Women empowerment in world cannot be considered as a uniform issue and treated with stereotyped measures. In different parts of the world the issues are different and therefore the needs are also different. We need to understand that women empowerment is not equivalent to a motorway where administration of stereotyped fast-track programmes will bring quick change. Making some women gain power in the present structures or making a few more to make informed choices in their life is not really changing the situation on the ground. The underlying conditions which affect women in the form of bias and discrimination exist in the social fabric of the society and therefore addressing the issue in a limited and stereotyped manner is not going to help women empowerment in world. What we need today is sweeping changes in the structures of society which are inherently biased against women.
Women empowerment in world: The waves of change
Now time has come to look women empowerment in world as a movement for change which gathers strength by creating and generating new structures and systems in the society which are gender neutral and which promote gender equality. In fact time has come when women empowerment in world should be considered something more than the usual activities involved with providing small scale project loans to women or which supports small-scale business activities to help women acquire money and the imagined power of money. This change in thinking is necessary because the hard fact is that money cannot act as a magic wand and wish away overnight the social norms, institutions and relationships that are part of our lives and which are primarily responsible for the wide scale discrimination and bias against women. Poverty reduction is not the beginning and the end of women empowerment in world. We need to acknowledge that it is just one of the major goals. On the other hand the real question to ask is whether women empowerment in world has been able to change the authoritarian structures behind the social norms, institutions and relationships which openly propagate gender bias and discrimination. The development model of empowerment does not answer this question satisfactorily and therefore the developmental model should be considered as one of the tools of empowerment rather than the beginning and the end of empowerment. The time has come when women empowerment in world needs to expand into the consciousness of women and awaken the power within each and every woman. Awakening this power should not be for just making money or gaining limited power in the present biased structures of societies but it should act as a catalyst for creative and generative change in all spheres of life. Such awakening of internal power and consciousness for creative and generative action will give birth to agents of real change. Through numerous pathways and diverse solutions these agents of change can bring genuine transformation in the society for the betterment of women and the whole of humanity. The process might look slow in the beginning but definitely the fire will catch on and the results will be visible in the long run. We need to accept the current reality that women empowerment in world is still a farfetched idea. To bridge the gap between the vision of women empowerment in world and the current reality of gender bias and disparity, we need action at local level as well as the global level. This can be only achieved through increased participation of women at ground level leading to their greater role in the decision making bodies at local level. This in turn will lead to greater economic participation of women, enhanced economic opportunity for women and socioeconomic and political empowerment of women. A ground level movement which gets entrenched in the local area and which grows in the local area will naturally act as a catalyst for enhanced educational attainment, better health care and nutrition and overall well being of women in that area.
Women Empowerment in world: Focusing on the ground level but simultaneously thinking globally
Women empowerment in world should be considered as an ongoing journey rather than a destination to reach. To do so we need to leave the typical baggage, assumptions and stereotypes that is currently followed in the name of gender and development. It is important to gauge the actual experiences of women on ground and find if it matches with the changes that are sought by the various programmes that are being implemented as part of the women empowerment programmes. As I said before the time has come for real and genuine change and in this regard challenging the existing institutionalized inequalities of an established gender order is very important. This challenge should be creative in nature in the sense that it lays foundations for generation of new structures based on gender equality. We must agree to the fact that women in different parts of the world have different needs and issues to be addressed and therefore one-size-fits-all interventions should be avoided. There are differences between countries and we need to acknowledge this fact and work by keeping these differences in mind. Development of empowerment models which suit to a specific situation is the need of the hour and by implementing programmes as per the need of the different countries, societies and localities we can make a profound impact at the ground level. But the real change that we are seeking will only come when at the ground level women participate in a campaign which begins from their inner self and which spreads like a fire to bring creative and generative change. Such a campaign shall enhance the social, political and economic participation of women at the ground level with a purpose that envisions everlasting change in the direction of gender based equality. This movement and campaign will be far more powerful and responsive than bringing few women into politics as this will make the political structures and other institutions of the society to be more accountable and responsive to the needs of the women. The traditional structures and institutions will be forced to adopt and change so that they represent the truth of today which is nothing less than gender equality and equal rights for women.
