Introduction

Over the past decade, gender equality and women‗s empowerment have been explicitly recognized as key not only to the health of nations, but also to social and economic development. India‗s National Population Policy 2000 has empowering women for health and nutrition‗ as one of its crosscutting strategic themes. Additionally, the promotion of gender equality and empowering of women is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to which India is a signatory. The pairing of the two concepts of women‗s empowerment and gender equality into one MDG implicitly recognizes that gender equality and women‗s empowerment are two sides of the same coin: progress toward gender equality requires women‗s empowerment and women‗s empowerment requires increases in gender equality as shown. Since gender inequality and women‗s disempowerment occur in all the different domains in which women and men interact and function, both concepts are multi-dimensional; consequently, they give rise to a large number of potential indicators. Indicators of gender equality/inequality are typically designed to compare the status of women and men on particular characteristics of interest; whereas, by definition, indicators of empowerment/ disempowerment tend not to be relative. Instead, indicators of empowerment are designed to measure roles, attitudes, and rights of women and sometimes men. In order to measure gender equality and women‗s empowerment, the concepts need to be clearly defined and their hypothesized associations with each other and health outcomes discussed. In common parlance, the terms gender and sex are often used interchangeably; however, they are distinct concepts. Whereas, sex of individuals is largely determined by

biology, their gender is socially constructed and comprises the roles, rights, and obligations that attach to them on the basis of their sex. Kishor (2006) identifies three important aspects of gender namely: a) ―Gender tends not be value neutral‖. The roles, rights, and obligations assigned to each sex are not just different, but also unequal with male roles and rights generally being valued more highly than female roles and rights. b) ―Gender involves differences in power, both power to and power over‖. The concept of power to encompasses legal and informal rights, access to resources, and pursuit of knowledge and personal goals, and cuts across most domains of human functioning, including familial, cultural, and institutional domains. Power over refers to control over societal and household resources and decisions, cultural and religious ideology, and one's own and others' bodies. Importantly, men tend to have greater power than women, and, in some domains, even have power over women. c) ―Gender is not static or immutable‖. Being socially constructed, gender roles, rights, and expectations can change over time and across geographical space as societal needs, opportunities, and customs change. As a result of (a) and (b), inequalities based on gender, as also the disempowerment of females, are pervasive in most societies, particularly patriarchal ones such as in India. Gender-based differences in power and resource-access have consequences for the quality of life of the population, including its health, as shown in the figure below.

You might be listening to news, reading newspaper or magazine, you would have gone through incidents and accidents with women in India. While any other article on women‘s empowerment

in India will take a look at our rich heritage and enlightened societies of the past where women were treated as equals, the concept of ―India‖ itself evolved quite recently, relative to the sum of its parts‘ histories. But the TRUTH is that in the modern India, the woman has always been a second grade citizen, no matter what its esteemed leaders have said or done. It is hard to fathom how slow moving the cultural exchange of the world is when you find out that there are several places across the country where harmful customs of the ancient world coexist with modern appliances and thought. However that may come as hardly any surprise to anyone who has lived in India – the dichotomy of society is something that can only be explained by a refrain from an old Bollywood song: ―It happens only in India!‖ Yes, it is only in India that glaring and brutal gang rapes occur frequently in a state that is headed by a woman Chief Minister. Gender discrimination is the least of worries for women in India, known otherwise as the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women. Other instances of violence against women has an astonishing and grim variety to it – with acid throwing, domestic violence stemming out of dowry, rape, harassment and an assortment of others.

WHAT IS WOMEN EMPOWERMENT? In the simplest of words it is basically the creation of an environment where women can make independent decisions on their personal development as well as shine as equals in society. Women want to be treated as equals so much so that if a woman rises to the top of her field it should be a commonplace occurrence that draws nothing more than a raised eyebrow at the gender. This can only happen if there is a channelized route for the empowerment of women. Thus it is no real surprise that women empowerment in India is a hotly discussed topic with no real solution looming in the horizon except to doubly redouble our efforts and continue to target the sources of all the violence and ill-will towards women.

Women‘s empowerment in India is heavily dependent on many different variables that include geographical location (urban/rural), educational status, social status (caste and class), and age. Policies on women‘s empowerment exist at the national, state, and local (Panchayat) levels in many sectors, including health, education, economic opportunities, gender-based violence, and political participation. However, there are significant gaps between policy advancements and actual practice at the community level. One key factor for the gap in implementation of laws and policies1 to address discrimination, economic disadvantages, and violence against women at the community level is the largely patriarchal structure that governs the community and households in much of India. As such, women and girls have restricted mobility, access to education, access to health facilities, and lower decision-making power, and experience higher rates of violence. Political participation is also hindered at the Panchayat (local governing bodies) level and at the state and national levels, despite existing reservations for women. The impact of the patriarchal structure can be seen in rural and urban India, although women‘s empowerment in rural India is much less visible than in urban areas. This is of particular concern, since much of India is rural despite the high rate of urbanization and expansion of cities. Rural women, as opposed to women in urban settings, face inequality at much higher rates, and in all spheres of life. Urban women and, in particular, urban educated women enjoy relatively higher access to economic opportunities, health and education, and experience less domestic violence. Women (both urban and rural) who have some level of education have higher decisionmaking power in the household and the community. Furthermore, the level of women‘s education also has a direct implication on maternal mortality rates, and nutrition and health

