The famous Lebanese philosopher, Charles Malik once said, “The fastest way to change society is to mobilize the women of the world”
On the eve of International Women’s Day, let us chart the role of women in Indian Society. Over the years, the role of women in Indian society has typically been that of a nurturer and caregiver rather than that of a breadwinner or a leader.
The origin of the Indian idea of appropriate female behavior can be traced to Manu in 200 BC: “by a young girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independent, even in her own house”. While over the years the role of women in society has progressed and women have become much more independent and are making their mark in various fields, yet in modern India it has consistently been observed that although theoretically the society claims to maintain no gender discriminations in practicality a woman comes across many hurdles while participating or leading in a male dominated sector of work. This is especially noticed in the public service sphere where although the country is in the processes of passing landmark legislations such as the Women’s Reservation Bill which will reserve 33% of the seats across legislative assembles for women, yet it does not improve the voter’s implicit approval of female leaders. Gender-Occupation stereotypes continue to exist in our society weather they are apparent or discreet.
The International Labor Organization’s report on Status of Women in India says, “Although legally there isn’t supposed to be any discrimination against women, this is not reflected in practice especially in the organized sector jobs”. However, what the Indian society needs to recognize is that what Charles Malik rightly pointed out way back in the 20th century is the crux of our social development. The need for female leadership at the grassroots is critical for the country’s social and economic development. Robust evidence shows that a woman as village chief works towards improving basic necessities in rural areas such as access to water (which is women’s work in the villages), better sanitation facilities (which is critical to women). Bhavana Damor, Sarpanch of her Gram Panchayat in Dungarpur district (Rajasthan) is a solid example of how female leadership is critical to the Indian Society. She was elected from the reserved seat for the first two elections. By the third election, the seat was declared unreserved, and Bhavana faced stiff competition from her male candidates who were determined to win and end female leadership in the council. But Bhavana was not deterred. On the contrary, she did what women have always done, she rolled up her sleeves and kept working—so girls and boys could go to school and women could read and write, so roads were built and villagers could have clean water and sanitation. The women in her village rallied behind her and she won the election for the third time.
What Indian society needs right now are such strong women leaders and role models at various levels whose efforts will in turn build our nation and lead us towards social and economic progress. Melinda Gates remarked that a woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult. This holds true especially in the patriarchal Indian society. In order to empower women to find their voice and facilitate the process of engaging them in national building Swaniti Initiative in collaboration with Harvard’s South Asia Institute launched Kavya, an initiative to inspire, educate and empower young women of India to participate in policy and social development.
Kavya, a conference for 25 passionate and talented young women aims to inspire, empower and engage young women throughout the country to participate in civically oriented opportunities. The selected participants will have the opportunity to connect with and learn from female leaders in India while also developing their careers paths in public service leadership and social development.
The conference will be broken up in to two components:
- Educating and exposing women to the challenges and opportunities in the public sphere
- Empowering and encouraging women to move in to the public sphere.
Follow this link to take a look at this unique event!