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Choices Galore for the New Indian Woman

Women in India have started to claim their place in the sun. True pillars of strength, they have repeatedly demonstrated across different domains the capability to lead the world. Today, India’s women have given us every reason to be proud, be it in sports, leadership, science or business, and the journey has only just started.

The emboldening of women in every sphere of life has been made possible by their dedication and hard work. Striving towards their goal, their lives are getting better today compared to the trailblazers of the past. Withchoices available to them, there is a steady and significant reduction in the innumerable hurdles that women have to overcome. That does not take anything away from the women of today; however, they are taking forward the baton passed by their peers of earlier generations, redefining milestones and racing towards new goals.

With the redrawing of social paradigms, the government of India has left no stone unturned to enable a conducive atmosphere reflective of the realities of New India. A series of progressive measures that empower women in the workspace and their lives have been ushered in, thus creating an empowering environment all around.

Nothing is Out of Limits- Unlimited Career Choices

Choices available in the economic domain for women today remain unparalleled. New career options have materialized, thanks to the government’s progressive steps. Women today have career options in military and police. Recruitment and permanent commission of women in armed forces, mandatory recruitment of women in paramilitary forces, and greater incorporation into the police forces has ensured that nothing is out of limits for women. Moreover, with women athletes bringing glory to India, there is a new dawn of gender equality in every field. 

Science and technology has become another area where women are taking the lead. 16 Women Technology Parks have been set up to foster innovation and scientific learning, while the KIRAN fellowship allows women scientists to overcome obstacles. With multiple fellowships and support through Vigyan Jyoti program, the scientific path tread by women has been aggressively strengthened.

Better Education to Enable Choices

New career choices have become possible because girls are being empowered in the education arena. Higher enrolment of girls at all levels of schooling – 94.23% vs 89.28% for boys at elementary level, 81.32% vs 78% for boys, and 59.7% vs 57.5% at higher secondary level – girls actually have a greater chance at entering colleges and universities for higher education. This has been enabled with the help of a large number of scholarships being granted to girls – in fact, 57% of all post matric scholarships and 42% of all means cum merit scholarships, in 2019-20, were granted to women by the government. Moreover, with the doubling of enrolment of women in ITIs (crossing 1.7 lakh in 2018 against 2014), women are also actively pursuing technical skill courses that gives them greater career options.

One essential hurdle to the continued school education of girls was the unfair notion that girls are an economic burden, thus justifying the drastic step of pulling them out from school. Through the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, accounts were granted to 1.56 crore women by February 2020 with deposits to the tune of ₹46,549 crores, further incentivized by higher interest rates. With this account, the dream of securing further education is definitely strengthened.

Financial Empowerment of Women

Under the Standup India, the power of women has been given recognition like never before – 70,808 women have received loans totalling ₹16,186 Crore till December 2019 through this program. This capital is essential, as it serves as seed capital and working capital, thus ensuring that ventures started by women get support at critical junctures. With this, women can confidently focus on sharpening core competence and delivery. Collateral free loans worth ₹3.79 lakh crores to nearly 15 crore women under the MUDRA scheme have also contributed to this social revolution.

Moreover, with the empowerment of women entrepreneurs through GeM market portal and Mahila e-Haat, women are discovering new markets each day for services and goods developed by them.

In order to encourage more and more women to join the workforce, the benefit of lowering the contribution of the women employees into their provident fund accounts has been provided by the government. This has also helped them financially.

Not to forget the challenges of women in rural India, with measures like the National Rural Livelihoods Mission, 62.5 lakh self help groups (SHGs) of women are fighting against poverty, and giving their families a chance at a better standard of living. To further empower rural women, 20.14 crore women have been given Jan Dhan accounts in banks, thus allowing access to financial services that were beyond their reach once.


