The very idea of women empowerment or the lack of it thereof is a repercussion of centuries-old patriarchy that suppressed women as secondary sex, barring them from social, political, and economic inclusion.
It gained momentum in the last hundred years and focuses on women’s cognitive, psychological, economic, political, and physical rights. In 1920, women got their first voting right in the US. The 1945 declaration of UN charter was the first step to establish women-empowerment legally. However, in 1985, at the International Women Conference in Nairobi led by conference president Margaret Kenyatta, the Women Empowerment concept was introduced to established and to bring economic, political, social, and cultural equality of women. Since then, many countries followed suit. Today, several global communities empower millions of women in other countries like Asia and Africa by helping women fight for their legit rights and gender bias.
Women Issues & difficulties
For centuries women have been suppressed in a society dominated by men. And globally, this has led to far many women bound by the tethers of their mental limitation. Forget having a voice in society, and women were not allowed to make decisions on their life too. The appalling stats of female genocide, violence against women, female genital mutilation, social inequality of women even today show our society isn’t completely free from the fetters of patriarchy. Many under-developed places across the globe still think of women as the inferior sex and a burden on them. The under-development of women in developing countries is largely due to problems related to patriarchal structure, child labor, lack of education, lack of awareness of women’s rights, financial incapability, and more.
Amidst Darkness Ray of Hope
Needless to say, the pressing need for women empowerment is to first make up for the pitfalls of undermining women for years. The next is the realization that women make for fifty percent of the global workforce, and it is a massive waste of potential and economic loss for a nation that fails to use. Apart from achieving gender equality, the involvement of women in the economy is crucial for a nation’s socio-economic growth. A McKinsey Global Institute report has found that empowering women and advancing gender equality can lead to a global economic gain of $12 trillion.
Active participation of women in the world affairs and economy leads to higher productivity, better per capita income, better education, and higher global competitiveness. An empowered woman raises smarter families, helps in the growth of better communities, and ultimately a great society. She stands up for her rights and helps others do the same. For sure women, empowerment has progressed a lot. Several countries across the world have seen noticeably less violence against women, less Trafficking of women and girls, reduction in Female Genital Mutilation.
In countries like Singapore, with 49.6 percent of women population, empowered women are empowering other women. At 88%, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women population in the workforce. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland are pioneers of women’s rights.
More and more women today are engaged in global activities that were unthinkable a century ago. Women are thriving in academics, sports, politics, science, and in almost every field. In urban societies and villages, women noticeably engage in community leadership and are more interactive with the world than ever before. More women in villages have access to education and small investment loans for business. Women in villages are the most vulnerable. Today many schemes to empower women in villages have been introduced in under-developed and developing countries. Despite that, even today, there are still reports that worldwide women spend more than 200million hours per day to get water instead of attending school to educate themselves. In many under-developed societies earlier, women were secluded in an outhouse during menstruation.
With more awareness and women empowerment programs, such cases have drastically reduced and are prevalent mostly in the extremely marginalized villages. We hear more cases of violence against women are being brought to light and addressed in the world today. Globally today, women can own, inherit, and control the property. The Married Women’s Property Act of 1848, a significant property law enactment in American history, set a precedent for other nations and the world to follow suit. Educated urban women today are not afraid to have an opinion.
Society’s understanding of Women Empowerment is often flawed
The idea behind women empowerment is idealistic and just is indubitable, but society’s understanding of women empowerment is not bereft of flaws. The idea of women empowerment has, however, seen many distortions with time.
- Women empowerment isn’t about helping women only when they are considered vulnerable
The idea that women deserve empowerment only when they are helpless and vulnerable is at best crippling. It is particularly true for the developmental industry. Globally, many institutions take pride in their gender equality schemes to empower women when, in reality, those schemes bind them fields that are limiting a stereotypical for women. Women Empowerment will become relevant only when they get educated. It will aid them in engaging and being part of the communities and in different spheres of life where they can make rational decisions for their lives independently and exercise the right to speak up and engage in public discourse.
- Women Empowerment isn’t about only helping women earn money
The right to live in dignity is for all. Women-empowerment also means appreciating and supporting a woman for her choices. It is a wrong notion that women’s empowerment automatically requires women to work and bring a pay-check to be respected. Financial empowerment is a myth as creating the opportunity to earn doesn’t always mean that women have a say in making decisions for their lives or exerting their rights. Women needn’t become a man physically, mentally, and biologically to feel empowered. She could remain conventionally feminine and yet be empowered to exist and thrive in the way she pleases. She doesn’t need to ‘fit in’ a world made for men’s convenience by working overtime. Women should be able to take charge of their lives, develop, protect, and empower themselves and exercise the right to make their own decisions and be self-reliant.