indicators among children. Among rural women, there are further divisions that hinder women‘s empowerment. The most notable ones are education levels and caste and class divisions. Women from lower castes (the scheduled castes, other backward castes, and tribal communities) are particularly vulnerable to maternal mortality and infant mortality. They are often unable to access health and educational services, lack decision-making power, and face higher levels of violence. Among women of lower caste and class, some level of education has shown to have a positive impact on women‘s empowerment indicators. Social divisions among urban women also have a similar impact on empowerment indicators. Upper class and educated women have better access to health, education, and economic opportunities, whereas lower class, less educated women in urban settings enjoy these rights significantly less. Due to rapid urbanisation and lack of economic opportunities in other parts of the country, cities also house sprawling slum areas. Slums are informal sprawls, and most times lack basic services such as clean water, sanitation, and health facilities. Additionally, slum dwellers mostly work in unorganized and informal sectors, making them vulnerable to raids by the state, abuse by employers, and other forms of insecurity. Women and children in slums are among the most vulnerable to violence and abuse, and are deprived of their basic human rights.

As a result of a vibrant women‘s movement in the last 50 years, policies to advance human rights for women in India are substantial and forward-thinking, such as the Domestic Violence Act (2005), and the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution that provide reservations for women to enter politics at the Panchayat level. There are multiple national and state level governmental and non-governmental mechanisms such as the Women‘s Commission to advance these policies, and the implementation of these policies is decentralized to state and district-level authorities and organizations that include local non-governmental organizations. The policy/practice gap in India cuts across all sectors and initiatives as a result of rampant corruption and lack of good governance practices. State-level governments claim a lack of resources, and the resources they do receive are highly susceptible to corruption. Financial corruption hinders the government‘s ability to invest in social capital, including initiatives to advance women‘s empowerment. Since the 1990‘s India has put in place processes and legislative acts such as the Right to Information Act (2005) for information disclosure to increase transparency and hold government officials accountable. Mistrust of political institutions and leaders remains high in the society with corruption and graft allegations often covering media headlines. In addition to corruption and inadequate resources for implementation of initiatives at the

community level, women‘s empowerment in India is negatively impacted by the pervasive discrimination of women in the family and the community. Discrimination against women in most parts of India (particularly the north) emerges from the social and religious construct of women‘s role and their status. As such, in many parts of India, women are considered to be less than men, occupying a lower status in the family and community, which consequentially restricts equal opportunity in women and girls‘ access to education, economic possibilities, and mobility.

WOMEN'S RIGHTS AND SECURITY IN INDIA Women’s Rights Policies relating to women's rights have had a positive trajectory in the past few decades with the central government articulating many progressive measures to advance gender equality in social, economic, and political arenas. The Government of India (GoI) has two main bodies to advance gender equality: the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the National Commission for Women, which is an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Both bodies work on national- and state-level legal and social policies to advance gender equality. The Ministry has widely implemented local-level micro-finance schemes to advance economic opportunities for rural women. The National Commission for Women has been instrumental in creating legislative changes, and has set up Complaint and Investigate Cells at the state level. The Grievance Cells receive complaints of gender-based violence and are mandated to investigate, provide referrals and counselling, and ultimately report

on such cases. With a vibrant women‘s rights movement in India, there are continuous demands for better laws, provisions, and accountability for implementation. Most recent examples include the change in India‘s rape laws, where in 2006 marital rape was recognized. Currently, women‘s rights activists are demanding better provisions in Sections 375 and 376 of the Indian Penal Code. Since then, there have been multiple challenges by the women‘s movement leading to small but significant amendments. The 2005 Domestic Violence Act provides protection from violence in the household from not only male perpetrators, but also female perpetrators like mothers-in-law and other female members in extended families. There also have been gains in women's inheritance rights, yet challenges remain in implementation. Social biases and lack of enforcement continue to hinder the full realization of Indian inheritance laws. Inheritance laws and property distribution fall under the Hindu and Muslim personal laws, both of which exempt agricultural land.For a country with a predominantly agro-based economy, women‘s inability to inherit agricultural land exacerbates feminization of poverty and neglects women‘s welfare. Like all other spheres of social change in India, there is an undeniable gap between policy and practice. More notably, the deeply entrenched social hierarchies based on class, caste, ethnic, and communal divisions leave many communities on the margins with little knowledge of their rights and even less protection from local, state, and national governmental policies. Inequality between men and women runs across the board, including in education, economic opportunities, representation in governance, and other state and private institutions. Additionally, women in India face high rates of violence. Some recent statistics on women include:

