Introduction

Public interest is the aggregation of the harmonized interests of individuals together. The synchronisation of interests must be well established in society in order to avoid the conflicting state of interests. Whenever it comes to public interest, we start to think of the interest of a larger group of people living in society but we tend to forget always that the public interest has it's root beginning in the individual interests of people. We all feel that in a democracy the interests of all is assured and maintained. Can we reiterate the same without the tongue waggling in between? Absolutely not!

Since we know that there are many sections in the population of the country and of the world who have been disadvantaged of something or the other. Discussing about all of them won't be possible in a single drive. Hence, through this article, I want to elucidate on the interests of the 'females' in the society who have been wronged and deprived of their individuality since centuries. We must not forget that the contribution of a female's interest is only going to complete the chain process of public interest otherwise the whole process may get knuckled under the domino effect that starts when in any corner of the world, that injustice takes place. Read on, to again open your eyes and conscience regarding the position of women in society.

It is customary everywhere to classify the human community on the basis of sex into groups of 'men' and 'women'. We tend to forget that the difference between them is simply a biological fact of sex. The aims and objectives, desires and aspirations, duties and responsibilities, dress styles and behavioural patterns, roles and statuses of women and men are different. If we look back in the pages of history we can again get thousands of instances of they being disadvantaged. They have always raised the voice for equality. Men and women all over the world do not reflect different cultures rather they represent one way of life, one culture and heritage. This is also true in the case of Indian men and women.

The position that a women is accorded in a society reflects it's cultural richness and civilisational standards. Swami Vivekananda said, 'The country that doesn't respects it's women will not become great in future.' The degree of freedom and respectability given to women to move about and take part in public activities gives a good idea of the nature and society to which they belong. It also hints about the spirit of civilization. Status of women has always been a subject matter for sociological studies and discussions, for it mirrors about 50% of the population of any society. The women have always been subjected to discrimination, inequality and exploration. In some societies, the situation is changing but that is a growing change and times are going to bring much more reforms in this direction.

Sex Differences and Sexual Discrimination in Society:

The societal principle has already been differentiated into two opposite sexes. Almost all the human society attach much importance to it. Although both the sexes have been a part of the society since ages yet the society treats men and women in different ways and patterns of behaviour. Differentiation here does not imply that one sex has a status superior over the other but in practice sex differentiation has been translated into sexual inequality.

  • Sexual inequality At Birth:

The importance of sexual inequality is often felt at the time of the birth of a child. Often it has been seen in the societies all over the world that the parents always ask a similar question at the birth of the child- 'Is it a boy or girl? In fact, the inequality of the sexes is probably the oldest form of social inequality.

  • Stratification By Sex:

Most societies have two universal criteria for ascribing status within a stratification system: sex and age. It is a brute fact of society that in no society in the world men and women are treated alike, given the same status and guaranteed equality. We all know that there are certain rights and opportunities denied to women. A social rationale given for this discrimination is that the talents and potentials of the sexes are different in many respects. We all have been witnessing an inferior position of women in the society. This very notion is continually being infiltrated from one generation to another generation. Men have been deemed as 'providers' in society while the women are expected to take over the duties of the household. Most societies view it as 'women's work or men's work' using as a basis for sexual stereotypes. People have been classified into males and females on the basis of gender.

Different Cultural Expectations about Males and Females

In almost all societies different cultural expectations have been woven around male-female differences. The following explanation highlights such expectations: 'Men should be competitive, women are supposed to be cooperative. Men can be impatient, women must have boundless patience. Men may be critical; women should always be accepting and supportive. Men can rush and be hurried; women are always supposed to have time for people, to sit and chat, to weave an effective network of mutual support and empathy. Men are expected to express anger, women should never be angry- at least they should certainly never show it. Men are supposed to gain gratification from the self-recognition of a job well done.' Many of the literary works of writers, novelists and poets have highlighted such cultural expectations about the gender roles of many societies of the past. The behaviour of men and women are subjected to different cultural definitions.

