The status of women depicts the social, economic and mental condition in a nation. Women have been regarded as a symbol of spirituality in our scriptures. Nearly one-sixth of the world’s women live in India. However, at present, challenges faced by Indian women is the result of the patriarchy, which is prevalent in Indian society. Women in India are discriminated against in various fields, such as health, education and jobs which can be regarded as socio-cultural discrimination. The situation is scary in the sense that more than the half women labour force is unpaid. They also constitute most of the informal sector, hence are vulnerable to various economic challenges and discrimination.
Challenges Faced by Women in Past
Indian history bears the testimony to the fact that Indian women have always been treated badly and unequally to men. Social evils such as dowry, sati-system, child marriage and female infanticide were widely prevalent in the early ages.
In medieval India, the social evils like sati were prevalent. Furthermore, Purdah System was much common in this period. During the British rule, acts aiming at betterment of women were enacted, including Bengal Sati Regulation Act, 1829, Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856, Female Infanticide Prevention Act, 1870 and Age of Consent Act, 1891.
In post-independent India, various rights were granted to the women under the Constitution of India. It mainly includes equality, dignity, and freedom from discrimination. Additionally, India has various statutes governing the rights of women. As of 2019, some women have served in various senior official positions in the Indian government, including that of the President of India, the Prime Minister of India and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
However, many women in India continue to face significant difficulties. The rates of malnutrition are exceptionally high among adolescent girls and pregnant and lactating women in India, with repercussions for children’s health. Violence against women, especially sexual violence, has been on the rise in India.
Challenges for Women Prevalent in India
In India, women continue to suffer discrimination, harassment, humiliation and exploitation inside as well as outside home. Theoretically, women might have been given more freedom but in practice, they still suffer many hardships, inhuman and unworthy treatment everywhere. Some of the challenges which are being faced by women in India are as follows
•Lack of Maternal Care
Maternal care in India is negligible. Lack of resource and infrastructure very often results in denial of the timely care to pregnant women. In addition, lack of information sharing pertaining to do’s and don’ts during pregnancy often lead to mortality of mother and infant. This phenomenon is widely observed among weaker sections of society.
• Lack of Health Care and Nutrition
Girl child while growing up, subject to various complications. The livelihood of girl child might be at risk if she is denied timely interventions pertaining to nutrition and healthcare. Malnutrition and anemia among Indian girls is one of the biggest problems in the world. The lack of nutrition among girl child is widely attributed to the prejudices prevalent in Indian society where female child is discriminated against male child.
•Lack of Education
Females in India have lower literacy rate corresponding to their male counterparts. This disparity in education can be traced to the time related constraint where girl as a child is asked to get involved in domestic duties. The practice is more common in rural areas. The denial of education to girl child further leads to difficulties in active participation in the workforce during adulthood. They are also devoid of satisfactory social life.
• Child Marriages
Women face the challenge of child or early age marriages mostly due to family and social compulsions. In many cases, girls are married even prior to attaining sexual maturity. It burdens them with the duties of material life before their education is complete, thus, limiting their opportunities in future and denying them a chance of getting empowered. Child brides are neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers. They face more risks of experiencing dangerous complications during pregnancy and child birth, contracting Sexually Transmitted Disease (STDs). domestic violence and sexual abuse.
• Denial of Equal Opportunity in Jobs
The women are mostly deemed fit for women specific jobs such as teachers, nurses, receptionist, babysitter, lecturer ete, which have been stereotyped for women. Also, women in India face artificial barriers and informal boundaries, which prevent them from advancing upward in their organisation into management-level positions. This can be reflected in an increasing wage gap between men and women.
•Sexual Harassment at the Workplace
Safety at workplace is major issue for women. Sexual harassment at workplace is an act or a pattern of behaviour that compromises physical, emotional or financial safety and security of a woman worker. In 2018-19. Me too Movement in India shed light on numerous instances of sexual harassment at the workplace. However, due to the slow judicial system, justice hasn’t been delivered to these women.
• Lack of Sanitation
Lack of toilets in households especially in rural India has rendered women vulnerable to various dangers. Risk of sexual molestation, rape is quite high in case of open defecation. Further, lack of privacy is another major concern and violates the dignity of the girls and women.
• Lack of Political Participation of Women
Inadequate participation of women in governing bodies is manifestation of prejudice against women at various levels. At present. Women representation in Lok Sabha is only 14%.
Government Initiatives to Tackle Challenges
Government has launched various programmes and initiatives to tackle challenges which are being faced by women. The schemes aims to promote socio-economic while di followent and gender equality while empowering the women. Some of them are
• Support to Training and Employment Programme for women, 1986-87 (STEP) was launched to ensure sustainable employment and income generation for marginalised, rural and urban poor women.
• Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) was introduced in 2016 to extend financial support to pregnant women under maternity benefit programme
•Government of India launched a campaign in 2015 with an aim to generate awareness and improve efficiency of welfare services intended for in India
• National Mission for Empowerment of Women (NMEW) was launched by the Government of India in 2010 with the aim to strengthen overall processes that promote all-round development of women.
• Individual Household Latrine Construction (IHHL) construction under Swachh Bharat Scheme (2014) seeks to address the issue of open defecation.
• The Sexual Harassment of women at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 was enacted to protect women from sexual harassment at the place of work
• Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act was also enacted in 2012 to deter the crime against children including female child.
• Reservation for women in Panchayati Raj System has already been guaranteed. A Women’s Reservation Bill is also pending in the Parliament of India which proposes to reserve 33% of all seates in Lok Sabha and in all State Legislative Assemblies for women.
The change in social norms and mind-sets towards girls and women can be brought about through institutional initiatives. This involves the family, the community, religious and educational institutions. The state, as the largest public institution can initiate, strengthen and ensure implementation its economic and social policies for gender equality. This will have a strong and effective impact the subjective changes in perceptions and expectations towards girls and women. Change is needed at the macro and micro level with wider participation of people.
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