• India ranks 18th among the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with 540 deaths for every 100,000 births • Only 48% of adult Indian women are literate • Among rural women, 36.1% have experienced physical violence in their adult lives • 66% of women who have experienced physical violence in their lifetimes are divorced, widowed, or deserted • Lower caste and tribal women are among those who experience the highest levels of physical violence • 85.3% of women reporting violence claimed that their current husbands were the Perpetrators. • According to the most recent Demographic and Health Survey analysis, only 43% of currently married women (between ages 15-49) are employed as compared to 99% of men. Women’s Security The multiple forms of violence experienced in the household, at the community level, and in some instances by the state, threaten women‘s security in India. In many parts of North India son preference is a widely practiced phenomenon. Son preference has direct linkages to sex-selective

abortion (illegal across India; however, enforcement by both police and some doctors is still lacking), and discrimination of girl children in access to health, nutrition, and education. Research conducted by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) found that, although not universal, particularly in households where there is more than one daughter there are significant differences in nutrition and health levels between male and female children. Additionally, at the household level, incest, rape and domestic violence continue to hinder women‘s development across India. Forty percent of all sexual abuse cases in India are incest, and 94% of the incest cases had a known member of the household as the perpetrator. Dowry related deaths, domestic violence, gang rape of lower caste women by upper caste men, and physical violence by the police towards tribal women all contribute to women‘s insecurity in India. The class and caste structure inadvertently put poor women from lower class and tribal communities at the most risk of violence. Class and caste divisions also create grave challenges to poor, lower caste, and tribal women in accessing justice and retribution as victims and survivors of violence. Women and girls in urban India are also at high risk of gender-based violence. In Delhi, the country‘s capital, a scan of daily newspapers reveals shocking numbers of cases of violence against women. The National Crime Bureau claims that a woman is raped every 29 minutes in

Delhi. Street violence in urban centres is a growing concern for young women and girls, who are increasingly moving away from rural areas for economic opportunities and higher education. Particularly women and girls from the northeast region of India living in urban centres such as Delhi have reported experiencing social discrimination and marginalization, and many times physical violence. In 2005, according to the North East Support Centre, among the 100,000 people from the northeast living in Delhi 86% had reported racial discrimination and 41% of cases were sexual abuse cases. The northeast states of India are a volatile region, with a number of active insurgencies. The GoI has continuously deployed state troops to fight the insurgents, who predominantly follow the Maoist ideology. This region, because of its physical and cultural proximity to Myanmar, China, and Bhutan, has for the most part been ignored by the central government, thereby fuelling the insurgents' demand for development and autonomy. In the northeast (as in most conflict-ridden regions) women bear the brunt of war from both sides. There have been numerous instances of violence perpetrated by state security forces against local and tribal women. Trafficking of Women and Girls India is both a source and destination for trafficked women and girls into prostitution and bonded labour. While exact numbers of trafficked women and girls are difficult to ascertain, there have been figures projected by various national and international NGOs. Anti-trafficking

measures in India have increased with India‘s commitment to international human rights protocols, and through strict legal provisions at the national level. The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1956 (ITPA) is the widely used law to prosecute traffickers, but also is invoked to target prostitution. Sex work is a debated subject in the women‘s movement in India. The anti-prostitution law is seen by many to criminalize and further marginalize women who are in the sex trade. Women‘s rights organizations, activists, and organizations such as the Durbar Mahila Samanway Committee (a nationwide sex workers‘ collective) have long supported legalization of the sex trade in India. The debate over legalization of sex work continues today and sex-work supporters are lobbying to change the ITPA for better rehabilitation measures for those who have been rescued during brothel and street raids. The ITPA also does not give adequate measures for those who are trafficked for purposes other than sex work, and disproportionately targets women, making them further vulnerable to poverty and exploitation.

WOMEN'S ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES IN INDIA

India is one of the world‘s fastest growing economies, with women mainly from the middle class increasingly entering the workforce. Urban centre‘s like Delhi and Bangalore have seen an influx of young women from semi-urban and rural parts of the country, living alone and redefining themselves. However, the story of economic empowerment for women is not a singular narrative; rather it is located in a complex set of caste, class, religious, and ethnic identities.

The Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum in 2009 ranked India 114th out of 134 countries for inequality between men and women in the economy, politics, health, and education. On equal economic opportunities and women‘s participation in the labour force ,India ranked 127th and 122nd respectively.27 The number of women in the workforce varies greatly from state to state: 21% in Delhi; 23% in Punjab; 65% in Manipur; 71% Chhattisgarh;76% in Arunachal Pradesh. The diversity of women‘s economic opportunities between states is due to the cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity of each state. Northern states like Delhi and Punjab lag far behind on gender equality measures, including the alarming sex ratio between men and women (due to son preference and sex-selective abortion), low female literacy levels, and high rates of gender-based violence. In rural India, women‘s economic opportunities remain restricted by social, cultural, and religious barriers. Most notably inheritance laws embedded in Hindu and Shariat civil codes continue to marginalize women in the household and the larger community. Rural women, particularly of lower caste and class, have the lowest literacy rates, and therefore do not have the capacity to negotiate pay or contracts and most often engage in the unorganized sector, self employment, or in small scale industry. Self-help groups (SHGs) are a widely practiced model for social and economic mobility by NGOs and the government. SHGs provide women with the opportunity to manage loans and savings that can be used by members for varying needs. SHGs also are used to promote social change among the members and the community at large. Members of SHGs have used their experiences as leverage to enter other local institutions such as the Panchayat Khap .Rural, low caste, and tribal women also make up 70% of domestic workers in India, a sector which is largely unregulated and unorganized. India‘s growing economy has allowed for many upper and middle-class women to enter the workforce, and while poor rural women have little access to education and training, there is a high demand

for domestic workers in urban hubs. Domestic workers are mostly illiterate, with little or no negotiating power for wage equity, and are highly vulnerable to exploitation and sexual and physical abuse. There is a movement at the policy level to organize domestic workers and to create laws to regulate minimum wage, working hours, and other measures such as life and health insurance. Currently a national-level Taskforce on Domestic Workers has been formed that will present recommendations to the central government on better enforcement of rights for the many undocumented domestic workers in India. Women are also very visible in the construction sector in India, and like domestic workers are largely unorganized and rely on daily wagers. Women construction workers are mostly poor and illiterate and have little negotiating power. This sector is also unregulated and highly vulnerable to exploitation. Women workers also earn significantly less than men, although women are the ones who do most of the backbreaking work like carrying bricks and other heavy materials on site. On the other end of the spectrum, while India has one of the highest percentages of professional women in the world, those who occupy managerial positions are under 3%. Most women work in low administrative positions, and many of the young women migrating to urban centres mostly work in service and retail industries, although more and more women are entering the IT and other technical sectors.

Women’s Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights The movement to assure women‘s economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) as basic human rights is just emerging in India. The movement aims to locate women‘s rights within the larger human rights framework, and by doing so moves away from looking at women‘s issues only within the framework of violence against women and reproductive rights. ESCR attempts to look at the broader issues facing women, namely poverty, housing, unemployment, education, water,

food security, trade, etc. While the human rights movement on ESCR is largely contained at the international policy level, there are emerging social movements around the world. In the Indian context, projects like the Programme on Women‘s Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (PWESCR), for example, is creating linkages between the international human rights movement and the local articulation of women‘s rights. PWESCR aims to build a women‘s rights movement in India that creates equality in all spheres of women‘s lives. By empowering women economically and socially, ESCR provides for a broader discourse on rights that moves women‘s rights from a victim centered approach to one that cuts across other fundamental human rights issues. Women‘s economic opportunity in India is a rapidly changing landscape. Women are increasingly entering the workforce—particularly women professionals—and are creating change, but there remains a large number of invisible women workers in unorganized and volatile sectors. However, organizing at the local level, albeit small, is widespread. Implementation of national and state level policies lags behind in ensuring that women workers have equal pay and are free from exploitation

WOMEN IN POLITICS IN INDIA

Historical Context During the independence movement, women were visible and active as nationalists, and as symbols of ―Mother India‖. Gandhi, in particular, was instrumental in creating space for women through his non-violence (and some would argue feminized) mode of protest. Gandhi‘s

legendary salt march initially excluded women, but due to demands from women nationalists he later realized the power of women organizers at the local level. His inclusion of women, however, was not located within a gender equality framework, but was a means to achieving a stronger and unified Indian state. The inclusion of women in the nationalist movement was also to debunk the British colonial assertion of ―needing to save the poor, vulnerable women‖ of pre independence India. As in many nationalist movements, women in India took part in the struggle, in turn propelling a women‘s rights movement. And, as seen historically in many post-colonial countries, the nationalist women‘s movement in India was confronted by the rebuilding of a patriarchal nationalist state. Women revolutionaries gave way to their male counterparts who (as a result of Partition politics) created a strong, male, and Hindu "New India". The first post-independence Lok Sabha (the People‘s Council or the Parliament) had 4.4% women. The period between the early 1940‘s and late 1970‘s saw an emergence of the Indian women‘s movement, but it was not until the 1980s that the women‘s movement gained real momentum. Reservation at the Panchayat Level In 1976 the Committee on the Status of Women in India was established and published a report recommending an increase in elected women at the grassroots level, which led to the introduction of the 33.3% reservation at the Panchayat level in 1988. It was only in 1993 that an amendment in the constitution made the proposed reservation at the Panchayat (village level governing councils) a reality. In the last two decades since the reservation for women in elected Panchayats was passed, many studies have been conducted to look at the impact of this policy. A survey conducted in 2008 yielded that women made up close to 50% of all the village councils across the India.39 The