( 1 ) Traditional Bases of Sexual Identity:

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There exists complex differences between men and women. N.J. Smelser has pointed out that there are four concepts to understand these differences.

a) Biological Sex: On the basis of the biological factor of sex, human society is divided into two groups or communities everywhere. Primary physical traits such as reproductive organs, body shape and secondary physical traits such as facial hair, muscular strength etc. are helpful in making such a division or classification.

b) Gender Identity: It refers to our sexual image. Biological differences contribute to the development of gender identity which refers to the self-concepts of a person being male or female. Generally, a child learns that she is a girl or a boy between the age of 18 months and 3 years.

c) Gender Ideals: The concept of gender ideals refer to the cultural expectations woven around male and female behaviour. Gender ideals reveal what men and women are supposed to be like in a particular context.

d) Sex Roles: The concept of sex roles which represents the fourth component of sexual identity, includes division of labor, rights and responsibilities according to sex. During the early days, sex roles were clearly laid down. Men were supposed to earn a livelihood for the family when women were expected to look after the family members. In the present world, sex roles are also undergoing fast transformation.

Harmony between these four components:

N.J. Smelser mentions that these components usually function in a harmonious manner. For example, a biological male or a biological female are tuned to the definition of manhood or womanhood. Sometimes, biological sex may not agree with their gender identity. It is also possible that a person's gender identity may not often fit a particular gender ideal. An individual may feel comfortable as a biological male but uncomfortable behaving according to cultural expectations for men. An individual's sex roles may not often match the society's gender ideals.

( 2 ) Actual Differences Between the Sexes:

What's the real difference between the sexes remains a pertinent question in our discussion of male-female relations. Heading to find an answer to the question leads to further questions such as, 'Are there any inborn differences between the sexes'? Are they really important? Are there some natural and genetically determined qualities which do not permit any change of sex roles?

These questions have been attempted by the sociologists and they have tried to explain it with the help of some relevant evidences. Let us go into greater details of these three kinds of evidences.

Biological Evidence:

From the biological point of view, men and women differ in three respects, that is,

a) Anatomical Differences: The differences are apparent in the physical structure and appearance of the sexes. Differences found in the reproductive system of men and women. Men develop testes and women ovaries and these are called primary sex characteristics. Due to the impact of hormonal changes at the onset of puberty, secondary sexual characteristics such as breasts and body hair in females, deeper voice and body hair in men. Women get pregnant and suckle the child. The society confers on the women a lot of biological responsibility and restrictions. Features like muscular strength, body fat and amount of body hair also reveal that men are physically more powerful than women. Generally, males dominate over females by force.

b) Genetic Differences: Differences in the sexes are based on differences in the make up of sex chromosomes. Females have similar chromosomes ( XX ) and males have different chromosomes ( XY ). Scientists are still into studies to know whether their difference affects the personalities or abilities of the sexes. The death rate of men is found to be higher than women as women are regarded more resistant than men to most diseases.

c) Hormonal Differences: A hormone is a chemical substance that is secreted by the glands in the body. It is known that hormones can influence both physical development and forms of behavior. Both men and women have 'male' as well as 'female hormone'; but the proportion of male hormone is greater in men and the proportion of female hormone is greater in women. Whether the hormones completely determine the characteristic male and female behavior in a question is still debated. The natural and social scientists are of the opinion today that hormonal differences probably do have some influence on the behavior of men and women but this influence is a minor one.

Psychological Evidence:

The behavioral and personality patterns of adult men and women are clearly different. Studies of young infants has found sex-linked personality differences early in life. It has often been seen that male babies are more active than female babies while the female babies are more sensitive. It is also true that children respond in many ways depending upon the manner in which they are handled. John Money's studies states that human species is psychologically and sexually neutral at birth and that sex roles are independent of biological sex. His studies have explained that it is possible to raise a child into the 'wrong' sex role.

Anthropological Evidences or Cross Cultural Evidences:

The sex roles vary a great deal from one culture to another, then they must be much more flexible than we have assumed it in past.

The Classic Study Conducted by Margaret Mead:

Mead's studies were completed in 1935, relating to three New Guinea Tribes.

a) The Arapesh Tribe: In this tribe, Mead found that men and women conformed to a personality type. Individuals of both the sexes are gentle, sober, passive and emotionally very warm. Both of them have identical sex drives and both were responsible for child care.

b) The Mundugumor Tribe: Tribes of this group are head hunting and both men and women are expected to be violent and aggressive. Both men and women act in ways which we would call predominantly 'masculine'. Mundugumor women rarely showed what is known as 'maternal instinct' common to women everywhere.

c) The Tchambuli Tribe: Sex roles in this community differed from the first two tribes. The women were domineering and energetic and wore no ornaments. The men, on the other hand, are artistic, gossipy, expressive and looked after children.

