The Role of Women in India Post Independence

Part - I

Role of Women

There is no doubt about the fact that women are an integral part of society. If we flip the pages of history, we are well aware of the status of women all over the world, how they were treated, the rights and opportunities, etc. The scenario was no different in India. The women of today are progressing, but the betterment did not come without any struggle. Even though in our scriptures, women have been regarded as a symbol of spirituality, but equality and rights along with respect have been refused. There were many social evils that existed in our Indian society before independence, such as Child Marriage, prohibition on widow remarriage, girls’ education, purdah system, domestic violence, Sati Pratha, dowry, etc. For the eradication of such social evils, reformers such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Savitribai Phule, Ramabhai Ranade, etc. took necessary steps in this respect and worked for the upliftment and betterment of women of our society. Today’s situation of women in India is better than it was during ancient and mediaeval times in terms of economic, political, social, and other areas. Infact, women have access to social and legal rights, more independence and voice, and opportunities to engage in public affairs. But despite their progress, women continue to experience harassment, discrimination, and even being humiliated, exploited, and even dominated.

The Independent India

A very famous quote was given by our former Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on women – “You can tell the condition of nation by looking at the status of its women”. Again, Swami Vivekananda said – “The best thermometer to the progress of a nation is its treatment of its women. There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved”.

There have been various forms of social norms all over the world which deny specific opportunities to women, such as the right to education, health, vote, economic opportunities, etc. Progress on environmental stability, global health, financial stability, and human rights are hindered due to such gender inequality and are the primary cause of concern for poverty and hunger. As per the study conducted, women constitute a major proportion among refugees in the world, where the girl child is denied access to education and forced into early marriage and work. Even the share of women’s income is approximately 1% in the world resource distribution.

The roles of women and their status in the family and society have been demonstrated by writers and filmmakers through their works – showing the contrasting image of their past and present status. There have been ample of data and information regarding this and interrelated factors in the form of research publications and magazines, which includes debates regarding the comparison of women’s condition in the present and past times, their progress in various fields, their lives after marriages, cultural and social attitudes towards them, and opportunities available to them. Upon scrutinizing, Gender Inequality and its unaccountable consequences are what we still witness today.

Pre-Liberalization Period

Women in the Field of Education

During the Vedic period, the women of India had access to education. But this right gradually diminished, and it was during the British period in India that social reformers fought for the revival of women’s education in India. As per our Father of Nation, Mahatma Gandhiji, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate an entire family”. The boost in education for women was witnessed post-independence, where various measures and steps were taken up by the Government of India in this respect. Women’s education has played an important role not only in the overall development of the nation but also improved the quality of life at home and outside. Not only do their own daughter encouraged to study more, but also all their children receive proper guidance. Some of the other benefits of women’s education are given below:

  • Empowering to seek gender equality in society.
  • Women will be able to earn and uplift their economic status.
  • With the correct knowledge, women will understand the advantages of a small and planned family, and this will act as a major step toward the population control goal.
  • Women will not only be more aware of their health but also rear their children in a better way and provide them quality life having better facilities.
  • The social disparities and inequities existing in our society would be narrowed down with better quality education, which will ultimately lead to sustainable development.

Several benefits have been provided by the Government, such as scholarships, loan facilities for education, hostel facilities, etc., who look forward to pursuing higher education. Some of the most notable changes brought with respect to women’s education in democratic India are as follows:

  • Special commission for university and secondary education was made whose purpose was to identify the issues related to women’s education and the quality it receives. Its role also included suggesting ways in which those hurdles can be removed.
  • In 1958, the Government appointed a National Committee on Women’s Education to thoroughly scrutinize issues regarding the education of girls and making them at par with the boys. This committee had put forward several recommendations, which were accepted by the Government-
  • Expansion of girl education at elementary stage given top priority.
  • Women appointed as teachers.
  • Special fund earmarked by UGC for women’s higher education.
  • At higher secondary stages, special school for girls.
  • Ensuring assistance to all the states by the centre till 80% of girls (age group 6-11) are enrolled.
  • National Council for Women’s education to be established.
  • National Policy on Education of 1968 – committed to a constant effort to expand and equalize educational opportunities, raise the quality of education, emphasising on science and technology development, and cultivating moral and social values.
  • Women’s access to education saw more official concerns post 1975. Janata Government, while preparing of Draft Sixth Five Year Plan (1978-83), took a critical view regarding the educational structure existing so far. Hence, the Plan focused on the eradication of illiteracy, universal primary education, and job-orientation introduction. It was for the very first time when “Women and Development” a chapter was included – dealing with women’s education, health, and employment.

