Women’s Liberation Movement

Social movement: It is defined as an organized effort by a group of people, either to bring or resist change, in the society.

Objective: Women’s movement is a variant of social movement & it aims to bring changes in the institutional arrangements, values, customs and beliefs in the society that have subjugated women over the years.

Origin: British rule led to spread of English education and western liberal ideology resulted in a number of movements for social change & religious reform in 19th C. Women’s movement is linked to both social reform movements & the nationalist movement.

A) Social reform movements:

  • Brahmo Samaj: It was founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1825 & attempted to abolish restrictions and prejudices against women, which included child marriage, polygamy, limited rights to inherit property. Education was seen as the major factor to improve the position of women.
    • Civil Marriage Act, 1872 was passed, which permitted inter-caste marriage, legalized divorce and fixed 14 and 18 as the minimum age of marriage for girls and boys respectively
    • Raja Ram Mohan Roy played an important role in getting Sati abolished
  • Prarthana Samaj: It was founded by MG Ranade & RG Bhandarker in 1867. Its objectives were more or less similar to that of Brahmo samaj but remained confined to western India. Justice Ranade criticized child marriage, polygamy, restriction on remarriage of widows and non-access to education.
  • Arya Samaj: It was founded by Dayanand Saraswati in Unlike the above two it was a religious revivalist movement. It advocated reform in the caste system, compulsory education for men and women, prohibition of child marriage by law, remarriage of child widows. It was opposed to divorce & widow remarriage in general.
  • Social reformers mentioned above eulogized the position of women in ancient India. However radicals like Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Jyotibha Phule and Lokhitwadi Gopal Hari Deshmukh accused the caste system responsible for the subjugation of women in society.
  • Similar movements began in Islamic community as well. Begum of Bhopal, Syed Ahmad Khan & Sheikh Abdullah in Aligarh and Karmat Hussain in Lucknow spearheaded a movement to improve women’s education.

B)   Freedom Movement:

“Women is the companion of man gifted with equal mental capacities” -Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhiji took interest in collective mobilization of women to fight for political freedom as well as for their social and political rights. He felt that women were most suited for Satyagraha as they have great qualities appropriate for nonviolent struggle.

Women participated in the freedom movement because they were inspired by patriotism and wanted to see the end of foreign rule. It is debatable as to how far this participation liberated them. While women who picketed shops, marched in processions or went to jail or threw bombs did not question male leadership or patriarchal values, it did generate in them a sense of self-confidence and a realization of their own strength. The first woman to participate in the nationalist movement during salt march was Sarojini Naidu who later became the first woman president of the Congress.

Women’s participation in the national movement helped in breaking several of the old barriers of tradition and custom. Women’s organization side by side raised their voices for removal of social injustice meted to them, which resulted in passing of the resolution on Fundamental Right of equal rights for both the sexes at the Karachi session of the Indian National Congress in 1930.

Social reform movement & nationalist movement led to the enactment of various legislative acts & set the ground right for incorporating various provisions to support women’s movement, in the Indian Constitution.