The study of these communities made Mead conclude that 'Gender traits of masculinity and feminity have no necessary connection to biological sex.'

( 3 ) Gender Based Division of Labour:

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Division of labour on the basis of sex has been a universal feature of the human society. The division of labour is rigid in ancient and traditional societies. Men were generally given tasks which required physical strength while women were expected to remain at home.

George P. Mudrock's Comparative Study on the Division of Labour by Sex:

American anthropologist George P. Murdock once studied in 1935 that 224 traditional pre-industrial non-literate societies in an effort to discover regularities in the sexual division of labour.' In these societies warfare, metal working, hunting and trapping, fishing, and trade are predominantly male activities. Cooking, the manufacture and repair of clothing, pottery making, and fire making and tending are predominantly female activities. Agriculture, on the contrary, which includes the preparation, planting, and cultivation of soil, is an activity shared almost equally by the two sexes.' There are cross-cultural variations in division of labour by sex. Gender roles are not necessarily innate. Gender roles are not wholly determined by a society's relationship to it's environment. Generally, it has been seen that women specialize in household tasks and men in tasks that take them outside home. Gender roles change as culture adapts to new environmental and social conditions. The impact of technology has made the modern societies demand more involvement of women in a broader range of tasks.

( 4 ) Social Consequences of Women's Employment in Modern Society:

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The great Industrial Revolution and the consequent industrialisation opened the doors of employment for women. Women's increasing involvement in paid labour force has led to a number of social consequences such as:-

  • In the modern societies, women engaged in a job outside the family and obtaining good salary are more respected as they earn the status of 'providers'. It gives them the scope to become career-conscious and inspires them to make accomplishments independent of family roles. It widens their vision and broadens their field of work.
  • It helps them gain power both inside and outside family as they become financially independent.
  • With the females heading towards the external workforce, instances of divorces and separations have also become common.
  • Studies reveal that women have to bear the brunt of 'double burden' as there exists limited father-child interactions typical of almost all the societies as men find little time to devote for either socialization of children or to share the family burden of their wives. In a study it was revealed that 'The average period of verbal interactions between father and baby was only 38 seconds per day.' Longway, concluded that men find it difficult to deviate themselves from their traditional occupational roles. As a result of which, number of wives become subject to a 'double burden' - long work weeks both at home and outside the home.
  • It has hastened the emergence of child-care facilities such as anganawadis, kindergartens etc.
  • As the women is not regularly present at home in urban areas, hence, the fast food industry received a great fillip.
  • Easy availability of female labour has led to the exploitation and harassment of women.
  • Pre-occupation of women with jobs outside the family has severe consequences on the continuance of family traditions and religious customs.
  • Employment of women outside the family has contributed much to the economic betterment of the family as such.
  • In conclusion, it could be said that an ever increasing number of women are entering the world of employment. This new trend has added greater momentum to the processes of social change and social mobility which have been taking place in society.

( 5 ) Are Women Exceptionally Delicate and Weak?

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The belief that women represent the weaker sex has been there since a long time. The belief continues even today in the modern societies. They are not allowed to take strenuous tasks. Many of the female sports have not been included in the Olympic Games. There have been laws in many countries restricting women from taking up some of professions. India also has laws preventing women from taking up activities like mining or driving heavy trucks. Contrary to these beliefs, the bearing of heavy burdens is often considered a woman's job in several traditional societies. For example, the African tribes consider it unsuitable for a man to labour in an agricultural field. In extremely traditional societies, men are entitled to beat their wives and deny food to them for some time and drive them away from the house if they disobey the order. In the western world, the concept that a female is a delicate creature and requires protection and assistance was developed particularly among the upper-classes in the 12th century Europe. Traces of this medieval concept are still found in the western societies.

