Applauding Government's Role In Women Empowerment
Women empowerment isn’t just about offering equal rights to women. But it is also about ensuring that they are intrinsic and equitable partners in the workforce. Women in India are emerging in all sectors, including politics, business, medicine, sports and agriculture. A milestone was reached when the Supreme Court upended the government’s position on women serving as army commanders in 2020. Women were first inducted into the armed forces in 1992 and have served in a multitude of positions, including fighter pilots, doctors, nurses, engineers, signallers, and others. While the issue of women serving in combat roles continues to be a contentious one worldwide, these are instances where Indian women have overcome the glass ceiling in the armed forces. History was made when two female scientists from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) led the country’s second lunar mission Chandrayaan-2 from its inception to completion in 2019. Female leadership for a huge space mission challenged the meta-narrative that rocket science is a profession reserved only for men.
Government-aided initiatives, women-centric non-profits and third-wave feminism have empowered women to some extent. The central and state governments have launched new schemes, policies and programmes to empower both urban and rural women. The Narendra Modi government has launched flagship schemes to promote gender equality, including Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter), Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (a scheme to provide gas connections to women from below the poverty line households) and Mahila-E-Haat (an initiative for meeting aspirations and needs of women entrepreneurs).
The Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme was launched in January 2015 to address the issue of a gender skewed ratio and generate greater welfare for the girl child. The focus is centred mostly on Northern India, including Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab and Uttarakhand where the gender ratio is wider. The Mahila-E-Haat project, an online marketing campaign, was launched in 2016. It uses technology to support female entrepreneurs, self-help groups and non-government organisations (NGOs). Each scheme has its own unique objective, ranging from welfare of the girl child and community engagement to supporting aspiring female entrepreneurs.
The government has also created the space for international agencies to work with state governments, local NGOs and private corporations. The World Bank is working closely with the central government and the Andhra Pradesh government to improve the quality of public health services in the state, including maternal and child healthcare. Another initiative is by the United Nations India Business Forum, which has partnered with the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) to set-up the UN-India NITI Aayog Investor Consortium for Women Entrepreneurs to strengthen female entrepreneurship and create an ecosystem for investments.
Government-aided initiatives, women-centric non-profits and third-wave feminism have empowered women to some extent
While India has taken some measures on human development, its global standing on gender equality remains low. A study also showed that although India has one of the most generous maternity leave policies, it is applicable to a small margin of working women and without taking the ground realities into account, these policies have resulted in few women actually benefiting from them. Women continue to be relegated to household tasks, with little or no say in economic decisions. Levels of literacy, nutrition and access to healthcare continue to be poor, and social welfare parameters are still very low.
India’s journey on women empowerment and gender equality started when it became a sovereign state in 1947. While visible gains have been made through legal reforms, human development and grassroots initiatives, we still has a long way to go in many areas of women empowerment.