Updated: Mar 19, 2021
With India’s economic progression, the government and other authorities required to pay more attention to social and human development, including empowering women. Women empowerment includes advocating the rights for women and girls, combating discriminatory practices, and challenging the roles and stereotypes, which leads to exclusion and inequalities. Women empowerment is a critical aspect that helps in achieving gender equality. In gender equality, both men and women enjoy equal power and opportunities for receiving education, better healthcare facilities, economic participation, and personal development.
Scandinavian countries such as Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden stride in narrowing the gender gap. On the other hand, the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa face severe disparities in economic and social spheres. India’s journey towards women empowerment has seen both highs and lows. Moreover, it gained strength after ratifying several international conventions and formulation of domestic policies, which intended to end gender inequality. Moreover, the Indian government created space for international agencies to work with the state government, local non-governmental organizations, and private corporations on several projects that would support women belonging to diverse socio-economic backgrounds.
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Brief History of Women Empowerment
Articles 14 and 16 of our Indian constitution states equal rights for all citizens irrespective of gender, class, caste, and color, which came into effect on January 26, 1950. In 1987, while our country got its independence, women received universal suffrage, long before several Western countries granted women the right to vote. India became the second country in its history to have a female leader after Sri Lanka. Indira Gandhi, the third Indian Prime Minister became the first women Prime Minister in 1966, after Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first female Prime Minister in 1960 in Sri Lanka.
India even ratifies several international conventions and human rights instruments that committed to secure equal rights of women. One of the most important among them is the ratification of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1993. India endorsed The Mexico Plan of Action of 1975, the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies of 1985, the Beijing Declaration as well as the Platform for Action (1995), and the Outcome Document adopted by the UNGA Session on Gender Equality and Development and Peace for the 21st century for appropriate follow up. Moreover, the women’s movement along with the widespread network of non-governmental organizations having strong insight into women’s concerns contributed to inspiring all the initiatives for women empowerment.
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Initiatives Taken By Government for Women Empowerment
Beti Bachao Beti Padhao
The program launched on January 22, 2015, in Haryana, it is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and Ministry of Human Resource Development. The government implements the scheme through a national campaign. The program aims in generating awareness and improving the efficiency of welfare services for the girl child.
The program initially addressed the decline in Child Sex Ration (CSR), but also included gender biases, sex-selective eliminations, and propagated education, survival, and protection of the girl child. The scheme focused on multi-sectoral action in 100 districts that have low CSR and covered all the states and Union Territories.
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The government, under the purview of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, launched Mahila-E-Haat in 2016. Mahila-E-Haat is a bilingual online marketing platform leveraging technology that helps aspiring women entrepreneurs, self-help groups, and NGOs highlighting their products and services.
Mahila-E-Haat facilitates direct communication between the vendors and buyers, sensitization, advocacy, training, packing, and soft intervention workshops. The program also offers a web-based approach.
All women above the age of 18 can join the platform, which offers an easy sign-in process and convenient payment modes. Women can handle all of the tasks through their mobile phones. The portal attracted more than 17 million views after its launch, featuring more than 2,000 products and services across 18 categories from 24 states.
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Mahila Shakti Kendra
Launched in 2017, Mahila Shakti Kendra empowers rural women with opportunities for skill development, digital literacy, health and nutrition, and employment. The Mahila Shakti Kendras work through community engagement through student volunteers in 115 most backward districts. Each of the Kendra provides an interface for rural women in approaching the government to avail their entitlements through training and capacity building. The best part is that the Kendras works at all levels- the National, State, and Block levels.
Working Women Hostel
The government launched the Working Women Hostels in ensuring the availability of safe and convenient accommodation for working families. Besides, the program provides daycare facilities for their children, wherever possible in rural, semi-rural, and urban areas. Under the scheme, women get assistance for the construction of new hostels as well as for expanding the existing ones. Any woman whose income does not exceed Rs 50,000 in a month in metropolitan cities and Rs 35,000 in other places can avail of the Working Women Hostels. The rent charged from women must not exceed 15 percent of their total gross salary in case of single bedrooms, 10 percent in case of double bedrooms, and 7.5 percent in the case of dormitories.
The fees charged from the children in the daycare center must not exceed five percent of the gross salary of their mothers, or the actual expenditure, whichever is less. More than 800 hostels received sanctions so far and more than 66,000 women received benefits from the scheme.
Support to Training and Employment Program for Women (STEP)
The government launched the STEP scheme to provide skills to women so that they can involve in better employment facilities. Besides, the scheme provides the right competencies and training for women becoming entrepreneurs. The scheme, open to every woman above the age of 16 runs through a grant given to an institution or organization including the NGOs.
The best part the scheme provides imparting skills to women across all sectors. The scheme does not only relates employability and entrepreneurs and not limited to horticulture, agriculture, food processing, tailoring, handlooms, stitching, embroidery, handicrafts, zari, computer and IT enables services. Rather the scheme also provides soft skills and skills required in workplaces such as spoken English, gems and jewelry, travel and tourism, and hospitality.
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Today, Indian women started emerging in all sectors including politics, business, sports, medicine, and agriculture. However, the story of women empowerment in India is incomplete without its focus on grassroots initiatives adopted by the government and different organizations present in the society.