In India, Manu the author of Manav Dharmashastra said that 'women must be carefully guarded at all stages in their lives.' Although womans are glorified in India but the incessant foreign invasions on India has further upheld the view of Manu. In most of the civilized societies of the world, there exists a general belief that males are relatively aggressive and dominant while females are assumed to be weak and submissive. The socialist states of Eastern Europe and Asia took some formal attempts to equalize the statuses of men and women. Russia is very ahead in the race by minimizing the difference of sex roles which can be further proved with the presence of facts such as the 75% of women in Russia are doctors and some 42% are scientists. It could be said that male-dominance is the norm everywhere, although there are many societies whose sex-role arrangements are unlike our own. It seems unlikely to equalise the male-female roles by means of legislations. Societies may struggle to minimize the difference between male-female roles but establishing absolute equality between the two is almost an impossibility.

( 6 ) Socialistation into Sex Roles:

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In modern societies, gender and age interact to determine the roles open to a person throughout life. Before puberty, boys and girls everywhere normally tend to associate in sex-segregated peer groups. The influence of different roles-behaviours also affect the socialization of boys and girls. For example, boys tend to play outside the home more than girls do. These patterns are changing at different rates in different social classes. It is through socialisation that men and women come to know about their gender roles, that is, 'feminine roles' and 'masculine roles'. Sex roles are not inborn, but learnt. The status of a male is expected to follow masculine behaviour and if they are female, they will be trained for feminine behaviour. Let's consider the role of family, schools, the media in the sex-role socialization of new born individuals.

  • The Family and Family Influence:

Parents and family are the most important people who constitute the dominant influence in shaping gender identity. Boys are generally given more freedom while girls are treated protectively. Boys are given much more rigorous sex-role training while girls are not very competitive. Masculine role seems to be restrictive than the feminine since childhood. The boys are expected to help their fathers, while the daughters are expected to be of some help to the mothers in the kitchen. Role modelling is a major mechanism of gender socialization. Some explicit verbal instructions may help us understand this much better, such as, 'Girls make the house beautiful', 'Ladies first, gents next', 'Boys do not cry like girls' etc.

  • The Schools:

Schools constitute an important agent in gender socialization. Females and male characters in the lessons provide models for young people who are forming self-identities. Lenore Weitzman found that one third of the books had no female characters at all. Children's literature every where has been found to contain stereotypic behaviour which describes traditional male and female gender roles. Academic courses and sport activities which the students opt for in schools are distinctly gender. Many sports such as - wrestling, football, cricket, volleyball are restricted to male sex.

  • Mass Media:

Maas media which includes films, books, magazines, comics, television, radio and records are a powerful agency for socialization. Gender images are often caricatures of either the audience or the sponsor's ideal people. Advertisers normally present the images of men and women in such a manner so as to impress the intended consumers. The image of women is presented sometimes vulgarly in magazines and television advertising. Women are portrayed as sex objects in an attempt to market various products to men. Advertisers have found one of the most effective devices of reaching a male audience and that is to associate their product with a seductively smiling female. Writers have strongly criticized this type of exploitation of female gender for commercial purposes.

  • Role of Culture:

Our definitions of appropriate gender role behaviour are influenced by our culture also. Differences between the sexes are reflected through language. We cannot speak of the other person without making reference to the other person's gender as name-calling provides social control. Women play a very minor role in the major social institutions. Women still constitute a minority in occupying the positions of formal power and prestige. In order to come to parity with men in the other institutions, women must achieve cooperation within the family that will free their energies to work elsewhere if they choose to do so. Gender roles are demonstrated and reinforced in almost every aspect of one's social life.

( 7 ) Theories of Sex-Role Differentiation:

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It is universally observed fact that males and females are constantly assigned two different social roles. N.J. Smelser points out that there are 'boy' activities and 'girl' activities. The unalterable factor of sex cannot satisfactorily explain the sex-role differentiation. There are many perspectives on sex-role differentiation namely,

a) Functionalist Perspective: It maintains that sex-role differentiation was highly functional in traditional and pre-industrial societies, for men and women were to play different roles. Though this division of labour need not necessarily take place along the sex lines, it could also be done on the basis of sexual differences. The functionalists also maintain that gender differentiation has contributed to overall social stability. Talcott Parsons and Robert Bales have suggested a positive function of sex-role differentiation. The father assumes the 'instrumental role', which focuses on the relationship between the family and the outside world. The mother assumes the 'expressive role' which focuses on relationships within the family.