number of women representatives has certainly increased at the grassroots level; however, questions still remain regarding their decision-making power within the councils. A study in West Bengal and Rajasthan by the Institute of Management Studies (Calcutta) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that where women Panchayat members were active, there were more robust programs on water, irrigation, and infrastructure. The study conclusively states that in Panchayats where women were present policies were more beneficial to the community than in Panchayats where women were absent. A study by The Accountability Initiative also states that in Panchayats with female presidents, the participation of women in the larger council rose close to 3% in one year. The reason for the increase in women‘s participation is correlated to two possible factors: first, women representatives exemplified new possibilities for change; and second, women leaders took up issues that would have a positive impact on the community as a whole. Caste and Class Politics The complexities of politics in India are embedded in class, caste, and religious identities. An analysis by International Idea of women in the Indian Parliament between 1991 and1996 found that among the small number of women Parliamentarians, a disproportionate number represented the Brahmin caste (the higher caste in the Hindu caste system). Most local governments remain largely patriarchal and caste-based institutions, hindering inclusive governance. Furthermore, social mobility remains a privilege of members of higher classes and caste, although this is dramatically changing as a result of reservations for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in politics and education. For women politicians, class, age, and caste all have significant impact in their political lives. India is one of the few countries in the world that has elected a woman leader. Indira Gandhi was among the very few women leaders in the world

during her time in office. However, her role as the Prime Minister was not seen as a win for the women‘s movement in India. She was the granddaughter of Jawaharlal Nehru and represented the political dynasty of her family. Additionally, her controversial political moves during the declared period of Emergency (19751977) suppressed dissent, forcing many of the radical women‘s rights movements to go underground. In 2007 India elected its first female President, Ms. Pratibha Patil. While the President holds a mostly ceremonial role in Indian politics, Ms. Patil‘s election was deemed a symbolic move towards a more equitable representation of women at the highest levels of government. Although representation of women and members of the lower castes in Indian politics is rapidly changing, complexities of caste politics continue to govern representation. An interesting case study is that of Mayawati, the Chief Minister of Utter Pradesh. Mayawati, a woman and a member of the Dalit caste, was the youngest Chief Minister when first elected, and the only woman Dalit to be elected as a Chief Minister. Although Mayawati represents transcendence of India's caste system, her political career is regrettably tainted with corruption charges, extravagant spending, and little positive impact on the realities of caste and class barriers for men and women in her State. 33% Reservation for Women The Women‘s Bill in April 2010, which gives 33.3% reservation for women in all levels of Indian politics, took 14 years after its introduction to finally pass by the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of parliament). It is yet to be passed by the Lok Sabha (the lower house of parliament). The reservation bill will ensure 181 out of the 543 seats at the Parliament level, and 1,370 seats out of the 4,109 seats at the State Assembly level. This is a historic move in the Indian political landscape, as currently women occupy less than 10% of seats in the national Parliament.

The Women‘s Bill will also significantly change the demographics of class and caste among women politicians in leadership positions in the Indian political structure. It will create a path for women from lower classes and castes (who are currently confined to local-level governance) to enter state and national level governments. In addition to the existing reservations for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, one third of the SC and ST candidates must be women. Other Backward Class (OBC) members are not included in the reservation due to the wide disagreement about who constitutes OBC and a lack of existing data on the OBC population. The two main arguments against the bill are that it will only benefit elite women (particularly in national level politics) and that there should be reservations for Dalit, minorities (particularly Muslim women), and OBCs. However, supporters of the bill do not agree with creating quotas within the existing 33% women quota in parliament, as SC and ST quotas already exist. The bill mandates that all political parties reserve one third of their electoral ticket for women, including in the already mandated reservations for SC and STs. This will inadvertently create spaces for lower caste and class women to enter state and national level politics. The passage and implementation of the Women‘s Bill, and its impact on the existing gender, class, and caste barriers, is yet to be realized, but one thing is clear: India‘s politics is moving closer to equitable inclusion than ever before.

How woman can be empowered?
Educational attainment and economic participation are they key constituents in ensuring the empowerment of women. Educational attainment is essential for empowering women in all spheres of society, for without education of comparable quality and content given to boys and

men, updated with existing knowledge and relevant to current needs, women will be able to have access to well-paid formal sector jobs and advance with men. The economic empowerment of women is a vital element of strong economic growth in any country. Empowering women enhances their ability to influence changes and to create a better society.

