Shafiq R Khan



The concepts “sex” and “gender” may be defined as follows: “Sex” refers to the biological differences between women and men. They are generally permanent and universal. “Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles and responsibilities of women and men, in a given culture or location. These roles are influenced by perceptions and expectations arising from cultural, political, environmental, economic, social, and religious factors, as well as custom, law, class, ethnicity, and individual or institutional bias. Gender attitudes and behaviors are learned and can be changed.

What are some of the situations in which we see gender differences? Social: Different perceptions of women’s and men’s social roles: the man seen as head of the household and chief bread-winner; the woman seen as nurturer and care-giver. Political: Differences in the ways in which women and men assume and share power and authority: men more involved in national- and higher-level politics; women more involved at the local level in activities linked to their domestic roles. Educational: Differences in educational opportunities and expectations of girls and boys: family resources directed to boy’s rather than girl’s education; girls streamed into less-challenging academic tracks. Economic: Differences in women’s and men’s access to lucrative careers and control of financial and other productive resources: credit and loans; land ownership. COMMON GENDER STEREOTYPES Below are lists of common female and male stereotypes.

                  Women are
Men are
                   Less important
More important
GENDER ROLES The biological differences between men and women do not normally change; people are either male or female. However, the characteristics they are perceived to have, and the roles and responsibilities assigned to them, differ among societies, cultures, and historical periods. Gender roles are the activities ascribed to men and women on the basis of perceived differences. “Division of labor” is a term used in gender literature to mean the roles and tasks assigned to women and men on the basis of perceived gender characteristics and attributes, instead of ability and skills. Men’s Roles Today, in the world’s more industrialized countries there are few lines of demarcation between men’s and women’s occupations. However, in many less industrialized societies men have more visible and recognized roles than women, largely because men are paid for their productive work and women are not. In these societies, men’s roles usually involve jobs which are assessed and counted in national censuses and accounting systems. Men do not usually perform domestic or household tasks. If they have community management roles, these tend to involve political organization and leadership. Women handle community organization and hands-on activities. Women’s Roles Women’s roles in most societies fall into three categories: productive (relating to production of goods for consumption or income through work in or outside the home), reproductive (relating to domestic or household tasks associated with creating and sustaining children and family), and community management (relating to tasks and responsibilities carried out for the benefit of the community). Women must balance the demands of these three different roles and should be recognized for their contributions. The tasks women usually perform in carrying out their different roles do not generally earn them an income. Women are often defined exclusively in terms of their reproductive roles, which largely concern activities associated with their reproductive functions. These reproductive roles, together with their community management roles, are perceived as natural. But because these roles do not earn income, they are not recognized and valued as economically productive. Women’s contributions to national economic development are, therefore, often not quantified and invisible. In many societies, women also carry out productive activities such as maintaining smallholder agricultural plots in farming systems. These tasks are often not considered work and are often unpaid. Women may also perform many roles which attract wages in both the formal and informal economic sectors. But women’s economically productive roles, in contrast to men’s, are often undervalued or given relatively little recognition. Gender roles and responsibilities vary among cultures and can change over time. For example, in India, unskilled labor is considered “women’s work” while in Africa it is “men’s work.” In Europe and the United States, the contribution men make to domestic activities is becoming increasingly important and visible. GENDER EQUITY & EQUALITY Gender Equity is the process of being fair to men and women. To ensure fairness, measures must often be put in place to compensate for the historical and social disadvantages that prevent women and men from operating on a level playing field. Equity is a means. Equality is the result. Equity: The distribution of rewards in society according to some criterion of merit, i.e., procedural justice and fairness. Outcomes reflect individual contributions. Equality: Giving the same reward to all, regardless of their contributions. Gender inequality is still very evident in this respect, as indicated by the following United Nations statistics: •Women perform 2/3 of the world’s work •Women earn 1/10 of the world’s income •Women are 2/3 of the world’s illiterates •Women own less than 1/100 of the world’s property Constitution of India Article 14 Ensures gender equality. Article 15 Prohibits discrimination on grounds of sex. Article 16 Provides for equality of opportunity in public employment. Article 15 (3) Permits the State to make special provisions for women and children. Article 39 Enjoins the State to provide an adequate means of livelihood to men and women. Article 51 A (e) Makes it a duty of every citizen to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.

