We like to think that women’s empowerment in India has a long way to go compared to Western nations. But when you look at women in Middle Eastern countries you really start to appreciate the gender equality that we have, meagre though it may be.
The definition of women’s empowerment is actually different for different people, but there’s an underlying base that cannot change regardless of nationality, caste, colour, or profession.
Look at a simple example. A young working professional who stays with her parents in law says, “We were planning to take a family vacation together, and when it came deciding where and when I wasn’t even asked by my parents-in-law. I thought my opinion and convenience would matter too, but maybe I was wrong.”
The example above is a common scenario in a so-called empowered urban woman’s life. When you consider a 13-year-old girl who was raped in a village in UP by her own uncles, you start to wonder what the definition of women’s empowerment would mean to her.
After her father’s death, her mother had planned to take her to and live in the nearby town, so that she could send her to school. But financial troubles meant fate had something else in store. So you see what I mean? To this little girl, women’s empowerment would have meant going to a primary school, and plain escaping rape.
Physical empowerment is something that women can only hope for. It’s ironic to see prostitution on one hand, and slut-walks being planned on the other. One cries out “empower us” while the other cries out to prove that we are empowered.
Butt-pinching, cat-calls and whistles in a bus, to the extreme case of rape and murder, while stepping out at night in a city like Delhi or Bangalore are all proof to the fact that we have a long way to go to be assured of even basic safety. As per census data, between the years 2010 and 2011, around 8 million female fetuses have been aborted.
Intellectually, we are more empowered than women in many other countries. Indian women are choosing to study and carve their own niche in various fields. There is scope for enormous improvement in the field of education for the girl child.
A 24-year-old software professional says that when she and her manager had a discussion on growth prospects in the organization, he said: “If you’re serious about your career, I think you should look at these options.” “I’d lost him at the ‘if you’re serious about your career’” she says.
Emotionally, the definition of women’s empowerment is again very blurred. Today, a lot of women choose their own partners and marry for love, but then do we see any fall in the number of stories that are reported about dowry-related suicides or murders?