The functionalists have thus concluded that 'the male's instrument role requires that he be dominant and competent; the female's expressive role requires that she be passive and nurturant. The family unit functions more effectively than it would if the roles were not so sharply defined.'

b) Conflict Perspective: They argue that the relationship between males and females has been one of unequal power, with men in a dominant position over women. Conflict theorists always see gender differences as a reflection of the subjugation of one group ( women ) by another group ( men ). Pogrebin has suggested two crucial messages of gender stereotypes - 'boys are better' and 'girls are meant to be mothers'.

B.B. Polk describes the 'conflicting cultures approach to gender differences, observes that masculine values have higher status and constitute the dominant and visible cultures of the society. They......provide the standard for adulthood and normality.' According to this view, women are oppressed because they constitute an alternative subculture which deviates from the prevailing masculine value system.' Helen Hacker has shown that both groups are at a disadvantage as a result of status ascribed to them on the unalterable grounds of sex. Randall Collins mentions that, 'Since the cultural arrangements of any society always reflect the interests of the dominant group,sex roles continue to reinforce the pattern of male dominance.

In a nutshell, the perspectives agree on the point that existing sex roles are primarily social in origin and not biological.

( 8 ) Sexism and it's Consequences:

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The Concept of Sexism:

Inequality exists almost on all lines such as social, economic, racial, ethnic, and so on. Sexual inequality is also one of such inequalities. These inequalities are often justified by one or the other kind of ideology. Sexism is an ideology which is used by men to victimise women.

'Sexism is the ideology that one sex is superior to the other. The term is generally used to refer to male prejudice and discrimination against women.' - Richard Schaefer.

It is the unfair discrimination on the basis of sex. It is not always done openly but secretly, silently and in an undeclared manner. It reflects the subordinated position of women in societies rather it justifys the discrimination based on biological fact. It leads to the exclusion of statuses of women from men. Sexist attitudes also tend to 'objectify' women, which means they treat women as objects of sex.

Institutional discrimination refers to the 'denial of opportunities and equal rights to individuals or groups which result from the normal operations of a society.' Hence, women suffer from institutional sexism too. The major institutions of our society such as - armed forces, large business establishments, police force, courts, the media, transport system, heavy industries etc. are controlled by men. These institutions in their normal day-to-day operations often carry out discrimination against women and perpetuate sexism. The media or the police officials in India are examples where still the females are cheated.

Reasons for Sexism:

Barbara Bovee Polk in 1974 has stated in a study that men in their own interest to maintain power and privilege over women, are practising sex differentiation. It is indeed a power game in which men want to establish their supremacy over women.

He writes, 'power over women in personal relationships gives men what they want, whether that be sex, smiles, chores, admiration, increased leisure, or control itself. Men occupy and actively exclude women from positions of economic and political power in society. These positions give men a heavily disproportionate share of the rewards of society, especially economic rewards.'

Consequences of Sexism:

  • The talents of women go unutilised as they are not allowed much to express themselves which leads to a heavy loss to the society both economically and psychologically.
  • Sexism imposes limitations on the options and opportunities for women.

Sandra and Daryl Bem's views deserve mention here, '......when a boy is born, it is difficult to predict what he will be doing twenty-five years later. We cannot say, whether he will be an artist or a doctor or a college professor, because he will be permitted to develop and fulfil his own identity. But if the new born child is a girl, we can predict with almost complete certainity how she will be spending her time twenty-five years later. Her individuality does not have to be considered rather it is irrelevant discussing as per the society.

Costs of the Practice of Sexism:

  • Economic Costs of Sexism: Despite being equipped with equal qualifications on par with men, in many business establishments they are paid less than what men in the same profession get. This is what is, 'Unequal Pay in Equal Work.' Legislations like The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 passed in India have attempted to bridge the wage differences between the two. Sexism actually restricts the economic contribution of that part of the population.
  • The Psychological Costs of Sexism: Women are treated as thoughtless objects and not subjects. Their role in both family and outside family remains passive. They are made to accept the feminine ideal - a thing of beauty and a perfect housewife. They actually are the biggest victims of role-conflicts. If they dare to change the stereotypes, they are accused of being 'unfeminine'. A psychological change sets on an ageing women as they fear desertion in their family while growing old is not a big trial for men. Women especially in the Western context, may find the last two-third of their lives something of a challenge as their youth and their children are slowly lost to them. The males also have to face a lot of stress due to the practice of sexism. The available facts to support the last mentioned are that men commit more suicide than females, men are more alcoholics and are frequently involved in acts of violence. The male's nurturant potential as a husband and father is undermined by his continual need to strive, compete and achieve.