Other than educational and economic empowerment, changes in women's mobility and social interaction and changes in intra-household decision-making are necessary. Slight improvement in women's involvement in household decision-making in male-headed household, on such issues as credit, the disposal of household assets, children's education and family healthcare can work wonders. Traditionally, gender based divisions persisted in intra-household decisionmaking. Women basically decide on food preparation and men make the financial decision. Women are one of the greatest assets in our society. They equal to men in all aspects. Women are more perfectionist in the power to create, nurture and transform.' Today, women are emerging as leaders in growing range of fields. be it aeronautics, medicine, space, engineering, law, politics, education, business...you just name the profession and they are there, all that needed in today's world in their empowerment.

In India, the empowerment process has already begun. We are now witnessing a steady improvement in the enrollment of women in schools, colleges and even in profession institutes. Their health is better as compared to earlier decades. In this decade, women are entering into the job market in increasing numbers. They are showing their skills even in non-traditional sectors like police, defence, administration, media and research fields. Twenty-six laws have been

enacted so far to protect women from various crimes. The recent law on the 'protection of women against domestic violence' satisfies the long pending demand of the women activities. In the political field, the reservation for women is a significant step forward towards their political empowerment. When thirty-three percent reservation for women in Parliament becomes a reality, women's voice will be heard in the highest forum of democracy. The day, women of India will reach zenith in their empowerment. But a lot of work has to be done as there is a category of women (who consider themselves highly educated) that proudly accepts that they don't have digital literacy even though they own a computer, they cannot even operate bank accounts or make travel arrangements for family or handle hospital admissions even during emergencies. Even for a simple task like social visits or shopping generally they need the company of their husbands.

Women in India feel proud to display that they are well protected and pampered by their husbands without realizing that they are making themselves helpless. Such women's economic literacy is so low that they cannot play any role in family's decision regarding family's budget, savings and investments. To such women, the national budget discussion is for men only and soap operas are for them. Such women suffer a lot if something untoward happens to their husbands. This type of extreme dependency is not good for the development of women. Women should remember that they are also rational, intelligent and thinking human beings. Dependent women are not empowered women. If modern women think that they are empowered, it's a myth for them. Empowerment means to inspire women with he courage to break free from the chains of limiting beliefs, patterns and societal or religious conditions that have traditionally kept women suppressed and unable to realize their true beauty and power.

Some qualities to be acquired by women to become truly empowered are awareness about risk prevailing at home, in work place, in traveling and staying outside home. They should have political, legal, economic and health awareness. They should have knowledge about support groups and positive attitudes towards life. They should get goals for future and strive to achieve them with courage. The best gift parents today can give to their daughters is education. If women choose to be ignorant then all the efforts taken by the Government and women activists will go in vain. Even in twenty-fifth century, they will remain backward and will be paying a heavy price for their dependence, So, it is a wake-up call for women to awake from their deep slumber and understand the true meaning of their empowerment. In the end I would like to conclude with the following words, "Women as the motherhood of the nation should be strong, aware and alert".

Women empowerment in India is a challenging task as we need to acknowledge the fact that gender based discrimination is a deep rooted social malice practiced in India in many forms since thousands of years. The malice is not going to go away in a few years or for that matter by attempting to work at it through half-hearted attempts. Formulating laws, legislations and policies are not enough as it is seen that most of the times these laws and policies just remain on paper. The ground situation on the other hand just remains the same and in many instances worsens further. Addressing the malice of gender discrimination and women empowerment in India is long drawn battle against powerful structural forces of the society which are against women‘s growth and development.

WOMEN EMPOWERMENT IN INDIA: THE NEED FOR GROUND LEVEL ACTIONS
We have to accept the fact that things are not going to change overnight but because of this we cannot stop taking action either. At this juncture the most important step is to initiate ground level actions however small it might seem. The ground level actions should be focussed towards changing the social attitude and practices prevalent in the society which are highly biased against women. This can be initiated by working with the women at the root level and focusing on increasing women‘s access and control over resources and increasing their control over decision making. Further working on the aspect of enhanced mobility and social interaction of women in the society would positively influence all round development and empowerment of women in India.

Women empowerment in India: Reality check at the ground level Today there are lot of things that is happening in the name of women empowerment in India and lot of resources are spent in this direction. Keeping this in mind it is crucial to have a reality check on what is happening on paper and what is the actual ground situation. It is worthwhile to ponder on the fact that we are one of the worst in terms of worldwide gender equality rankings. In India women are discriminated and marginalized at every level of the society whether it is social participation, economic opportunity and economic participation, political participation, access to education or access to nutrition and reproductive health care. A significant few in the

society still consider women as sex objects. Gender disparity is high, crimes against women are increasing and violence against women is all time high and in most cases go unreported. Dowry related harassments and death is increasing and is profoundly manifesting in the urban population. Workplace harassment of women is another phenomenon which is rapidly increasing as more women join the workforce. Pre-age marriages are still taking place in large numbers and the number of girls going to school is abysmally low. Moreover majority of the girls who join the school drop out by the age of puberty to get married and live a life of drudgery. Female foeticide and infanticide is starring the nation as one of the biggest social crisis. All this is happening despite the fact that there are number of programmes and policy initiatives that is being run by the government and other bodies. The year 2001 was declared as the National policy for empowerment of women. So it is time to ask the question whether we are moving in the right direction and where are we in terms of the paper actions and the actual ground realities.

