• Author Name: Anupama Kumari Rai
  • Details:  Advocate, Bombay High Court, B.Sc, LLM

When we talk about the status of women in India and about women empowerment, the statement of two eminent personalities help us to know the exact meaning of these two terms, which is status of women and women empowerment. The statement by Jawaharlal Nehru “You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of women”. The growth and progress of any nation can be easily understood by looking at the status of women of that nation. It means that the status of women and the growth of a nation are inter related to each other. The position of women of any nation reflects the true picture of development of that nation. Reading Gandhi, I felt he was again and again speaking about freedom of movement for women. Almost everyone knows his famous quote ‘the day a woman can walk freely at midnight on the roads, that day we can say that India achieved independence.’  When we check our ground reality with this statement it shows the bitter truth of this nation. 

There is no denying the fact that women in India have made considerable progress in the last fifty years but yet they have to struggle against many handicaps and social evils in the male dominated society. As per the United Nations Report (1980) women constitute half of the world population performing two third of the work hours, receiving one tenth of the world’s income and possessing less than one hundredth of the world’s property. 

If we study Ancient India, the status of women was almost the same as men in the early Vedic period. Even though the Rig Vedic society was patriarchal, women enjoyed independence, self-reliance. Moreover, there is evidence of polyandry and widow-marriage. Women were given equal opportunities as men for their spiritual and intellectual development. For example, there were women poets like Apala, Viswavara, Ghosa and Lopamudra during the Rig Vedic period.  So when did the status of women get deteriorated? To understand this, we must have to understand the meaning of the term sex discrimination and gender discrimination. Sex discrimination is related about the differences based on biological feature of women and the later one ie. Gender discrimination deals with the social factors.

Gender based discrimination is worldwide and not alone in India. Offences against women are much more severe in cases of international trafficking, forced prostitution and pornography, women including migrant and refugee women face double barriers on virtue of their gender,

“About 95 percent of the workforce of women and children in India are working in unorganised sectors where their fundamental rights, Directive Principles of State Policy and applicability of labour legislations are violated.” In Indian culture, families usually start their day with worship. “Though Article16 of the constitution states that there should be no discrimination on grounds of sex, gender bias has always existed and is inclusive of all human beings.”

In 1991, the Kerala High Court restricted entry of women above the age of 10 and below the age of 50 from Sabarimala Shrine as they were of the menstruating age. On 28 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India lifted the ban on the entry of women. It said that discrimination against women on any grounds, even religious, is unconstitutional. While India passed the Equal Remuneration Act way back in 1976, which prohibits discrimination in remuneration on grounds of sex. But in practice, the pay disparity still exists. In most Indian families, women do not own any property in their own names, and do not get a share of parental property. Due to weak enforcement of laws protecting them, women continue to have little access to land and property. In India, women’s property rights vary depending on religion, and tribe, and are subject to a complex mix of law and custom, but in principle the move has been towards granting women equal legal rights, especially since the passing of The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005.

Gender injustice is a problem that is seen all over the world. Whatever the causes may be, it is our duty of humans to protect the human rights of those who are victims. Women have been ill-treated in every society for ages and India is no exception. Rightly did Swami Vivekanand say, ‘Just as a bird can not fly with one wing only, a Nation can not march forward if the women are left behind’.