Women and Health

“Right to Life” is one of the Fundamental Rights, and the one most important thing reflecting the quality of human life is “Health”. Post-independence, women were granted the status at par with the men, and, to raise their status, the Government brought various laws. But were the laws alone sufficient to bring about a radical change? There has been widespread exploitation of women, considering it to be a serious menace to society. We are well aware of the fact that legislation was brought for the improvement of the political, economic, and social conditions of women in addition to their status. The ancient forms of victimisation, such as child marriage, leading to early and life-threatening pregnancies, sati, female infanticide, illegal abortions, rape, dowry deaths, and eve-teasing, still continue today.

Gender inequality in India negatively impacts the healthcare facilities received by women in some parts of the country. Studies have revealed that boys are more likely to receive better treatment from healthcare facilities when compared to girls. We are aware that the gender discrimination starts before birth. In India, females are the most commonly aborted. A mother’s pregnancy experience becomes quite stressful if female foetus is not aborted, which is mainly due to the family’s preference over son. There have been cases where if a girl child is born, she is neglected, fed less, not provided adequate medical facilities when ill, and are subjected to bad behaviour, causing mental illness apart from being physically weak. Women are seen as less or of no value in some families due to their obligation to get married and leave the house. Furthermore, although illegal, the concept of dowry payment to the husband’s family as a part of Indian cultural norms is considered as a financial obligation that a daughter’s family has to bear – reason for which some families consider son over daughters. In addition to this, women are considered less capable of taking care of their aged parents which makes the preference for sons even more. In accessing healthcare, the role played by gender can be determined when resource allocation within households and public sphere are examined. Some most notable efforts by the Government in India, with respect to women’s health were as follows:

  • The first health minister of free India, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, attended issues of women’s health.
  • India, the earliest nation to begin the concept of “family planning” in the year 1952, gave a boost to improve health of women.
  • In 1982, National Mental Health Programme was launched, in the backdrop of immense mental illness among the individuals of the country and addressing the specific mental illness which otherwise, the existing health system was inadequate to meet.
  • The National Health Policy passed by the Government India in 1983 was concerned with transferring knowledge, requisite technologies, and skills to the healthcare volunteers, intersectoral cooperation, strengthening, and better utilisation of traditional medical systems. The NHP 2002 was a continuation of the previous trends and focused upon improving access to health services to all social groups in all the areas, which was achieved by improving existing facilities and establishing new ones. The poor access to healthcare services affected the women and underprivileged groups, and hence, there was a focus upon improving such access to them. A top funding priority was given by the central Government to the programmes promoting the women’s health.

Women in Employment and Economic Field

There has been evidence that the women’s status had started declining prior independence and this continued post1947. Decliningstatus of womenare displayed by Demographic statistics which show declining proportion of female in Indian population, falling economic participation rate of women since 20th century, economic distress and unemployment causing increased rate of female migration, and increased number and proportion of female illiterates. Even though India has progressed in terms of GDP, but there are still instances of gender discrimination in work places. In India, approximately 85% of women employed claim that they do not receive a raise, promotion or job offers because of their gender. Women have faced discrimination in their work places due to familial and household responsibilities they have, and, in addition to this have even felt that family responsibilities come in the way of career development for some women.Women feel that job security is quite critical for them, but also lay emphasis on the kind of employer they are choosing to work with, the recognition that they would receive in their workplace for the work they do, and expertise required for the job. Some of the most common problems and challenges faced by women have discussed below in details:

  1. Sexual Harassment: One of the cursed realities, faced by women is sexual harassment on a daily basis. Women have a constant challenge to protect themselves no matter where they are – workplace, educational institutes, on roads or even at their homes. At workplace, women face that their issues or complaints are not adequately addressed by their employers. Employers are either not enlightened well on the provisions of the law or have implemented them partially. Those of who have set up the internal panels to investigate on the matter, have poorly trained members. Hence, to overcome the issue of sexual harassment at workplace and take necessary steps against it, Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013has been brought, and, it necessitates having Internal Complaints Commission (ICC) for every commercial and public organisation having 10 or more employees.
  2. Inadequate Sanitation Facility: Maintenance of female hygiene is mandatory in homes, public places and workplaces. There have been instances where factories either have very poorly maintained washrooms, commonly used by both men and women, or have nothing at all in their premises. Section 19 of the Factories Act,1948 requires construction of separate latrines and urinals for women. Even today in India, there are women who are completely unaware about menstrual napkins and, even some well-educated women lack knowledge regarding healthy hygiene practices during their menstrual cycle. Poor menstrual hygiene poses a risk on women’s health and develops serious illness.