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 pardah system, child marriage, dowry system 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 socio-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 wageworkers, providing affordable healthcare and nutrition and managing the risk of unwanted pregnancies, HIV infections and STDs.

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 panchayats 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 (CEDAW) was ratified in 1993. Apart from the laws and legislations 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.

Despite many international agreements affirming their human rights, women are still much more likely than men to be poor and illiterate. They usually have less access than men to medical care, property ownership, credit, training and employment. They are far less likely than men to be politically active and far more likely to be victims of domestic violence.

The ability of women to control their own fertility is absolutely fundamental to women‘s empowerment and equality. When a woman can plan her family, she can plan the rest of her life. When she is healthy, she can be more productive. And when her reproductive rights —including the right to decide the number, timing and spacing of her children, and to make decisions regarding reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence—are promoted and protected, she has freedom to participate more fully and equally in society.

Understanding gender equality and women's empowerment Gender equality implies a society in which women and men enjoy the same opportunities, outcomes, rights and obligations in all spheres of life. Equality between men and women exists when both sexes are able to share equally in the distribution of power and influence; have equal opportunities for financial independence through work or through setting up businesses; enjoy equal access to education and the opportunity to develop personal ambitions. A critical aspect of

promoting gender equality is the empowerment of women, with a focus on identifying and redressing power imbalances and giving women more autonomy to manage their own lives. Women's empowerment is vital to sustainable development and the realization of human rights for all.

Where women‘s status is low, family size tends to be large, which makes it more difficult for families to thrive. Population and development and reproductive health programmes are more effective when they address the educational opportunities, status and empowerment of women. When women are empowered, whole families benefit, and these benefits often have ripple effects to future generations.

The roles that men and women play in society are not biologically determined -- they are socially determined, changing and changeable. Although they may be justified as being required by culture or religion, these roles vary widely by locality and change over time. UNFPA has found that applying culturally sensitive approaches can be key to advancing women‘s rights while respecting different forms of social organization.

Addressing women‘s issues also requires recognizing that women are a diverse group, in the roles they play as well as in characteristics such as age, social status, urban or rural orientation and educational attainment. Although women may have many interests in common, the fabric of their lives and the choices available to them may vary widely. UNFPA seeks to identify groups

of women who are most marginalized and vulnerable (women refugees, for example, or those who are heads of households or living in extreme poverty), so that interventions address their specific needs and concerns. This task is related to the critical need for sex-disaggregated data, and UNFPA helps countries build capacity in this area. Key issues and linkages Reproductive health: Women, for both physiological and social reasons, are more vulnerable than men to reproductive health problems. Reproductive health problems, including maternal mortality and morbidity, represent a major – but preventable -- cause of death and disability for women in developing countries. Failure to provide information, services and conditions to help women protect their reproduction health therefore constitutes gender-based discrimination and a violation of women‘s rights to health and life. Stewardship of natural resources: Women in developing nations are usually in charge of securing water, food and fuel and of overseeing family health and diet. Therefore, they tend to put into immediate practice whatever they learn about nutrition and preserving the environment and natural resources. Economic empowerment: More women than men live in poverty. Economic disparities persist partly because much of the unpaid work within families and communities falls on the shoulders of women and because they face discrimination in the economic sphere. Educational empowerment: About two thirds of the illiterate adults in the world are female. Higher levels of women's education are strongly associated with both lower infant mortality and lower fertility, as well as with higher levels of education and economic opportunity for their children.

Political empowerment: Social and legal institutions still do not guarantee women equality in basic legal and human rights, in access to or control of land or other resources, in employment and earning, and social and political participation. Laws against domestic violence are often not enforced on behalf of women. Empowerment throughout the life cycle: Reproductive health is a lifetime concern for both women and men, from infancy to old age. UNFPA supports programming tailored to the different challenges they face at different times in life. Experience has shown that addressing gender equality and women‘s empowerment requires strategic interventions at all levels of programming and policy-making.

Women’s Work and Economic Empowerment
In nearly every country, women work longer hours than men, but are usually paid less and are more likely to live in poverty. In subsistence economies, women spend much of the day performing tasks to maintain the household, such as carrying water and collecting fuel wood. In many countries women are also responsible for agricultural production and selling. Often they take on paid work or entrepreneurial enterprises as well. Unpaid domestic work – from food preparation to care giving – directly affects the health and overall well being and quality of life of children and other household members. The need for women‘s unpaid labour often increases with economic shocks, such as those associated with the AIDS pandemic or economic restructuring. Yet women's voices and lived experiences – whether as workers (paid and unpaid), citizens, or consumers – are still largely missing from debates on

finance and development. Poor women do more unpaid work, work longer hours and may accept degrading working conditions during times of crisis, just to ensure that their families survive.