Women empowerment in India: Discrimination against women in all walks of life
One of the major aspects of women empowerment in India is to change the attitude of society towards women. The problem in India is that the society never worked on the premise of gender equality from a long-long time. Atrocities and discrimination against women is a way of daily life in Indian society. There is an attitude which still prevails in India where women are considered to be only worthwhile of household activities and managing the children. The veil system, child marriage and dowry are testimonies to this truth. Women have never been part of the mainstream society in India and they are still considered as a great liability. If we just look at the sex ratio it will show the plight of women in India. It is the lowest at around 933. Female literacy is just 54.16 % as per 2001 Census. In Indian parliament and assemblies women have never represented more than 10%. Most of the women workers in India are outside the organized sector. Administrators, managers, professionals combined together and technical workers on the other hand are the lowest at 2.3% and 20 % respectively. Now these figures gives the real truth of the actual mentality of the society which has restricted women, marginalized women and discriminated against women quite openly. Can we achieve women empowerment in India with these alarming and dismal figures?
Women empowerment in India: Women not in control over their circumstances
As I mentioned before the government had declared 2001 as the women's empowerment year but nothing much has happened even after that. Women even today are not able to exercise full control over their circumstances or actions. From a welfare society at the inception, India moved on to embrace the developmental model and now the latest fad is the empowerment model. But with all these initiatives however genuine they might have been or they are, nothing substantial has happened on the ground. Majority of Women in India are poor, uneducated and insufficiently trained. They often end up in the daily struggle of managing an ill equipped family and are not in a position to propel out themselves of the oppressive and regressive social and economic conditions. Female infanticide is one of the biggest crimes against humanity that is being carried out in India. The patriarchal system encourages a male child and considers women as a property or liability from the day she is born. We need to accept the truth that there is a great discrepancy in the ideology and the actual practice of empowerment policy in India. Everything is happening at a very superficial level and the time has come to find out an actionable path at the ground level for real and measurable change.
Women empowerment in India: Issues to be tackled
There are quite a large number of issues which need to be addressed to streamline the existing women empowerment programmes in India as well as initiating actual work at the ground level. Women make up to 52% of country's population but their living conditions are very tough and torturous. To initiate measurable actions at ground level, education of women should be given top priority and female literacy programmes need to be enforced across the country. Further to improve the socioeconomic conditions women need to be trained and better equipped for taking informed decisions. The real change will be only visible when social attitudes and norms change. Here inclusive programmes involving the men are the need of the hour. This will be helpful for working out adjustments and sharing of gender based specific performance or tasks which are currently overburdening the women to no end. Unless we improve the ground level living standards of women in India we might not be able to influence their empowerment in any other possible way. Various issues that need to be addressed for improving overall conditions of the women in India include making access to affordable coking fuel for rural women, providing safe drinking water, sanitation, increasing decision making capacity among women, providing equal wages as that of men, ending their exploitation, improving the political participation of women, eradicating poverty among women, increasing the security of women who are engaged in agriculture as daily wage workers, providing affordable healthcare and nutrition and managing the risk of unwanted pregnancies, HIV infections and sexually transmitted diseases.
Women empowerment in India: Ending gender inequality and gender bias
It has to be understood that unless we change the basic social attitude which cultivates gender inequality and gender bias we would not be able to achieve much in terms of women empowerment in India. There are many laws and there have been many amendments that have been carried out to end the discrimination against women and empower women in all aspects of life. Gender equality is enshrined in Indian constitution and constitution empowers the state to end the gender based discrimination against women. There is reservation of seats in local bodies and municipalities and another law is being envisioned for reservation in parliament. But the sad part is that all these laws and amendments have become toothless as the fundamental problems lies in the attitude of the society which is highly biased against women. Now what is the solution? The only solution is for women to come together as a unifying force and initiate self empowering actions at the ground level. Let it happen even if it is at a slow pace initially but it must happen despite however small the initial steps might look like. So the connection is very clear. Once we work towards self empowerment through small number of infinite actions, we become aware of the ground realities and then we can think about taking further recourse towards changing the mindset of the society which fosters gender inequality and bias.
Women empowerment in India: Ending violence against women
When we talk about women empowerment in India the most important aspect that comes into the mind is the attitude of the society towards women. Women are still considered as burden and liabilities. They are also considered as properties. These kinds of attitudes give birth to the evil of violence against women. Women empowerment in India is not possible unless violence against women is eradicated from the society. National Commission of women was created in 1992 and Convention of elimination of all forms of discrimination against women was ratified in 1993. Apart from the laws and policy formulations the violence against women can be only tackled through attitudinal change that need to take place in the family, in the society and the female members of the society as well. Only this attitudinal change and proactive action against violence by every single individual will help in galvanising the slumbering structures of the government and society towards further concrete steps and action. Unless society accepts gender equality as a fundamental principle of human existence all efforts will only partially bear results. Gender sensitisation and gender training is primary need of the hour. The struggle of gender equality should be carried at every level and it should overcome the barriers of caste, class, race and religion.
Women empowerment in India: Cooperation among women
To reemphasize once again, women's empowerment cannot take place unless women come together and decide to self-empower themselves. Self empowerment should be all round in nature. Once this happens then we can think about galvanizing the system towards the direction of better health facilities, nutrition and educational facilities for women at a very large scale. Self empowerment can begin by addressing day to day issues faced by individual women and tackling them with a mindset of improving the overall living conditions of women at every level and strata of the society. A movement has to be build which awakens the individual self in each and every woman for creative and generative action. In this regard progressive and resourceful women in the society need to come forward to help their less privileged sisters in as many ways as possible. This shall help us sow the seed for real women empowerment in India.
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