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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS :Different faces of the Indian women’s movement

 

Source: The Hindu

  • Prelims: IPC, abala, sabala, All India Women’s Conference, National Crime Record Bureau etc
  • Mains GS Paper I and II: Vulnerable sections of society, Laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of vulnerable sections of society etc

 

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • The vibrancy of the Indian women’s movement is acknowledged worldwide.
    • It has moved from serving as the beacon for the nationalist movement to a rights-based civil society movement to a state-led movement for economic empowerment.
  • Mahatma Gandhi: When a woman, whom we call abala (weak), becomes  sabala (strong), all those who are helpless will become powerful.”

INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUE

Context

Background of Women movements:

  • All India Women’s Conference(1936): It was the hallmark of a nationalist movement that relied on women to serve as its face.
  • The political history of the Indian women’s movement is written in photographs, women satyagrahis being arrested during the salt satyagraha and the Quit India movement
  • Mrinal Gore and her women protesters carrying rolling pins and protesting against the price rise
  • Chipko, one of the earliest ecofeminist movements in the world, women clinging to trees to protest logging
  • Nirbhaya
  • Shaheen Bagh
  • Sabarimala protests.

 

Women’s activism:

  • The quiet revolution(1970s): It enhanced attention to women’s specific needs as street protests.
    • For example: Self Employed Women’s Association began to unionize women in the informal sector.
      • It lead the advocacy for reforms in legal and social protection for women workers;
      • It highlighted sex-selective abortion
      • discrimination in inheritance patterns led to legal reforms
    • women’s formal and informal collectives have worked hard to reform and implement laws against sexual harassment in the workforce and in public spaces.
    • The 73rd Amendment to the Constitution: reserving one-third of seats in panchayat and leadership positions in local bodies for women.

 

The latest epoch in women’s activism(SHG’s):

  • It is distinct from the politics of protest and quietly organized rights-based movements.
  • Self Help Groups (SHGs):
    • The Economic Survey: There are about 2(one point two)crore SHGs in India, most of which are all-women.
    • SHGs are supported and mentored by Community Resource Persons paid by the state.
    • SHGs function mainly as thrift and credit institutions, where members deposit small amounts of savings per month and can borrow in an emergency.
    • They support entrepreneurship through bank loans.

 

Issues with SHGs:

  • They replaced women’s groups under the older programme, Mahila Samakhya, which was explicitly designed to mobilize women and sensitize them about their rights.
  • Evaluating the current version of state-sponsored programmes under the NRLM by Imago and 3ie teams paint a mixed picture of loopholes and gains.
  • There is limited evidence of increased incomes due to entrepreneurship or women’s empowerment within the household.
  • The movement has carved into the base of women members who historically fuelled grassroots civil society movements and undermined these movements.
  • Sometimes it has been used as a political weapon by ruling governments —  The government uses SHG women in constructing a human wall during the Sabarimala protests in the State.
  • SHG movement: Its potential for enhancing women’s incomes has been underutilized.

 

 

What steps need to be taken?

  • If the state-led movement effectively enhances women’s access to income-generating activities.
    • It can serve women’s practical needs and improve their economic power.
  • Increased economic power will set the stage for serving their strategic needs, including:
    • reshaping discriminatory laws and policies
    • Disrupting patriarchal forces within the household.
  • SHG’s: Massive mobilization of women is supported with other programmes that provide enhanced livelihood opportunities, they will remain toothless.
  • SHGs under the NRLM have been able to use funds under MGNREGA to build income-earning assets for women, such as cattle sheds and poultry sheds.
    • It can be used in other parts of country.
  • Women’s cooperatives run by SHGs have been able to supply meals and products to various government-run programmes.
  • When convergence with other government programmes that build infrastructure or procure goods and services can be achieved
    • SHGs can enhance women’s incomes substantially.

 

Way Forward

  • Different strands of the women’s movement — political movements, grassroots organizing for legal and policy reforms, and state-led organizations for economic empowerment — each have addressed various dimensions of women’s lives.
  • Civil society mobilization around legal and policy reforms directly affecting women’s lives tried hard to remain non-partisan and build a rights-based agenda as a bulwark against persistent patriarchal institutions.
  • Evaluation of Mahila Samakhya by researchers from Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad: It noted the programme’s success in mobilizing women but highlighted its relative ineffectiveness in enhancing vocational skills and entrepreneurship.
    • This is a deficiency the current generation of the SHG movement, in close connection with the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), seeks to address.
  • Participation in SHGs is related to increased involvement in gram panchayat meetings, creating a potential for greater political power.
  • Regardless of the outcome, the growth of SHGs has brought a large number of women into the public arena.
  • If a strong civil society-led women’s movement continues to thrive, this enormous army of SHG members may be able to draw strength from government programmes that empower them economically
    • civil society institutions empower them socially and politically to create a formidable force for India’s development.

 

QUESTION FOR PRACTICE

Discuss the desirability of greater representation to women in the higher judiciary to ensure diversity, equity and inclusiveness.(UPSC 2021) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)