Seminar on Women Empowerment | March 16-17 in Bombay ((tag: Events))

by ChandniP on Mar 03, 2012      Category: Others Tags: npsbm
From: Vibhuti Patel

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From: "Dr. Shanta Mohan - CSSS"

Sub: Two day seminar on ‘Role of State and Religion on Women Empowerment’ at Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mithibai College Bldg, Vile Parle (W), Mumbai-56 on 16th-17th March 2012

The concept of women’s empowerment has been gaining momentum for the past few decades and received impetus following the Beijing Declaration (1995) and UN Resolution No.1325. The need for women’s empowerment was felt as women formed one of the several disempowered subsets of society viz., the poor, the oppressed classes, minorities etc. But, women constitute a crosscutting category of individuals that overlaps with all these other groups. Empowerment is the process of expansion in people's ability to make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied to them. Within this broader definition, empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social or economic strength of individuals and communities and often involves the empowered developing confidence in their own capacities.
Thus, empowerment is the totality of the following or similar capabilities:
* having decision-making power of their own,
* having access to information and resources for taking proper decision,
* having a range of options from which one could make choices,
* ability to exercise
assertiveness in collective decision making,
* having
positive thinking on the ability to make change,
* ability to learn skills for improving one's personal or group power,
* ability to change others’ perceptions by democratic means,
* involving in the growth process and changes, and
* increasing one's positive self-image and overcoming stigma
The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. The Constitution not only grants equality to women, but also empowers the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favor of women. Empowerment is the one of the key factors in determining the success of development in the status and position of women in the society. The special focus on empowering women and girls is on account of the fact that they hold the key to long-lasting social change in communities.
It is the society’s moral, social and constitutional responsibility to ensure women’s progress by providing them with equal rights and opportunities. Today women have made substantial progress in every walk of life and with their hard work and sincerity excelled in several fields. Women are considered to be more honest, meticulous, and efficient and hence more and more commercial organizations prefer hiring women for better performance and result.
However, India is home to three major religions and measured from the parameters of religion, culture and tradition, the level of achievement of women’s empowerment varies from one religion to the other. Given the common parameters of poverty, patriarchy, want of education, poor economic status etc., if women of a particular religion have not achieved the level of empowerment like that of women from other religions, the question that arises is whether religion is an impediment to women’s empowerment? Is there anything in the religion which prevents women’s empowerment? Or is it the way religious edicts are interpreted by the males?
All religions can empower women, and all have empowered women at various times. They can also disempower women and have done so many times. If empowerment is understood as providing men and women with equal status, religion has not empowered women either historically or, often, in the present times. But if empowerment is understood as providing women with a greater sense of themselves, their capacity and their significance in the world, religion empowers women.
Some religions and some particular stances within other religions have actively discriminated against women, on religious grounds. For example, though women had great power in the convents historically in Roman Catholicism, it does not contemplate having women priests despite a shortage of men as candidates. In Islam women play a very limited role, though the variation is far wider; from the anti-women stance of extreme Islamist positions to the equality preached by Ismaili Muslims, and much else in between. Hinduism has only a few women priests. Hindu women were prohibited from chanting the Gayathri Mantra; the restriction being placed on women more by the priests, pundits and traditions than by the religion itself. On the other hand, Protestant Christianity has women in almost all imaginable leadership roles, and non-orthodox Judaism has allowed women to be rabbis, chair assemblies of rabbis etc.
Thus, religion can empower women, though they are mainly empowered by faith rather than religious structures, which tend to disempower women, by placing a number of restrictions and attributing it to religion, depriving women of their rightful access to education, healthcare, reproductive rights and participation in the society and politics, with terrible and long term effects.
Too often religion consciously or unconsciously sustains gender inequality and creates barriers that inhibit women from participating fully in the life of the secular, religious and global community. Patriarchal disparities such as power, cultural and religious norms and economic disparities too often deny women an equal place at the table of decision making. It is the religious patriarchy that often defines the level of credibility and insidiously reduces the credibility if women at the highest levels of decision making
The use of culture and religion to deny women's rights to secular education or exercising franchise or public protest or even driving a car by religious patriarchs in Saudi Arabia is an example of the power dynamics that disempower women. In such cases, Women's empowerment is in crisis because political Islamists claim that religion itself sanctions women's disempowerment. Such claims are also made by patriarchal elements in non-Muslim contexts. Thus, the conservative Muslim Clergy in India is opposed to a range of ambitions of Muslim girls and women, although they are generally ignored by policies, programmes and development interventions. Still, such a political agenda inhibits equitable development and democratisation. Women who resist are condemned, ostracised, threatened, abused, and de-humanised.
In classical medieval and modern times, girls were often married off early in life. Today, although young Hindu women do not usually marry until their twenties, child marriages are still in vogue and in some communities marriages are arranged just after the girls are born. Even among the Muslims child marriages are not infrequent, justified from a religious angle. Religious sanction is also cited by Muslim males who practice polygamy or deny maintenance to their divorced wives. Unfortunately Muslim clergy have invariably supported the males. Muslim women are also discouraged from contesting elections, taking up secular education and attending co-educational institutions, all of which, Islam, per se, does not prohibit.

Women empowerment is understood as a very narrow term in today’s world. Women’s empowerment should focus on the holistic manifestation of womanhood and the feminine with a goal to bring a perfect balance between the masculine and the feminine forces of the nature irrespective of gender. Thus women’s empowerment should transcend the gender and reach the whole of humanity to establish a matriarchal society based on creative and generative action. Such a social order should be based on the principles of love, compassion, nurturing and with a purpose of unifying the forces of nature.
Besides belonging to a given religion, a woman is also the citizen of an independent country, where the tools of citizenship could be used to establish her identity, her rights, and her social and political position. Empowerment of women, in the social, economic, political and religious context, can become a reality not by the passing of laws but when women come out of their homes and actively participate in reshaping the society. It is only when women are empowered in all spheres of life with an equal opportunity and when she has the choice and opportunity to lead a publicly active life that we can talk about a foundation being created for a collective change in the society. An empowered woman will be in a position to confidently articulate her thoughts and becomes more productive in her actions. But, the reality we see today is still different. Toady’s structures are all patriarchal in nature which is based on power and control on account of which women cannot move up the ladder beyond certain point.
Women’s empowerment in all walks of life shall bring the necessary balance that is required in nature. It will help in promoting structures which are more inclusive, progressive, creative, constructive and generative in nature and which are in sync with nature. If religion does not stand in the way, why do religious structures prevent women’s empowerment? Is it the male ego, or his greed for power and control or a lack of confidence in the male in allowing women’s empowerment?
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