Women empowerment needs strong will and new civil discourse

From the beginning of the modern world, Women did not have the proper respect in the first countries to gain independence and at one point in history, British women gained the right to vote in 1928 after a great struggle for almost 500 years. It took women 155 years to fight for their rights to equality, economic opportunity, civil rights, and the right to vote after French Independence in 1790. Also, it took almost 144 years for women to get the right to vote after the Constitution came into America. John Adams (2nd U.S. President) was one of the pioneers in building the state of the United States when he wrote the U.S. Constitution. John Adams’ wife, Abigail Adams (Former First Lady of the United States), in a letter to her husband, “You are writing the Great Constitution for the first time in the world. Please do not forget about our women.” But they forgot.

In India, women did not have a proper place in socio-economic decisions for centuries. before independence. Most of our ancient society had lights and shadows (caste system). For various reasons, women have not been given the rights, equality, economic opportunity, and civil rights they deserve.

After the emergence of feminist thought in the 19th century from a society that considered education, economic opportunities, social freedom, political rights, enhancement of their intelligence, respect for them, and giving equality to women of all castes, which was contrary to Hindu beliefs, a movement emerged as a resistance to social structures. The Indian caste system also played a very big role in creating a male-dominated society that always rejected women’s freedom and equality.

Jyoti Rao Phule argued that community development was uncertain without education for women, so he and his wife started the first school for girls in Pune in 1848. Jyotirao Phule first taught his wife Savitribai to read and write, who was apparently able to play an important and crucial role in improving women’s rights in her country, as well as Fatima Sheikh, India’s first Muslim teacher who faced and resisted despite intense opposition from feudalists and conservatives who followed a strict caste system. On the other hand, Thanthai Periyar questioned the foundational ideas of patriarchy, opposed conventional emancipation, and advocated for mental and imaginative freedom for women.

Ambedkar taught his wife Rambhai to read and write, and Mahatma Gandhi was responsible for providing basic education to his wife Kasturba Gandhi. Unfortunately, very few women supported education. However, in the society of that day, women showed interest in education. Slowly women began to resist the superstitions and customs that existed in society and to learn. Others were able to read through the post-independence and in contemporary times, there has been an emergence of powerful women in the form of journalists, writers, and activists.

In the eyes of our Indian constitution-makers, women were given the right to vote by the Constitution from the earliest days, a rare opportunity that is probably only available to the few countries in the world that have a constitution.

After independence, the framers of the Constitution introduced in the early days of the legislature a few more reforms and laws in the form of The Hindu Code Bills for the advancement of women’s liberty, equality, fraternity, and dignity. The involvement in religious matters was met with stubborn resistance from various quarters. If they had not been prevented today, the situation in the country would have been different. After many amendments, it is too late to enact various women empowerment laws that have been infertile for decades one by one. For some reason, women still live in a patriarchal society, with imperfect rights. No matter how intelligent women are due to gender discrimination at birth, there is no equality. Girls in our country are dropping out of school due to stress, child marriage, and other issues related to schools, such as lack of financial means to engage in family and household activities. We are also one of the countries with the lowest female labor force participation rate in the world.

Women’s reservation bill is A Remedy worse Than the Disease: 

There is now a broad consensus about the need for enhancing women’s representation in legislatures. However, the women’s reservation bill, introduced in Lok Sabha has severe flaws and is likely to do more harm than good. The Bill provides for the reservation of one-third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabhas for women. This reservation shall also apply for seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). As the reservation is large, permanent reservation of certain seats is neither feasible nor politically permissible, and therefore the Bill provides for rotation of reservation in every election.

Such compulsory rotation violates the very basic principles of democratic representation and leadership development. In most cases, the male politicians will be tempted to spend much of their political capital helping their own female relatives in cornering these reserved seats. Such proxies would be expected to keep the seat ‘safe’ for the men until the next election when they would again try to reclaim their seats. The experience of fixed quotas in a few countries where it has been tried, such as Nepal, the Philippines, and the erstwhile Soviet Union, has not produced very successful results for women’s participation.

While Women’s reservations will do good for the empowerment of women can be a debatable topic in a civil discourse but the way the Indian political community acts on the policy, tells a story of lacking the political will to women empowerment. 

Given these infirmities, it is necessary to design better models for enhancing women’s representation in legislatures. Germany’s Free Democratic Party (FDP) unanimously rejected mandatory women’s quotes while they chose the most number of women leaders to lead their political party and election campaigns and took extraordinary measures to attract more women leaders and enhance their active participation in party and elected positions. Political parties should voluntarily encourage and support women leaders’ participation in political and electoral politics instead of Mandatory processes. Most successful women in Indian politics come from either affluent families or political dynastic families. so Political parties should denounce their dynastic political practices to encourage women irrespective of their social and economic conditions.

The Women’s Bill, which has been pending for 25 years, shows the political parties’ disregard for women’s empowerment. Instead of bringing the women’s bills into the picture, amendments can be made in the Representation of People’s Act, 1951. If you take a closer look at the previous elections so far reveals that the success rate of women in elections is higher than that of men. Our society respects women leaders. History clearly shows that voters have never discriminated against women candidates. Given a chance, voters are more likely to elect a woman than a man. Let’s set aside the law for a while. If the national and regional political parties had indeed the political will to do so, then political parties would have allowed women candidates to contest elections in at least one-third of the seats, regardless of the law,

Independent India had a great opportunity to equal importance to women after independence but the Indian political community never even care to look after women’s issues and women’s civil rights. women will get their due place if they show equal respect and equal rights rather than verbally. The idea that strong women’s empowerment is inevitable in a developing economy and that politics means crime, corruption, and politics will not change is well ingrained in the minds of the people. That notion is likely to go away if women take that leadership to get out of it. Standards improve in parliament, in the legislature, in governments, in politics, and in public debate.

In our country, Lok Satta and the Center for the Study of Developing Societies and Swatantra Bharat Paksh Party presented an alternative for consideration by all political parties. It calls for an amendment to the Representation of the People Act making it mandatory for every recognized political party to field women candidates in one-third of constituencies. To prevent a party from nominating women candidates only in States or constituencies where the party’s chances of winning are weak, the Bill proposes that each party should consider the State as a unit for fielding women candidates in elections to the Lok Sabha. In other words, a party has to field one-third of women candidates in every State. A party’s failure to field the requisite number of women entails a penalty. For the shortfall of every woman candidate, the party cannot field male candidates in two constituencies.

Just like caste and economic status, gender has become grounds for discrimination. Perhaps it is the broadest and most severe of all discriminations. Quality education and medical care should be made available to every girl child, regardless of financial status. To increase the income of poor women, provide necessary skills and training, and marketing facilities to women belonging to self-help and microfinance groups. To ensure protection against domestic violence by providing accessible justice and family counseling centers and Fast track courts to ensure speedy justice and also To ensure a safe environment without sexual harassment for women inside and outside the home and at the workplace. Equality in decision making, economic and social freedom, equal access to education, and the right to practice an occupation of one’s choice. Unfortunately, we have been far away from this for a long time. Yet many women have been achieving success in their own style over the past few years in all spheres such as social, economic, cultural and agricultural, political. In most cases, only women from hereditary backgrounds are benefited. Opportunities and leadership are not easy for those who come from common backgrounds. The population of women in our country is approximately equal to that of men, women can be a crucial part of nation-building and the overall development of the country. the need for empowerment of women really hoping that this empowerment will take shape in the society. Happy Women’s Day with heartfelt congratulations

(The author is Co-Founder of Swatantrata Center, Youth Parliament Program)

Written by
Swatantrata Center