for equal work, provision of facilities for training to enable women to compete for higher jobs and expansion of opportunities for part time employment. The main thrust of the third plan was the expansion of girls education. On the social welfare side the largest share was provided for expanding rural welfare services and condensed courses of education for adult women. The fourth plan continued to emphasize women's education. The fifth plan gave priority for training of women in need of care and protection, women from low income family's needy women with dependent children and working women.

It is only during the fifth plan a separate Bureau of Women's Welfare and Development (WWD) was set up in 1976 as part of the erstwhile Department of Social Welfare in order to intensity the country-wide efforts launched during the International Year of the Women. The Bureau was entrusted with the major responsibility of implementing the National Plan of Action for Women besides coordinating the activities relating to women's welfare and development.

The sixth plan for the first time in India's planning history contained a separate chapter on Women and Development. To make the International Women's Decade a success it emphasized on three strategies via economic independence, educational advancement and access to health care and family planning. Hence varieties of programmes were taken up under different sectors of development to ameliorate the socio economic status of women. In the rural development sector the IRDP gave priority to women heads of households and about 35% of total number of beneficiaries under TRYSEM was women. A new scheme viz Development of Women and Children (DWCRA) was started in 1982-83 as a pilot project in the blocks of the country. Many voluntary organizations were requested to avail funds from the government for the above schemes and benefit women. Another Program S.G.S.Y. was launched in the Year 1999. Which provided that 50% of S.G.S.Y. groups should be for women? They were provided facilities of loan & subsidy from the Govt. & Banks. Under Science and Technology for Women varieties of activities were taken up. Projects were sponsored for development of smokeless chullahs use of solar cookers setting up of bio-gas plants and devices for improving the water purification system. A number of technology demonstration cum training centers at selected focal points all over the country were set up by the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) to provide expertise and resources to women entrepreneurs.

During the seventh five-year plan an integrated multidisciplinary approach was adopted covering employment education health nutrition application of science and technology and other related aspects in areas of interest to women. It is only during the seventh plan 'Women Development Corporations' were established for promoting employment generating activities for women.

Thus with the beginning of International Women's Decade in 1975 a number of schemes were introduced and earnest efforts were made by the government to improve the status of women. In spite of implementation loopholes theses policies strive their best to integrate women into the mainstream of society. Thus the Department of Women and Child Development being the national machinery for the development of women plays a vital role assisted by the Central Social Welfare Board and the National Institute of Public co-operation and Child Development. While the Central Social Welfare Board is an apex body with state level branches to encourage voluntary effort in the field of women's development NIPCID is an advisory “cum- research “ cum national level training institute in the field of child development with a separate division for women's research and development. In India legislations and programs favoring women had never been wanting. But unfortunately the spirit behind these policies is hardly appreciated by the implementing authorities.

Today, in accordance with the changing role of government, public administration has to deal not only with restructuring the economy but more than over before, with ensuring that growth is accompanied by social justice. Government has to make timely, appropriate and adequate interventions to ensure equitable distribution of the fruits of economic development as this cannot happen on its own in a market-oriented atmosphere. Many voices are heard now, saying that the new structural adjustment program is going to push back already marginalized groups which include poor women; that in opening up economy, we are jeopardizing the lives of women, who are the most vulnerable among the vulnerable. They would be thrown out of existing employment, perhaps into trades which entry of multinationals and increase in tourism might engender, and there would emerge a situation as we see in some of the south-east Asian countries.

These warnings of gloom and doom that await the poor in India, particularly its women, with the onset of liberalization and globalization, need to be met with declaration of government intent to take measures to look after equitable distribution of the fruits of economic growth. While its role in direction, ownership and production will diminish, Government's role must continue to intensively intervene on behalf of the weak and the poor, so as to improve the quality of their lives. It must provide so to say, a cushion for the injustices to or the neglect of, these groups by market forces and by privatization.*

Voluntary Efforts and Women Empowerment in India

In serving the cause of poor and women voluntary organizations are considered to be superior to the government for certain obvious reasons. The members of a voluntary organization are willing to spend time energy and even money for an activity which they think is good. This motivation and commitment make them work more sincerely for the cause when compared to government officials. The above argument does not mean that all voluntary organization are committed and sincere and all government departments are not so. There are exceptions in both. But by and large voluntary organizations are better placed when compared to the government in the dissemination of development efforts as office bearers & other member are emotionally involved with the cause & are not concerned with receipt of Grant in Aid only. The second advantage enjoyed by voluntary organization is flexibility in operations. Revisions and modifications in the light of experience are possible as against Govt. organization which works with fixed predetermined norms. Thus there is feedback and learning through experience. The limited size of operations ensures efficiency and immediate accountability to the target group. Moreover a new society needs a new value system. The voluntary organizations are best suited to carry out this task.

