Empowerment and safety of women are key issues facing the world today. Through history women have been subjugated and oppressed; they have worked far more than men and got little in return; they have labeled and stereotyped as if they were commodities; and have owned almost nothing. Women have also been unsafe and men have beaten, stalked and raped women at will throughout history. Rape has been used as weapon of war and women have been forced to work as sex slaves to soldiers. The hazards of being a women start even before birth and millions of to-be women are killed in their mother’s womb. A large number of those who are fortunate enough to have been born are killed or abandoned soon after birth.
The world has numerous societies, each having their own customs and taboos. In all the diversities of these various societies spread across the globe the common theme is the subjugation of women; in varying degrees from a slave like treatment in parts of Asia and Africa to a less discernible dominance in the west. The conditioning and the oppression is overt is some parts whereas in others it is subtle. There is no denying that women are not equal with the other half of humanity wherever you look.
We need to make the world more equal and safer for women. The question is how? We need to address the issue of empowerment at many levels. First is the physical level where we need to see how women can be better educated, have access to better medical facilities, have more say in their communities and government and have more income and assets. Second is the intellectual or mental level where we need to work on breaking taboos and tradition that let women suffer. The third level is the emotional empowerment of women where we need to find ways to make women more emotionally independent and therefore stronger. The last level is of course spiritual empowerment which deals with the ultimate freedom in spirit.
Physical empowerment of women would require the political will of nations so that not only more of their budget is allocated to education but also legislations are enacted to ensure that all girls are educated to at least the senior school level. Women can be empowered only if women are educated and are able to unlearn what millions of years of subjugation has made them learn. Better medical facilities would need to be created to ensure safe childbirth as a lot of women die during childbirth in poor countries. Laws would need to be framed to bring about equal participation by women in legislature and governance. Lack of participation in governance is a problem which is omnipresent and development-blind; and does not distinguish between developed and under-developed nations as women representatives are hard to come by in any government in the world. The U.S., which is a super-power and the world’s oldest republic and democracy, has yet to elect a woman as its President in nearly two and a half centuries of democracy. The last aspect of physical empowerment deals with the economic empowerment of women and is perhaps the most important. I read in some U.N. report that on an
aggregate women work two thirds of the total work put in and get paid one-fifth of the total money paid out and I may be slightly wrong with the figures but the comparison was just as stark and showed how unfair and grim the situation is. It is perhaps grimmer because the same report said that of all assets, money and real estate etc., owned worldwide only one percent is owned by women. That has to change.
Women have not only to be educated they also have to be taught to be money smart. All the efforts that have been made by U.N., various governments and N.G.O.s in the direction of empowerment of women have largely been made in the realm of physical empowerment and scarce little has been done to address the underlying issues. We women are more often than not, though unknowingly fully responsible for our being the way we are. Women have failed women and women have cheated women by perpetuating traditions and taboos that are detrimental and derogatory towards women. Let me illustrate. A woman who was maltreated by her mother-in-law ironically treats her daughter-in-law in the same way. A woman who is unhappy that her husband does not share her household chores and the responsibility of rearing children ironically does not think twice about stopping her son from emulating his father. This has to change if the lot of women has to change for the better. And this passing on the baton from generation to generation will not stop only with the four physical changes such as education that have been described above. It will require a paradigm shift in the minds of women; a paradigm shift that says that, ‘though you may have suffered indignities, you will not perpetuate them.’ This shift in mindset can happen only when we work towards empowering women intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. A campaign that conveys this effectively would have to be run at many levels involving all those who can influence change.
Safety of women just as empowerment has to be tackled on various fronts. Physically, stricter laws protecting women, better policing, inclusion of more women in policing, education and stricter punishment that is enforced without delay would go a long way in making women safer. Yet these measures will not go the full distance in securing women. The deeper levels would involve working towards peaceful resolution of all disputes across the globe lest they degenerate into full scale war or worse still, guerrilla warfare and heap rape, abduction, displacement, female circumcision and murder on women, as is happening in theaters of war like Iraq and Syria. Ongoing violence must be stopped and disputes should be resolved amicably. Sex determination tests that lead to female feticide must be stopped. A campaign is already underway to educate people against disturbing the sex ratio and accepting the girl child and it seems to be working, though it needs to be stepped up.
We women must become intolerant towards any attempt at compromising our safety. My father came back from a recent trip to Dubai and recounted how people were careful about not breaking the law there even for small things like littering and spitting. He said while he was very wary about not littering in Dubai, he did not care much about it after returning to India and as soon as he got into his cab at the airport he rolled down his glass and threw a chocolate wrapper. He said that at that instant he thought about it and the realization dawned upon him; it had to do with tolerance and intolerance. We Indians are tolerant towards littering and spitting and so it goes on unabated while in Dubai they are intolerant towards the same attributes and so no one dares do it. That then I think is the mantra. Anyone who thinks that they will be able to run down, humiliate, tease, stalk, molest or rape a woman and the woman in question and women at large will tolerate it and accept it as her and their destiny, will do it
without a second thought. The moment he knows that his action may not be tolerated and he may not get away with it, he will not do it. Women have to become intolerant towards any form of misbehavior and once those who violate us understand that, all violence will cease.
The silent revolution that aims at bettering the lives of women has already seen several generations go by and will indeed see some more generations live and go before attaining its goal. Our aim should be to accelerate this pace of reforms so that our daughters and grand-daughters are able to live the lives of equal humans and are safe.
To end I would like to define what women empowerment means to me. Women should coexist with men fearlessly; be able to work, travel, learn and live freely; and above all be equal humans with their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons.