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Contributions of Women and Women’s Movement

GS Paper 1

 Syllabus: Indian Society/ Indian History


Source: IE

 Context: The article highlights the often-underappreciated role of women in India’s journey towards becoming a republic, focusing on their efforts in securing national freedom and women’s rights, particularly the right to vote.


Women’s contribution to Freedom Struggle: 

Throughout India’s struggle for independence, women emerged as stalwart contributors, playing diverse and pivotal roles that shaped the trajectory of the freedom movement. Their involvement spanned various spheres, encompassing leadership, activism, revolutionary endeavours, and community mobilization.


Women played a multifaceted role in India’s freedom struggle:

  • Mass Mobilization: Women took part in protest marches, boycott campaigns and mass agitations.
    • For example, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay led the Salt Satyagraha in Bombay by mobilizing thousands of women. Women picketers in Bengal protested the Simon Commission wearing black sarees.
    • Women students joined the Quit India movement by going on strikes and processions. This challenged the conservative social norms that restricted women’s public presence.
  • Underground Activism: Women undertook underground and revolutionary activities against British rule.
    • For example: Bhikaji Cama unfurled the Indian flag in Stuttgart, Germany in 1907 as part of expatriate revolutionary activities. Kalpana Dutt transported bombs and weapons for revolutionary groups in Bengal.
    • Aruna Asaf Ali went underground during the Quit India movement and carried out sabotage attacks.
    • By directly attacking British institutions, women shed their conventional non-violent image.
  • Social Reforms: Many women connected the national struggle to social reform causes.
    • For example, Sarojini Naidu, Annie Besant and Vijayalakshmi Pandit demanded women’s political representation and suffrage rights.
    • Pandita Ramabai campaigned for widows’ rights and reform of Brahminical traditions that suppressed women.
    • Tarabai Shinde wrote a landmark feminist critique of patriarchy in her 1882 text Stri Purush Tulna.
  • Leadership role: Beyond these three dimensions, women like Lakshmi Sahgal, Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kripalani and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur held leading organizational positions in the freedom struggle.


Feminist movements in pre-independent India: They played a crucial role in ensuring women’s rights were guaranteed in the Constitution.

  1. 1917 – Memorandum of Demands: Women activists presented a memorandum of demands to Montagu and Lord Chelmsford, urging enfranchisement.
  2. 1917 – Formation of IWA: The Women’s Indian Association (WIA) was established to address women’s socio-economic challenges, becoming the first national body advocating for female suffrage.
  3. 1918 – Travel for Support: WIA and others travelled to Britain in 1918 to garner international support for their causes.
  4. Congress Resolutions: Sarojini Naidu championed women’s rights within the Congress party, moving resolutions for women’s enfranchisement in Bijapur and Bombay.
  5. 1921 – First Victory: The Government of India Act, 1919 allowed provincial legislatures to enfranchise women, with Madras becoming the first province to grant women the right to vote in 1921.
  6. 1925 – Bengal Campaigns: The enfranchisement Bill faced defeat in the Bengal Legislative Council. Suffragists, led by the Bangiya Nari Samaj, organized extensive awareness campaigns, resulting in the Bill’s passage in 1925.
  7. Formation of All India Women’s Conference (AIWC): In 1927, women-led organizations formed the AIWC. Initially focused on women’s education, AIWC later advocated against child marriage, raised the age of consent, and opposed polygamy.
  8. Nehru Report & Beyond on Right to Vote: The Nehru Report of 1929 called for equal civic rights, but Britain resisted the expansion of this right.
  9. Government of India Act 1935: This Act expanded voting rights, enabling women to participate in public offices. In the 1936-37 elections, women leaders advocated for universal adult franchise.
  10. Adoption of Indian Woman’s Charter: In 1945-46, AIWC adopted this charter, demanding equality, women’s economic empowerment, and reforms in personal laws.
  11. Post-Partition Issue: After Partition, reservation of seats on religious grounds emerged as a key issue.


Gender equality and women’s rights role in Post-Independent India:

  • Constitutional, Institutional and legal– FR- Right to equality Art 14, 15 16, Right to life- Art 21,
    • DPSP- Article 39 requires the State to direct its policy towards securing for men and women equally the right to an adequate means of livelihood, and equal pay for equal work.
    • Right to property– Art. 300-A, Universal adult franchise- Art 326
    • National Commission for Women– review the Constitutional and Legal safeguards for women, recommend remedial legislative measures, facilitate redressal of grievances and advise the Government on all policy matters affecting women.
    • Laws– Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, Special Marriage Act 1954, Hindu Succession Act 1956, Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, Domestic Violence Act 2005; etc
  • Economic Women have played a pivotal role in helping the growth of the Indian economy. Women contribute approximately 17-18% of the total GDP. Although they are strong in the farming and dairy sector, India’s rapid urbanization has not yet encouraged more women to join the labour force.
    • Entrepreneurs Many women have broken the societally imposed glass ceiling to reach the top positions in organizational ladders. Many have started their own company creating jobs for thousands. Eg- Kiran Mazumdar Shaw founder of Biocon Ltd, Falguni Nayar associated with
  • Security– They constitute 12% of the Police force, 0.56% of the army, 1.08% of the air force, and 6.5% of the navy. Women have become Fighter pilots for the Air Force. Thus their role in the security domain is gradually increasing and becoming more significant.
  • Employment Women now make up 34% of the IT workforce in India and the country is now almost at a 50:50 gender parity rate in STEM graduates.
  • Grass root Democracy– The 73rd and 74th CAA made provisions for 33% reservation for women in the institutions of local self-government. Participation is crucial in policy formulation and regulation, Acting as role models for women’s empowerment, Empowerment of women, Less corruption and improved efficiency.
  • Education AISHE (All India Survey on Higher Education) 2019-20 report, according to which women in India now hold a 49% share in total enrolment in higher education.
  • Social Contributions
    • Anti-Dowry movements: In the 1980s several women’s and other progressive organizations formed a joint front in Delhi called “Dahej Virodhi Chetna Manch”.
    • Chipko Movement In this movement the women symbolically tied sacred threads around the trees, faced police firing in February 1978, and later courted arrest. This movement continued under the leadership of Sri Sunderlal Bahuguna in various villages.
    • Narmada Bachao Andolan is one of its kind of a social movement led by Medha Patkar. It is the active and huge participation and engagement of women that have led to the huge success of the movement.



 Thus, from mass activism to underground attacks to spearheading social reforms, women played a multifaceted and pivotal role in expanding the scope, presence and impact of India’s national movement and in post-independent India development.


Insta Links:

Women’s Liberation Movement


Mains Links

Discuss the significance of contributions made by women freedom fighters during the second half of the 20th century.


Prelims Links:

In the context of Indian history, the Rakhmabai case of (1884) revolved around? (UPSC 2020)

  1. women’s right to gain education
  2. age of consent
  3. restitution of conjugal rights


Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3


Answer: B