Unshackling the Burdens of the Past-Socially Empowering Women

Ensuring that maternity is not a hurdle, the amended Maternity Benefit Act now ensures that India has one of the world’s highest paid maternityleave periods of 26 weeks. Moreover, with this provision’s applicability for two child births, women working in the organized sector can be rest assured that their due cannot be taken away from them.

As society has progressed, questions have been raised on the minimum age of marriage of 18 years that the Sharada Act amendment of 1978 had mandated.  The issue has materialized as women’s aspirations have grown owing to improved education. The government has set up a taskforce to review the minimum marriageable age in tune with the growing opportunities and aspirations of young women.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (Amendment) Bill, 2020 raised the limit for abortion to 24 weeks, thus addressing a long-standing humanitarian and social issuefor victims of violence and abuse alongside medical issues. Further, amendments being brought into the Surrogacy Bill are extremely supportive of women, as it removes regressive definitions on such clauses as infertility.

Another essential requirement to uphold women’s dignity was acutely felt. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’s focus has led to the construction of 4.17 lakh toilets for girls in schools and 10.29 crore toilets in rural India to create over 6 lakh open defecation free (ODF) villages (as of February 2020).

Dignity is not just delivered through toilets; ownership of houses empowers women in the society. With the focus on ownership of women under the Awas Yojana, ownership of more than 38 lakh houses was sanctioned exclusively to women in rural India, while another 55.7 lakh saw joint ownership between wife and husband.

Other social menaces too have been tackled by this government. The historic Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 made instant Triple Talaq a criminal offence punishable, thus ending centuries of exploitation and unequal treatment of Muslim women. Enabling Muslim women to perform Haj without a male companion brought cheer among Muslim women, while such draconian, discriminatory provisions of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmirthat prohibited right to transfer propertyto children in case she marries a non-Kashmiri and the lack of a anti-child marriage law were done away with, by the revocation of Article 370 and Article 35A. Further, actions against those non-resident Indians who abandon their wives post marriage or the access to clean fuel to poor women are steps that certainly reflect on the social empowerment journey this government has undertaken.

Ensuring Safety, Enabling the Freedom to Prosper

Assuring the women of India their safety is critical to enable their prosperity. To that end, no stone has been left unturned by the government. Be it the 25 lakh women who benefited from the 181 Helpline or the 595 One Stop Centres that provide legal counselling, police help, medical treatment; psychological counselling and temporary shelter to women affected by violence, comprehensive measures followed up with effective implementation are bringing the sense of safety a step closer to women.

Identifying the need for stringent laws and strong mechanisms to deter criminals, a decisive amendment to the Indian Penal Code ensures death penalty or 20 year imprisonment for rape of girls. Further, a National Database on SexualOffenders was launched in September 2018 to prevent repeat offences. Even the Anti Trafficking Bill passed by the Parliament has ensured that traffickers face the strictest of penalties and punishments and think twice before they even consider attempts to traffic girls and women.

Safety also has to be ensured in the work space. The Sexual Harassement e-Box (SHe-Box) was launched in 2017 to enable online filing and tracking of complaints of sexual harassment directly with the concerned authorityin that jurisdiction. The paradigm of safety was also addressed in the public mind with the utilization of the Nirbhaya Fund, wherein till December 2019, a total of ₹7,000 crore worth initiatives, including the setting up of 1,023 fast track courts for speedy trial and a ₹100 Crore allocation for setting up and strengthening Women Help Desks in police stations across states and union territories was undertaken. Further, Mahila Police Volunteers and HIMMAT mobile app with an allocation of 16.23 crore till November 2019were set up to act as link between women and the police.

Noticing that a major problem for women’s safety arises due to the lack of safe and secure modes of public transport became one of the important drivers behind introducing metro rail systems across 25 cities, with 11 of them already functional. This boosts the safety of women in public spaces, so that they can travel without worry thanks to the enhanced security at the stations and in trains.

With plenty of choices available to women today, even the sky is not a limit for India’s daughters.

May 28, 2020