Women Empowerment in world: Local campaigns based on lived experiences
The mass campaign for change should be the goal for women empowerment in world but for that the movement should take root at the ground level. Such a campaign or movement will only take roots at the ground level if it is based on the local issues and it touches upon the lived experiences of the women at a particular place or locality. The first step of such a campaign should be to address the basic inequality against women in the society that exists in any number of forms. Addressing local issues or needs which stems from this inequality in the society is the best way to begin a campaign. The focus should be to give solutions to the needs and issues of the women at the local level through their own leaders. This can be done in the form of constructive and creative pursuits like offering schools and training institutes to develop local leaders. These leaders can take the campaign forward in their area by working on the local structures which require change. The schools and training institutes can thus act as the seed for developing the next generation of leaders who can work within the current structures as well as create new structures for the larger benefit of women and humanity as a whole. Once this happens then we can slowly think about building structures in society based on gender equality. The newer approach to women empowerment should thus focus on lived experiences rather than stereotypes. The campaigns or movements which originate at the ground level should be based on this newer approach of developing local leaders who can galvanize constructive change. Once this happens then the campaign can naturally move to become regional, national and global collations for change.
Women empowerment in world: Gender inequality as the primary impediment in Empowerment of women
When we talk about the need for change we should also understand the need for such change. The constructive change should try to bring about a social order which is based on gender equality. We have to be aware of the fact that the issues of gender inequality and gender based discrimination are the primary reasons for beginning a grass root campaign. Gender equality should be the real purpose for any such grass root campaign. The truth is that gender inequality is a big impediment in the way of women empowerment around the world. Gender inequality can be seen in the society in overt as well as covert forms in rural and urban settings and this includes violence against women, discriminatory practices against women and issues of inadequate and restrictive reproductive health rights. Gender based equality can be achieved only if we tackle issues related to gender based discrimination and bias at every level.
Women empowerment in world: Lessening the burden on women
Gender equality campaigns should also address changes that are required to lessen the burden of women. For example finding solutions to issues related to combining the child-bearing, breastfeeding, child rearing needs of women along with their participation in the workforce can make the life of women less harsh. Here men should be encouraged to shoulder the responsibilities of raising a family and they should take responsibility for their sexual and reproductive behaviour, their social and family roles. Further the major goals of gender based equality should be to make women at the grass root level capable to act and enhance their decision-making capability in local settings. The galvanized action at the local level by women will help them to promote equal opportunity for themselves and this will also profoundly help in impacting policy changes for their own good. Further local level activism will help in redressing gender inequalities, elimination of harmful practices, attitudes and discrimination against women and girls. This will create a zero tolerance among public for discriminatory practices like the urge of son, unequal care for girl children, violence in all forms including female genital cutting, rape, incest, sexual violence and trafficking.
Women empowerment in world: Readdressing gender inequality
We can influence the larger systems and structures to respond to the need for social, cultural and legal changes by creating sufficient force and momentum from the grass root levels. The campaign at the grass root creates momentum which can influence the higher structures of the society. There can be number of ways in which the grass root campaign can be initiated. It depends upon the local issues. To give some examples, common issues that can be taken up through the grass root movement include taking up services to women victims of violence, prevention and counselling services against violence including telephone hotlines, addressing inequality in health programmes, programmes to educate women about reproductive and human rights, offer training in literacy, employment skills, legal rights, parenting, child health and social mobilization. Strengthening the capabilities of women by elimination of gender gaps in secondary education, increasing adolescents’ and women access to sexual and reproductive health information and services are other major areas to focus.
Women empowerment in world: Sexual and reproductive rights for women
As I said before, women empowerment in world should focus on personal issues at local levels and one of the main issues is about women sexuality. There are major concern areas when we talk of women sexuality in terms of issues like sexually transmitted diseases and sexual violation. Women empowerment in world which works at the local level should address these issues in depth. Women empowerment should provide a strong platform for women to exercise choices over their own sexual and reproductive lives. Women empowerment should address very strongly the issues related to male predation and it should create framework and information for recognizing and celebrating female sexuality both positive and pleasurable.
Women empowerment in world: Focussing on enhanced security for women
Another major issue that affects large parts of the world is human trafficking. This problem arises because of the weak structures at the grass root level whereby women are forced into circumstances which lead to their trafficking. Human trafficking takes place because of the appalling socioeconomic conditions prevailing in the local area. Trafficking of women and girls and violence against women are issues which require strong legal measures along with ground level action.