Intergenerational gender gaps The differences in the work patterns of men and women, and the 'invisibility' of work that is not included in national accounts, lead to lower entitlements to women than to men. Women‘s lower access to resources and the lack of attention to gender in macroeconomic policy adds to the inequity, which, in turn, perpetuates gender gaps. For example, when girls reach adolescence they are typically expected to spend more time in household activities, while boys spend more time on farming or wage work. By the time girls and boys become adults, females generally work longer hours than males, have less experience in the labour force, earn less income and have less leisure, recreation or rest time. This has implications for investments in the next generation. If parents view daughters as less likely to take paid work or earn market wages, they may be less inclined to invest in their education, women's fastest route out of poverty.

Empowering Women through Education
"Education is one of the most important means of empowering women with the knowledge, skills and self-confidence necessary to participate fully in the development process."

Education is important for everyone, but it is especially significant for girls and women. This is true not only because education is an entry point to other opportunities, but also because the educational achievements of women can have ripple effects within the family and across generations. Investing in girls' education is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty. Investments in secondary school education for girls yields especially high dividends. Girls who have been educated are likely to marry later and to have smaller and healthier families. Educated women can recognize the importance of health care and know how to seek it for themselves and their children. Education helps girls and women to know their rights and to gain confidence to claim them. However, women‘s literacy rates are significantly lower than men‘s in most developing countries.

Education has far-reaching effects The education of parents is linked to their children's educational attainment, and the mother's education is usually more influential than the father's. An educated mother's greater influence in household negotiations may allow her to secure more resources for her children. Educated mothers are more likely to be in the labour force, allowing them to pay some of the costs of schooling, and may be more aware of returns to schooling. And educated mothers, averaging fewer children, can concentrate more attention on each child. Besides having fewer children, mothers with schooling are less likely to have mistimed or unintended births. This has implications for schooling, because poor parents often must choose which of their children to educate.

Closing the gender gap in education is a development priority. The 1994 Cairo Consensus recognized education, especially for women, as a force for social and economic development. Universal completion of primary education was set as a 20-year goal, as was wider access to secondary and higher education among girls and women. Closing the gender gap in education by 2015 is also one of the benchmarks for the Millennium Development Goals.

MINISTRY FOR WOMEN & CHILD DEVELOPMENT
The Ministry for Women & Child Development was established as a department of the Ministry of Human Resource Development in the year 1985 to drive the holistic development of women and children in the country. In 2006 this department was given the status of a Ministry, with the powers to:Formulate plans, policies and programmes; enacts/ amends legislation, guiding and coordinating the efforts of both governmental and non-governmental organisations working in the field of Women and Child Development. It delivers such initiatives such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) which is a package of services such as supplementary nutrition, health check-ups and immunisation. As mentioned earlier, the empowerment of women begins with their safety and health and this Ministry is committed to providing them.

SWAYAMSIDHA PROGRAMME
Additionally, the Ministry is also implementing the Swayamsidha programme – an integrated scheme for the empowerment of women at a total cost of Rs. 116.30 Crores. Core to this programme will be the establishment of women‘s self-help groups which will empower women

to have increased access to all kinds of resources that they are denied, in addition to increasing their awareness and skills. This programme will benefit about 9,30,000 women with the setting up of 53,000 self-help groups, 26,500 village societies and 650 block societies.

NATIONAL COMMISSION FOR WOMEN
The National Commission for Women is a Department within the Ministry of Women and Child Development. It was set up exclusively to help women via the Constitution – by reviewing Legal and Constitutional safeguards for women, recommending remedial legislative measures, by facilitating quick redressal of grievances and by advising the Government of India on all policy matters affecting women. The website allows for online submission of complaints and fast redressal exclusively for women. Additionally it is also a good resource of information for women and the Commission is committed to helping out women in need.

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Conclusion
India as a country is still recovering from years of abuse in the time of the Raj and more years of economic suffering at the hands of the License Raj. It is only now that globalisation, liberalisation and other socio-economic forces have given some respite to a large proportion of the population. However, there are still quite a few areas where women empowerment in India is largely lacking. To truly understand what is women empowerment, there needs to be a sea-change in the mindset of the people in the country. Not just the women themselves, but the men have to wake up to a world that is moving towards equality and equity. It is better that this is embraced earlier rather than later, for our own good. Swami Vivekananda once said ―arise away and stop not until the goal is reached‖. Thus our country should thus be catapulted into the horizon of empowerment of women and revel in its glory. We have a long way to go, but we will get there someday. We shall overcome.