- Women Empowerment isn’t about giving the right to women for immoral activities in the name of freedom
Feminists fighting for gender equality have often been criticized and called ‘feminazis’ for misusing women empowerment to extremes that justify immorality, unhealthy habits, and unreasonable hatred towards men. Many women especially are heading for divorce on manageable issues at home under the pretext of empowerment, leading to nothing but broken families and uncared children. Therefore, Women Empowerment term has been misinterpreted and labelled as regressive in the name of feminism and therefore the entire concept seemed to be flawed.
- Women empowerment isn’t about trying to make women ‘Better Men’.
The feminine virtues of love, compassion, empathy, nurturing, and intuition shouldn’t be limited to only women, though women are naturally blessed with these traits. However, more women today are rejecting their feminine side to feel empowered. The 1960s saw the famous protest of the Miss America Pageant with feminists dumping all feminine objects into the trash can. While the sentiment behind it can be empathized with, one may question how this act served the social, political, and economic empowerment of women?
More women need to embrace their unique femininity to become trailblazers of empathy, leadership and compassion. Sadly, for some women, empowerment means copying, compete, and outsmart men. The universal feminine traits are powerful and can create a whole world of difference. Surely, women have been through a lot of injustice to their existence. It is never justified to fail men in the process of empowering women. The target is equitable growth and equal respect for men and women. Rejecting those by trying to be ‘equal’ to men is a wrong battle. Not all gender difference is sexism. The value lies in being equal partners, supporting and partnering with each other.
Critics stand divided on Women Empowerment
The question of whether women empowerment is a myth or a reality has left critics divided for obvious reasons. On one side, there are positive outcomes of women empowerment that give women the freedom to live in their own terms while, on the other hand, lies the pitfalls, failure, distortion, and limitations of women empowerment. Many women empowerment schemes have ended up good only on papers and are causing more harm than good. For instance, the Gender bill is a clear threat to freedom of choice since it dictates fifty percent representation for women in all “decision-making structures.”
Many critics have also claimed that women-empowerment is limited and won’t be effective for bringing in gender equality.
We need to support women and their families, and we also need interventions to transform the patriarchal relations between men and women … that enable these statistics to be true.– By Kathryn Moeller, Researcher
It is essential to have women’s engagement within the community and the world having equal opportunity to participate in various spheres. Need to have definitive laws and policies to be laid down that solicits gender equality. However, merely making laws to empower women won’t achieve real purpose. Society has to fight the age-old patriarchy. For example – while the law allows women in most countries, a whopping fifty percent of countries are still failing to give their women the right to the property.
At the workplace, women are still judged more harshly than men. Research conducted under “Collaborating with Men’ program by Murray Edwards College, a woman only institution, found that 43 percent of women employees are judged more negatively than men for the same behavior.
While working on women-empowerment most countries are yet to notice the real-time impact of their measures on a woman’s holistic health and well-being. An analysis based on marginalized areas in India, has found that women’s empowerment is directly proportional to women’s health problems.
It is high time women have their virtues rewarded at work and home. It is crucial to uplift and respects the position of even the women who chose to stay at home mothers while noting and rewarding their invaluable contribution to their families’ growth and welfare. The onus is on us to not reduce the idea of women empowerment to a mere palaver but execute it in the best interest of women and society. Women all over the world should come out of victimhood. The 21st century needs women to be empowered and not remain hapless. They are the drivers of the economy, and hence they need to stand up for themselves and others. There are many global initiatives taken to empower women like Imagine – Clinton Global Initiative for Women Empowerment, Un Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – Goal 5 Gender Equality a step towards empowering women and girls, World Economic Forum – Global gender gap index.
When a woman is successful, it is a win for all. A lot of onus lies on empowered women to lift other women with a strong binding of international sisterhood. It would be wrong to say, women’s empowerment is a myth. Sure, there is a lot more to achieve. Rather than relegating women-empowerment as a myth, critics could drive the thinkers and policymakers to revisit the true concept of women empowerment that is constructive and holistic, which inevitably leads to a better, equitable and progressive world.