Empowerment or Endowment?

January 17, 2019

Empowerment of women is the most talked about topic in recent times. As society has developed and progressed over the centuries, the concept of empowerment has changed and different laws and acts have been formulated and enacted to empower the otherwise 'non-empowered' section.

However, what has been for in the discussion is the empowerment of women- considering they are "weakest" in society, but are they?

Aparna was in her mid-30s when her husband died of a heart attack. With not so sound educational background to fetch her any decent job, Aparna’s life after her husband’s death was pushed into the oblivious world of uncertainty as she not only had to support herself but also two young daughters- the younger one only over a year old. Even though she had the support of her in-laws, but she could not depend on them for eternity! She needed to find a job soon and get herself established.

“Things changed a bit when after three years of my husband’s death; I managed to get the job of an Anganwadi worker. The monthly remuneration is insufficient even to support a bachelor, but still, a job at hand meant some dignity in life. Today, I realise the need for a sound education,” says Aparna.

“When the government came out strong supporting empowering women, I realised that this should not be the role of the government and the thought of empowering a girl must come from within the family. And empowerment does not always mean a job or a business but it is the right of every woman to lead a life of dignity, a life of her own choices! I made wrong choices once upon a time and now I am trying to rectify the same. I earn very less but still, I am happy. I am empowered in my strong way,” she adds quickly.

As Assam goes to polls in some three months from now, the political parties have already launched massive poll campaigns and most of them have said about giving intensive support to empower women. In fact, if we closely look at the poll strategies since 2000, we will notice that women empowerment has always topped the election campaigning criteria.

So what exactly is this women empowerment? A job or a business for a woman or is it beyond these?

“Where women are given equal opportunity but they are taken care off too,” says Avishek Sengupta, a Guwahati-based journalist, as he gives his view on women empowerment.

Management professional Vedant Goswami feels that women empowerment is a degree to increase autonomy and self-determination of women.

“I am answering in support of that particular class of women who are still being neglected- be it a young widow, a rape victim or an old woman. The state of autonomy and self-determination does not arise for women who are working and living an independent life. They are quite matured to choose their own style of life,” Goswami adds further.

“The base of equality for women empowerment is still measured with the overall data collected from urban, semi urban and rural areas. But the rural areas, in most cases, are highly neglected. The main emphasis should be more to the rural sector,” he concludes.

Government official Dimple Sarma too feels that women empowerment means equality and self-dependency of a woman, where she can hold her head high and look straight into the eyes of the patriarchal society.

Ayesha Ahmed, a freelance journalist, is of the view that a woman is empowered when she is thought to be equal to a man.

“A woman who is independent and makes her own living uplifting her skills and career adds more to the development of a nation,” she adds on.

In most cases, I have observed that the measure of women empowerment is a ‘strong career’ and when asked around randomly then a number of female respondents have said that for them a strong and successful career is that in which the monetary return is high and sufficient.

“Have you heard about Chhavi Rajput and Arati Devi?” I asked a girl in one such random questioning.

“Yes, I have. They are the symbol of women empowerment in true sense. They are a true inspiration for the generation. Most of us want to do an MBA or become a doctor, but seldom do we want to join politics and serve the community. And both these ladies left the comfort of their corporate life and joined politics to uplift the rural sector by becoming sarpanch. They have redefined women empowerment,” she said.

In the comments above, equality and independent are the two most common terms used to define women empowerment. A homemaker in this case then is not empowered as she is generally thought to be unequal to men and is regarded as not independent.

“Not really! A woman who stays at home can also be said to be empowered. Equality I feel, in most cases, also depends upon the woman. If we see history we will find that in most cases it is a woman who is to be blamed for being treated unequally. The choice is ours,” says Vani Das Sarkar, a homemaker.

Vani has an MPhil degree in Economics from the University of Delhi. After her marriage in 2012, she left her job and has devoted her time fully into the family. She strongly feels that the job of a good homemaker is as important as the job of some other professional.

“Most of my friends blame me for sitting at home even after having an MPhill degree. But here they have failed to understand one thing that I am empowered and the decision to stay home and look after my husband and son is my own choice. My husband always asks me to work and he is even supported by my in-laws. To them, I just have one thing to say that ‘I am a happy homemaker and I have no issues in staying back home’. No matter what people say but a house becomes a home only due to the efforts of a woman and it does not matter she is a doctor or a minister,” Vani adds further.

“A woman knows her home better than a man and no matter how much disciplined a man is, a woman adorning the house is unmatchable. Being a homemaker, I work hard too and if I get recognition for my household work then there is nothing wrong. Being a homemaker is my choice and not my only option,” concludes Vani.

Views echoed by Vani are rare and in a way, it defies the established concepts regarding women empowerment. But takers to the above concept are very few and in a truer sense, those women who stay home and look after the family are seldom recognised or respected- which to me is not the correct thing.

In my due course of the journey as a journalist, I have come across a number of women who can be termed as the epitome of empowerment and one such lady is Nagaon’s, Kunti Bora. She owns a firm of organic vegetables at Kasori village near Samaguri. In her firm, she also grows different herbal medicinal plants. She has engaged some 500 women in her firm, which has branches across Assam.

“The women who are working with me come from varied backgrounds. Some of them were even abused and kicked out from their families. Now they are happy and feel that they are independent and are leading a life of dignity. This is what I had always aimed for and I am happy that I am able to do it as well,” said Bora in a 2011 interview.

If we look deeply, empowerment provided by the government is nothing but an endowment. Some of the commentators above have even said that ‘a woman is given…’ and here I have failed to understand as what must be given to a woman and why? Isn’t right to equality our birthright and if it is then why should a woman have to receive equality from others? How can this be called as empowerment? Moreover, if empowerment is equality then why only 33 per cent reservation at the Parliament and why has this to be called as ‘reservation’? How can the reservation lead to empowerment?

We say that empowerment means a woman having a career or a job. But in a country like India, a woman is lusted upon when she returns home from work in the late evening. She is not free to move and she is called names and also abducted on several occasions. She can’t move out after nightfall and if this is the scenario then on what basis are we claiming to empower a woman in the name of work and job and career?

If we men boast about equality to women, then let this equality be in real practice and not just in papers. We hear- ‘things are changing’ but how long will it take for the change to come as I have been hearing this since the past 25 years. Women empowerment- does it actually exist in practice or we have only a few solitary examples to talk about? Nevertheless, I am an optimist and one day I feel there would usher a new and true era of women empowerment, which is free from all endowments!

(NB: The article has been published in the April 2016 issue of Good Times of North East with some edits)

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