Women Empowerment in world: Violence against the girl child and women
When we talk of issues related to gender discrimination then one of the burning issues is violence against the girl child and women. This is a major problem in many parts of the world. The elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child should become a must. In large parts of the world the girl child faces unending discrimination and is subjected to violence of many kinds. In conflict zones the violence against girl child is widely prevalent. There is hidden violence against girl child and women who stay at home where even their reproductive and sexual health rights are contravened. This deprives the basic human dignity and is life-threatening. Even the survival of the girl child and her coming into the world itself is becoming a big question mark because of sex selective abortion of the female child and if she takes birth and manages to survive then she lives a deprived childhood with genital mutilation, lack of basic education, marriage at 12 years and rape. By the age of 12 the girl child already becomes infected with deadly sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and AIDS. This is a bitter truth in many parts of the world. Even if the child passes this period then still she enters into a life of drudgery as an unpaid servant of the house or in many cases turn out to prostitution. A few lucky go to school and college and manage to get education eventually to get married to someone and life a live of a house wife. Then the ordeal starts all over again for a life time with domestic violence and the burden of running a home without even the basic health, nutrition or reproductive rights in sight. Now these are issues which are actual ground realities and we need actions against them.
Women empowerment in world: Building from ground up to create global collations
The solution to gender based discrimination can only come if we work from the grass root level and create a campaign which moves upward. Once the women empowerment movement catches fire from the local area then it can move on to the regional, national and global levels with wide range of issues. This movement can then address discrimination and violence in many forms and cater to the needs for improving economic and political opportunity for women. Reducing discrimination against women in employment and earnings, reducing gender inequalities in property and inheritance and increasing women share of seats in regional and national government bodies can be the other issues which can be taken up as the campaign grows from locality to region and to national and international levels. As I said before at these levels improving women security by significantly reducing the incidence of violence against girls and women should be a major area of focus.
Women empowerment in world: Work at the Macro level
Women empowerment is distinct aim as we are still struggling with gender based discrimination, inequality and lack of fairness for women in every sphere of life. In this regard the need of the hour is to understand the practical realities of discrimination and inequality and then keeping that as the basis develop social policies for affirmative action through public debate, legal arrangements and legislation. All this can happen at macro level provided we have created a sustainable campaign at the grass root level. Without that everything will be superficial and policies and laws will only remain in paper.
Women Empowerment in world: The role of the state in empowerment of women
The role of the state in the empowerment of women is far less than satisfactory but the only way to galvanize the state is to start from the ground level and then move upwards. Creating a mass movement at the ground level by focusing on local issues can help us to shake the system and make it more responsive to change. At this level we can touch upon various issues that need to be urgently addressed. Among them we have new forms of violence against women that have emerged whereas freedom from violence that was previously made has eroded. Women empowerment in world should focus on these issues and make states more responsive to them. It is a known fact that states are not taking enough measures to ensure gender equality and protection of women human rights is not an important issue anymore. This can be reflected by the glaring gap between the international standards that has been set and the national laws, policies and practices that are implemented by individual states. In this regard even the role of UN as a coordinating agency also needs to be reinforced. But again the crux of the story is simple. If we want to make an impact at the state level and the international level, we need to start working first at the local level and then move to the regional, state and then the international levels. Top down approach is not going to pay much and in fact the work should start from down at the ground level and then move upwards.
Women empowerment in world: How to make the present structures accountable and responsive
We need to understand that the priority is not for increasing the numbers of women in top level organizations or structures or government bodies but the real change should come by making these organizations and structures responsive to the ground realities and thus positively influence their way of doing the business. The gender equality action plans signed by the governments and international organizations are actually not implemented. In this kind of scenario direct action through mass mobilisation at the ground level by focusing on the local issues and local leaders is the best way to create necessary heat and pressure for making the top level organizations and structures to respond and change. There are many instances around the world where the state apparatus clamps down on rights and silences the voice of dissent. Here the priority is lost for implementing laws and regulations that promote rights particularly that of women. Such authoritarian structures can be shaken for change only through grass root movements where real and genuine people come together as change leaders. This should happen in a creative and constructive atmosphere rather than on a destructive agenda. All grass root social organizations including men and women need to work together and finally hold governments to account for social justice by creating a grass root force which shall make the government to respond to the needs. Other impediments to progress at the macro level include lack of quality data disaggregated by sex, paucity of financial and technical resources for women programmes at both international and national levels, and confusion about the relative merits of gender mainstreaming versus women focused programmes. Behind these factors lie the questions of political clout and commitment.