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Can the Status of a Woman in India be defined? - Outside View

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Can the Status of a Woman in India be defined?
Feb 21, 2014

The 5th Five year plan (1974-1978) was characterised by a shift in policy approach towards women in India; one marked from welfare towards development. However, the question remains 'whether this shift has actually taken place?' Reality tells another tale! Women in India have been largely divided on the basis of two identified concepts, essentiality and utility. To explain, the concept of essentiality describes why women have been gaining centre stage - due to increasing numbers. Based on the Election Commission data for Assembly elections held between 1962 and 2012 in 16 major States, the sex ratio of voters (number of women voters for every 1,000 men voters) improved from 715 in the 1960s to 883 in the 2000s. This has resulted in an 'essential' agenda to woo women's votes.

On the other hand, the concept of utility is literal. The services of women in their roles as mothers, wives, sisters etc. add trillions of dollars to the economy. Although unaccounted in the macro economy, this contribution cannot be ignored. These two concepts and their value-additions to women, highlight the reality of today. This identification makes us wonder whether women in the country are being accommodated and highlighted in political plans and agendas due to favourable number games or due to the sincere discovery of their output. Had their contribution been less attractive would they have got the same thoughtfulness they fetch or appear to be fetching today?

Women, like minorities in India, are turning into soft targets for vote politics. The Capital of the country, Delhi, is mushrooming with pro-women campaigns by both the incumbent party and the opposition party in the run up to the elections in 2014. Is the woman of today a billboard mascot with realisable power to change a nation's destiny or just a contextually appealing symbol? Capitalising on women related issues became easier with the Delhi rape case that shocked the country. People still ask the question whether this incident has resulted in a change in the way women are regarded or using it as another easy door to generate votes?

When we look around we see women working, earning and enjoying freedom! However, freedom here is an appearance which could be deceptive in many cases. A household that allows women these luxuries of independence within India's strong societal norms could be reeling under patriarchal dominance. Families do allow their daughters and wives to earn, learn and play but do they get the real freedom to make their own choices, as simple as choosing a life partner? Rural women living in sterner and restraining societies could be facing more of such issues related to their freedom of selection. Perhaps, a woman is indeed a product of the identified concepts of essentiality and utility, and sadly enough, maybe nothing more.

Women empowerment and gender equality sounds great on paper, equally sweet from a prodigious orator and a thought for vengeance for women activists working in the sector but, does it really exist? Indian women are often conditioned by the deep-rooted Indian culture. This conditioning is a product of society and family values. As this is an acclimatization, it takes place even without force. Why is it that women are being told to do things? Why is choice being forced upon them? The micro picture at the level of a family unit in an Indian household is drastically different from the macro picture of women development portrayed in public. Much touted power strengthening promises seem to be sluggish in their efficiency. Catching the essence is the National Commission for Women's (NCW) explanation of poverty, 'poverty is not only the lack of material resources but also lack of power and choice'.

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