Gunmala Suri, Hindustan Times,
Chandigarh, March 5, 2007
Today’s is the era of global information networking. The fusion of computers and communications – especially through the Internet – has broken the bounds of cost, time and distance.
Changes in modes of communication, economic competition, empowerment and culture are inspiring global conversation and have put India firmly on the global growth map. Yet there remains an anomaly – the gender divide. Women still have to gain the same status as men. And it’s high time this gap was bridged.
An enabling factor towards this end is the IT industry. If put to good use it could eradicate illiteracy in the country in just a few years. And education can be used as a tool to bridge the gender gap.
The Constitution of India assures all children the right to freedom and compulsory education up to the age of 14 years. At the time of 1991 census, only 39 per cent of Indian women could read and write.
According to the National Sample Survey 1997, female literacy rates have gone up to 50 per cent.
Female literacy varies dramatically amongst states. In poor families, both boys and girls begin to help with household chores from a very early age, but when they grow older, the burden falls disproportionately on the girls. This proves that India still has a long way to go on the matter of gender equality.
As Amartya Sen aptly pointed out, big parts of India’s population still do not receive education. With literacy comes the advantages of a slowdown in population growth, decrease in infant mortality and the reduction in oppression against women. It too helps increase economic growth.
Strengthening women’s participation in public life covers a huge territory. This includes reduction of poverty, eliminating illiteracy, supplying information about women’s legal and political rights and about political process, and ending violence against women that keeps them from speaking up at all.
In order to participate fully and effectively, women need introduction to basic political concepts and women’s groups need help in increasing their membership which could expanding their range of activities.
Information, knowledge and governance are very closely linked. They are the basis of informed decision-making. Lacking this, exploitation becomes easy. One of the hallmarks of women’s situation in developing countries (particularly among poor women and most markedly among those in rural areas) is their information and knowledge poverty that reflects the general disparity between men and women in terms of access to all developmental resources. If information and knowledge is power, lack of it is disenfranchisement.
Eight major domains of power identified for empowering women are:
* Mobility and visible ability to travel outside the home.
* Economic security – ownership of property, cash and savings.
* Ability to make small purchases, including household items, food and clothing. * Ability to make large purchases.
* Status and involvement in major decisions within the household.
* Relative freedom from domination and violence within the family.
* Political and legal awareness including knowledge of government, marriage and inheritance laws.
* Participation in non-family groups, public protests and political campaigning.
The process of empowering women aims to equip women with knowledge, information and ideas to question and challenge, to gain greater access and control over resources i.e. material, human and intellectual, to transform structures and institutions that reinforce their subordination.
The process addresses gender inequality and discrimination that have a direct impact on women’s health and, indirectly other aspects of their lives. In this light, the process to empower focuses on particular areas of rights, and works towards establishing extent to which women are empowered to assert, express and defend their rights in the face of opposition, subordination and deprivation. And to the politician this seems a hazy horizon, hence not worth working upon with gusto.
The process of empowerment today therefore seems is clearly removed from the purpose for which it is used. To sum up it would be only right to point out that for any society to traverse the path of constant progress such banes such as subjugation of women negates the very path it treads upon.
Only where equality of sexes exists can the society as a whole prosper and shine. And with the India’s growth story now in the global picture-frame, it’s time for that final push – that of empowering our women not by paying lip service, but by deed.
(The writer is a faculty member at University Business School, Punjab University, Chandigarh.)