Every woman, independent of class, caste and creed, has faced some level of difficulty because of their gender. These difficulties are not new, the female gender has faced them for a very long period of time all over the world. Even today, women are far from being recognised as equal which is not because of their capabilities but rather because of the social, political and economic discrimination and oppression that they have faced. This is reflected by India’s 122nd (out of 162) rank in Gender Inequality Index published by the United Nations Development Programme as per 2019.
About a hundred years ago, women had to battle a completely different and more severe set of problems. This included female infanticide (deliberately killing a newborn girl) which is still practised in some rural areas across the country. Child marriage was also widely popular which also led to many teenage pregnancies. It was in 1929 that child marriage was banned by law which was revised in 2006 to extend women’s age of marriage from 14 to 18. Dowry, even though no longer permitted by law, was and still remains prevalent in India. Other practices which are no longer widespread are the Sati Pratha (widow, willingly or forcefully, burning to death in her husband’s pyre), honour killings, no inheritance or property rights, et cetera.
In rural as well as urban areas, women do not have the position they deserve. This is due to multiple problems, some of these problems that demand immediate eradication for the growth of women in the society are:
The root of discrimination against women, patriarchy poses the toughest obstacle to overcome. The belief that men are superior to women is not only accepted by most men but some women have also internalised this mentality. Men, not wanting to give up their privilege, have continuously oppressed and prevented women from obtaining the position they deserve in their homes and society.
-Violence and other crimes against women
Apart from being seen as inferior beings, women also face safety related issues. Physical violence is quite common in India, the rate of domestic violence (violent behaviour towards women typically by the male members of the household) is as high as 33.5% for the age group of 15 to 49. Emotional violence has an equally negative impact as it affects the mental health of women. According to various reports, psychological abuse is as common as physical abuse. Crime rates against women are soaring. Sexual violence, murder, rape threats, dowry-related abuse and other crimes have become so common that women feel threatened even in their own homes.
-Lack of freedom
In today’s world, freedom and independence hold extreme importance. It is unwise to be financially dependent on others after a certain age. But the societal constraints do not let women escape from the ongoing circle of subjugation towards social or financial empowerment. Upon reaching a ‘proper’ age, women are often forced into arranged marriage, regarded as ‘paraya dhan’ (estranged asset) by their parents, burdened with the responsibility of taking care of their in-laws and husband, forced to leave their jobs for bearing a child and, then, cursed if it’s a girl. At their male-dominated workplace, they may be sexually assaulted, given lower pay than men, discouraged by family members from working, feel unsafe at work or while travelling to work, face difficulty in getting maternity leaves, have no period leaves, along with many other serious issues.
These are just a few injustices that women face in their lives. It is high-time to rise and demand practice of equality and empowerment of women.
As Kofi Annan once said, “There is no tool for development more effective that the empowerment of women.”