Some NGOs keep the goal of achieving mobility i.e. they assist one particular target group and once the target group 'takes-off' and becomes self reliant the voluntary organizations move on the other groups. Thus they are ever dynamic in socio-spatial terms.

Thus there are heterogeneous groups-some engaged in consistent activity some in sporadic actions the actions themselves ranging from those which providing welfare activities to those which aim at structural change. Though it is true that voluntary organizations have come a long way from mere service providers to development oriented dynamic entities they are not free from criticisms.

There are organizations which were started on a very small scale but grew up to unmanageable size taking up multiple activities to earn national level recognition and fame. Unfortunately many among them have failed to develop second line leadership and thus are slowly fading away. A few have failed to keep their size within manageable limits and hence have become inefficient units grip over their activities.

Institutions building are an important function in which many voluntary organizations have failed miserably. This refers to continuous articulation of the philosophy vision and mission of the organization among the members especially the volunteers. The rules and regulations and the system of functioning should be institutionalized. The democratic character of an institution can be kept up only by institutionalizing the execution strategies and programs. The young knowledgeable educated girls need to come in large numbers & work through voluntary organizations for causes which are adversely hindering the progress of rural women.

It is also true that in the case of external interventionists (the educated elite working among the poor) the volunteers are unable to get rid of their paternalistic superior attitude. They always want the target group to be dependent and subservient. They fail to appreciate the point that the target group is capable of taking over the tasks and performing well. Voluntary organizations simply fail to acknowledge that the target group has problem solving skills.

Another important drawback which afflicts many voluntary organizations is lack of funds. For many the budgets are so small that there is no provision for technical personnel. Consultancy services are also out of reach for such voluntary organizations in view of their cost. In these days when voluntary service has become highly specialized there is a dire need for the creation of an appropriate agency to provide guidance, monitor the projects and provide counseling services and arrange financial and technical assistance to needy voluntary organizations which are groping in the dark.

Women entering into the business field are not something uncommon today. Though it is very difficult to single out the reason for the emergence of women entrepreneurship in the recent past, it is a fact that more and more women evince interest in choosing business as a career. The following are considered to be the major contributory factors: the influence of women's movement, changing psychological attitude of women, the need to maintain a decent standard of living amidst the rising cost of living, gender discrimination in the labor market, restricted vertical mobility and above all the rising aspirations of women to lead an independent assertive life, and finally facilities offered to women for starting enterprises. Upper middle class and middle class women with the required education and information are comparatively better off in venturing into business when compared to the poor illiterate, marginalized women. While the former, with the support of other members in the family do have something to offer as 'security' obtain loan, the latter group of women have nothing to pledge or offer as security. These women who invariably find employment in the informal sector face problems such as job insecurity, meager wages and exploitation. Gross unemployment and underemployment suffered by them have forced these women to take up self employment, and wherever women have formed 'groups' they have successfully solved the problems like risk, finance and marketing in their self-employment. S.G.S.Y. is a good example to prove this.

The Need for Fostering Self-Employment among Women

Women are trying their level best to attain equality in various ways which are different over time and among societies. After the World War II, a large number of women in western countries resented their deprived status. There was a general awakening among women about their secondary status. They do follow various strategies to overcome subordination and to fight against gender related disadvantages directly and indirectly. Self employment is one among the many strategies and is considered to be the best strategy since simultaneously it helps to change women's own self perception and also helps to attain social status.

The other possibility is individual strategy. Women are generally concentrated in low paid jobs, and secondary sector occupations and hence the opportunities to climb up are very limited. Their success and upward mobility in career are much restricted. Only a few women occupy the managerial or executive position.

Female business proprietorship is an attempt to tackle this kind of subordination, Female proprietorship provides economic independence to women and at the same time they directly enter the main stream and do not remain in the periphery. Especially in developing countries, women proprietors are successful in obtaining material independence from men and this economic independence provides a basis for female solidarity. In these circumstances, individual action fosters collective action to combat subordination.

Collective Endeavor: Choice of the Area and Sample

The middle class educated women, though face multifaceted problems in undertaking business ventures do enjoy certain advantages like education, access to information, credit worthiness, exposure etc. over the poorer women. The poor, downtrodden women in spite of their shortcomings, are no less competent than the upper class women in self employment is amply borne by empirical reality where they have taken up self employment such as snacks vending, pickle making, papad making, tailoring, vegetables/fruits vending etc., in order to supplement family income. One may argue whether these are comparable to the large scale modern trades, taken up by educated women. One has to agree that these enterprises run by poor women are tiny, risks are minimum and do not call for innovative, novel sales strategy etc. But still to the extent, goods remain unsold or perish, they face the risk of loss and even if it is a small amount, it matters much for these women who have no access to finance.

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