Women of India & the Reality of Empowerment

There are some resonant sounds we hear daily in this pulsating, multi-tasking world we live in- listen to the myriad nuances of the word ’empowerment’.
Do the words ‘empowerment for women’ reek of gender bias?
I will begin with women in their mid – 50’s, born in the cities to well-educated parents and grandparents. Why have many such post-independence children, grown up with fears and apprehensions? Do they continue to live under an invisible sword of Damocles, from their early childhood? They do not speak out against their parents and elders, even though they may harbour feelings of disappointment and angst for years on end. They often say they cannot bear to hurt their parents’ feelings or ever face their rage or witness their tears. Do pent-up emotions corrode relationships? A never-ending query, with no real resolution. Unless you want to “break ties”.
Empowerment? Perhaps we may begin with nurturing just a sense of self-worth? I do believe this would be truly meaningful.
Why do some women, even in their 40s, quake in their comfortable shoes or teeter on 3-inch heels, as elders in their late 60’s or 70’s silently admonish them ~ with a certain curl of their lips ~ for laughing loudly as they saunter towards their lunch table, at one or more of the prestigious clubs in Delhi?

Are women of age and substance still inherently seeking commendation? For the respect shown to elders, of not crossing their husbands as they sally forth with anecdotes that smack of intellectual snobbery, only as they do not wish to offend them or seem too feminist?
It seems to me that we are always finding excuses for some flaw in human nature.
Roles have changed dramatically over the past three decades in India. Women began working and demanding a share in the family’s decision-making. Demanding yes, but I wonder how many would own up to actually having been ‘permitted’ to do so ? A few.
So how may we empower women?
They still need their father’s or husband’s approval to study at University, in India or overseas. They still need their father’s financial support all through University, plus travel expenses, plus monthly expenses and later on, the husband’s too – in case there is no job available to practice the skills acquired or lack thereof? Which in turn, may cause a deep rift in their relationship.
Under such circumstances, in this 21st century, do we need to facilitate amends between warring spouses, by affirming their need for a peaceful co-existence, through negotiated soft-skills training?
aka …That they must be aware that an argument only makes anger linger and words spoken in haste are often rued forever. That it is nice to make up, without feeling small or less of a person for caving in? That is empowerment. The knowledge that it is far more important to be civil to one another, both at home and in the workforce. That tantrums and irritable episodes may be allowed to run their course – we are human, after all! A good pillow-fight may even amuse the children. Seriously though, a good workout or swim, a brisk walk, even pounding a boxer’s punching bag, or shooting a few basketball rings, will drive away the stress, without affecting the children and family. That, I do believe, is empowerment!

However, I do know, that even today, almost two decades into the 21st century, the dice is loaded heavily against our rural girls and women. There is still no easy acceptance of any foreign or unfamiliar changes, by traditional village families.
In the preface to my poem entitled My Distant Aunt …& I
(VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN Vol.8. No.3 March 2002 pp 399-402© 2002 Sage Publications)
I mentioned how domestic violence is not discussed in a village, as the man of the family is considered to have the right to admonish his own.
It is within such a situation that the wife needs to assert her sense of right and wrong and yes, this change may then be termed as empowerment.
However, in truth, it is only when the wife reaches an advanced age that her opinions begin to matter. It is time mothers explain to their sons from early childhood, that it is important to respect their sisters; then as married women, they explain to their husbands why it is vital their daughters also be allowed to study, to play, to dream. That their young daughters do not need to hide their faces, but instead be taught to walk straight, with their brothers and eat the same kind of food.
These young daughters need as much nourishment, if not more, for they are the mothers and caregivers of future families.
This indeed will be empowerment.
It is that simple!

Published by Jayshree Misra Tripathi

Jayshree, as the eldest of five daughters, includes her maiden surname 'Misra' in her writing. She lived a nomadic life from 1986 till 2015, as the wife of a career foreign service officer in the Indian Civil Service. She has written from across three continents - as a freelance journalist, teacher and poet. Jayshree followed up her MA in English (Literature) from Delhi University (1978), with a Post Graduate Diploma in Human Rights Law from the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru (Distance Education programme, 2001). She has taught English Language and Literature, been an examiner in English for the Diploma of the International Baccalaureate Organisation and was their trained Consultant for the DP & CP. She worked briefly in the print media, in Delhi, during the mid-80s.

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