Womens' movement and empowerment


It is difficult to ascertain a particular year or day as the date of beginning of women’s movement. Women’s movement sprung up from their discontent for being subordinate and discriminated by the society. Such feelings had always been there in the hearts of women in any society, which they ventilated in different ways like emotional expressions, anger, weeping etc. Sometimes they also protested and tried at individual level to resist injustice. But in most cases such kind of protest went unheeded by the society. But expansion of education and change of social attitudes and values brought women out of the four walls of the house to mobilize and organize themselves. They started to focus their grievances and injustices meted out to them The means of protest has also changed from private and silent act of individual women to organized and collective moves by and for women. The movement for women’s emancipation and the feminist struggle which emerged in Asia and Africa must be considered as the background of the struggle that developed in many countries against imperialism and various forms of foreign domination on the one hand, and movements of opposition to feudal monarchies, exploitative local rulers and traditional patriarchal and religious structure on the other hand. Feminism is thus an essential part of both democratic and revolutionary struggles- Earlier feminism was for the democratic rights of women such as the right to education and employment, the right to own property; the right to vote; the right to enter Parliament. Present day feminism is a struggle for achievement of women’s equality, dignity and freedom of choice to control their lives and bodies within and outside home. Feminists are those who recognize the exploitation of women and its relationship to other forms of oppression and ,who work actively to change it. Today feminists are attempting to find a common ground to work on specific issues and the overall goal of women's empowerment as a part of a global women’s movement. 'Empowerment' involves the sense of gaining control, of participating, of decision-making. Empowerment of women connotes an active. multi dimensional process, which enables women to realize their full identity and powers in all spheres of life. Empowerment cannot be imposed on others. It can be both at individual and collective level. People become empowered while working in a group collectively they develop a sense of awareness and are able to bring about a change. Empowerment is a process of awareness and capacity building leading to greater participation, to greater decision-making power and control and to transformative action. The word ‘movement’ has been defined in Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary as “a series of acts and events planned towards a definite end by a body of people.” Neera Desai observed 'women’s movement’ as the “ organized effort to achieve a common goal of equality and liberation of women and it presupposes sensitiveness to crucial issue affecting the life of women For a concerted action to move towards the objectives. There has to be same unifying ideological thread for various units. All through the history, Indian women have campaigned enthusiastically for women’s equality. Before anti-colonialist movements, women fought patriarchal religious practice. Pre-colonial activism was paying attention mainly on labour issues. Women got opportunities to be the champion for workers rights and to raised voice for time off and child labour in 1951 The Indian factory Act of 1891, drafted laws regarding women’s, working hours and dictated compulsory breaks between shifts. The All India Coordination Committee of working women was formed as a branch of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. The committee deals with issues of maternity benefits, equal remuneration and daycare facilities. They also encouraged women to take part in the decision making of the unions. In colonized India women largely from the middle class joined social reform movements during 19th century. Women’s movement had emerged as a part of social reform movement in the 19th century. Initially women’s movement had worked for the removal of evil practices from the society against women Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj opened Mahila Mandals (women club) for socializing and educating women. By 1930, due to mass participation of women in the nationalist movement on Gandhiji’s appeal, the India’s Women’s Movement (IWM) moved into a different way, away from its social work toward political orientation Mahatma Gandhi was the first mass-mobiliser as he could see the potential of women for an organized movement. He said, "I am firmly of opinion that India’s salvation depends on the sacrifice and enlightenment of her women.” However a distinction between the women of 'women’s movement’ and the nationalist movement’ arise out of one point IWM demanded female enfranchisement particularly for rural women and also demanded reservation of seats, but women associated with the nationalist movement wanted adult franchise and gender equality as a constitutional right However in spite of these differences in view, both the women group worked together for the greater interest of women of India
The Women's Movement in India opened the doors for women to raise their voice of protest against injustice- to demand equality with men in economic, social and political fields In 1917 a delegation comprising 18 Indian and 4 European women under the leadership of Sarojini Naidu appeared before the Montague Commission to demand women suffrage in India. Sarojini Naidu motivated the women who made and bought salt to protest salt tax. The political awakening of the freedom movement provided the renaissance of the Indian womanhood.

Women's movement in India has acquired status and stability due to the untiring effort of pioneers like Durgabai Deshmukh, Ammu Swaminathan. Renuka Ray, Begum Aizaz Rasul, and Laxmi Menon etc. In 1927 the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) was established to represent the views of women belonging to different sections. It becomes the central platform of women’s socio-political activities- for the whole country. Woman like Dr. Muthulaxmi Reddy provide incentive to education of girls. Through All India Women Conference, she started shelter homes like ‘Avvai Homes’ for deserted girls and women and thousands were rehabilitated there. Another woman Dr Rajkumari Amrit Kaur joined Gandhiji and insisted on generating professional skills among women. Aruna Asaf Ali, Dr Vijayalaxmi Pandit, Dr Pupul Jayakar and others also propagated many ideas that helped to change the lives of millions of women in the later period. The first generation of English educated empowered women lead the way of the women’s movement in the pre-independence period. Most of them engaged themselves in building of pioneer women organizations like All India Women’s Conference, Young Women Christian Association and Anjuman-e- Islam. The political agenda of AIWC was to fight against child marriage, mobilize public opinion in favour of voting rights of women, and impart basic skills to women. YWCA was in all respect a multi religious organization arranged vocational training courses for women. Anjuman Trust was committed to the cause of women’s education and skill formation of women belongs to Muslim community. Establishment of AIWC was followed by the establishment of some other women organizations like- National Council of Women in India, National Federation of Indian Women, Bharatiya Gramin Mahila Sangha and so on. Women organizations like Women’s India Association All India Women Conference and National Council of Women in India in the pre-independence period raised their voice to assert women’s rights and to arouse consciousness among women. WIA protested against the congress leadership in 1930, when women were initially excluded from the march to ‘Dandi’, they said, “ this division of sexes in a non violent campaign seems to us unnatural and against all awakened consciousness of modern women”. After independence the Constitution of India declared equality of both the sexes. Indian women in a large size walked into the political arena, and with this involvement more laws began to address women’s concerns. For instance the Factories Act of 1948, prohibited women from working with certain injurious machinery when in motion; it demanded suitable sanitation facilities, compulsory on- premise day care centre ‘for children below six years and to provide maternity leave. The Labour Act in 1951, required employers to provide educational facilities, the Mines Act in 1952 required separate toilets for men and women, The Hindu Marriage Act in 1955 has introduced radical and progressive changes which go a long way in rendering gender Justice, it also provide certain special rights to the Hindu woman apart from conferring equal rights with that of Hindu men. The Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, which made the provision that every woman is entitled to the payment of maternity benefit at the rate of the average wage for the period of her actual absence. Moreover the Act is applicable to every establishment being a factory, mine or plantation or any other establishment. Presently activities of women organizations in India expanded and diversified into different areas. Between 1977 and 1979 new women’s groups emerged in different parts of the country. They organized protest actions against dowry killings, beauty contest, sexual portrayal of women in media, pornographic films and pitiable condition of women in prison. One of the first issues to receive countrywide attention from women’s groups was violence against women especially in the form of rape and the killings of young married women for dowry or money/ goods they brought with them at marriage. This was the beginning of the process of learning for women. From their struggle against women atrocities, they learnt that struggle against State is not enough but the sufferer also needed support. So they started awareness generating campaigns to prevent violence against women.



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