Maintenance of a proper hygienic environment at workplaces is also one of the important responsibilities of organisations, and should also keep a check that women employees are not deprived of the basic amenities during their most crucial days. There should be a clean environment, easy access to sanitary products, comfortable and stress-free environment to make women more productive at work place, and, safe and clean disposal of sanitary products to maintain a clean environment. A hygienic workplace is said to have a long way for the creation of a healthier workplace, and, thereby, the chances of employees falling ill will be reduced. A healthy workplace will be more productive and a happier place to work in.

  1. Lack of Promotional Opportunities: working individuals aspire for promotional opportunities. There has been research all over, suggesting that when people are recruited, one may or may not find jobs as per their choices, but in order to sustain a living, they will have to work to generate income. Women employees, often find it difficult to acquire promotional opportunities even after working diligently, over long periods.

 Legal and Constitutional Provision for Women In India

The gender equality principle has been enshrined in our Constitution in Preamble, Fundamental Duties, Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles. Along with granting equality to women, the Constitution empowers State to look into the matters of discrimination against women and taking respective steps. Many laws were passed post-independence in India, for the upliftment of women and their advancement in various fields, in addition to, eliminating discrimination against women, provide women with equal rights and privileges with men, and removing inequality existing between them, and, eradication of external obstructions coming in way of their self-realisation and development. Some of the important acts having special provision to safeguard women and their interests are as follows:

 

  1. The Special Marriage Act,1954
  2. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
  3. The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956:
  4. The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956:
  5. The Hindu Succession Act, 1965:
  6. The Hindu Women Right to Property Act, 1973:
  7. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961:
  8. The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976:
  9. Immoral Traffic Prevention Act,1986
  10. The Maternity Benefit Act,1961 (Amended in 1995)
  11. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
  12. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006
  13. Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
  14. Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986
  15. Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987

Some of the Constitutional Privileges of special importance in regards to safeguard women’s rights are mentioned below:

  1. Article 14 – Equality before law and equal protection of Law

The State shall not deny to any person equality before law and equal protection of law with the territory of India.

  1. Article 15 – Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. [Article 15(1)].

Article 15(3) State to make special provision in favour of women and children

  1. Article 16 – Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment.
  2. Article 19 – Freedom of Speech and Expression [Article 19(1)]
  3. Article 21 – protection of life and personal liberty

No person shall be deprived of his/her life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

  1. Article 39 – DPSP

Article 39(a) The State to direct its policy towards securing men and women equally the right to adequate means of livelihood

  1. Article 39(d) – directing State to secure equal pay for equal work for both men and women.

Article 39 A promoting justice on basis of equal opportunity and provide free legal aid by suitable legislation or scheme or in any other way to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.

  1. Article 42 of Constitution incorporates this important provision for women benefit, directing the State to make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.
  2. Article 51(A)(e) duty of citizens to promote harmony and spirit of common brotherhood amongst all people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women
  3. Article 243D and 243T– related to Reservation of seats for women

CONCLUSION

Even after so many years of independence, achieving immense progress in terms of economic growth, a section of our population is still deprived. Women are required to be well aware about their various legal rights under the Indian Constitution and also various portals available for their protection. Even though some women are literate, they are unaware of their rights. They should have the basic knowledge about the ways in which they can get justice for themselves and also, for their near and dear ones, in case, unfortunately, they become victims of any such crimes. Furthermore, they should also be educated regarding the ways in which they can be safe, as, for instance, assurance that a complainant’s identity is to be kept hidden for security purpose. Although, there are various laws, provisions, programmes, and policies with regards to women safety and security, the loopholes coming in between the efficient implementation of justice should be kept in check. The atrocities against women have a serious impact on their physical as well as on their mental health.

In part II of the article, we shall see how India progressed after the Liberalisation, Privatisation, and Globalisation reforms and also how these improvements brought a change in lives of women in India. Furthermore, we shall also see how women empowerment has a positive effect on the economy of the nation.

Reference

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