( 9 ) Women's Liberation Movement or Feminist Movement

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Concept of Feminism or Women's Liberation:

Men and women are born equal and so should be treated. There should be no room for sexual discrimination. Treating them as a secondary sex or an inferior sex is not fair. The duties of women should always be coupled with her rights. Providing them with all these requires powerful advocacy and justification of views called 'Feminism'. A social movement launched in support of it can be regarded as 'feminist movement' or women's liberation movement.

What is Feminism?

N. Abercrombie states that, 'Feminism is a doctrine suggesting that women are systematically disadvantaged in modern society and advocating equal opportunities for men and women.'

It is also referred as a sociopolitical theory and practice which aims to free all women from male supremacy and exploitation. The feminist movement and the associated breakdown of traditional norms and the attainment of economic independence by women. In the West today, feminism having achieved its original objectives, has become more of a psychological state - a constellation of certain attitudes held by individual women than a social movement. It remains a social movement in it's traditional form in certain currently industrializing nations, particularly those in which women have traditionally held a subordinate position.

Glance at the Growth of Feminism:

The First Wave of Feminism:- As a movement, it has its origin in the 18th century England which sought to achieve gender equality with the assertion of rights to women. They got voting rights in 1920 in America and in 1928 in England. Initially, they advocated a liberal outlook heading to demand voting rights, education and right to join a profession.

The Second Wave of Feminism:

It emerged in the 1960's - 1970's on different strands. The structured notions of masculinity and feminity were challenged here. It although seemed an unalterable fact in society but is now seen as a cultural product of human society. In America, feminism was pioneered with the publication of two books, firstly, Simone de Beauvoir's book 'The Second Sex' and Betty Friedan's book 'The Feminine Mystique.' They also protested against the war in Vietnam. Social scientists such as Alice Ross and Jessi Bernard played a major role in creating awareness among women. They started raising voice against gender discrimination and male dominance. Karl Marx also mentioned that females should rise above their false consciousness about themselves. They developed solidarity and loyality between various feminist groups. Feminists have also attempted to condemn the sexist advertising, pornography and violence against women within and outside the family.

The feminist movement had varied purposes at different places. In Africa, it's purpose was to fight for the removal of the practice of paying heavy bride-price. In Middle East, the movement aims to secure freedom for the dressing patterns. In Western Europe, these feminists are busy protesting about the misinterpretation of women in society. In India, the fight is for social freedom and equal social status.

In connection with the feminist campaign, Barbara Bovee Palk spoke of some five basic approaches which should be noted:

  • Re-socialising of women and overcoming traditional gender-role conditioning.
  • Avoiding conventional sexist patterns.
  • Heading towards more egalitarian values for women.
  • Challenge to male dominance.
  • Women empowerement.

( 10 ) Status of Women in Independent India:

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The status of the Indian woman has radically changed since independence. Structural and cultural changes in various dimensions have contributed to that change. Exploitation of women has been reduced. Greater freedom and better orientation were provided to the women's organisations to pursue their interests. Researches, national policies and programmes focusing women are regularly being launched. Commissions have also been appointed to cater the demands of rising female sector. UNESCO celebrated 'International Women's Year' in 1975 to create awareness about the rights of women. The improvement in the status of Indian women since independence can be analysed in the light of the major changes that have taken place in areas such as legislations, education, economic and employment sector, political participation and awareness of their rights.

1) Constitution and Legislation in Support of Women's Cause:
The constitution of India does not discriminate between men and women. All the men and women are entitled to equality. Furthermore, it provides protection to women against exploitation and equality of women. It also guarantees them the voting rights and they should be in no way treated as secondary citizens.

2) Social Legislations Safeguarding Women's Interests:

  • The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 which prohibits polygamy, polyandry and child marriage. It also gives equal rights to women to divorce and remarry.
  • The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 which provides for women the right to parental property.
  • The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 which gives a childless woman the right to adopt a child and to claim maintenance from the husband when she is divorced by him.
  • The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 which declares the taking of dowry an unlawful activity and thereby prevents the exploitation of women.
  • The Suppression of Immoral Traffic of Women and Girls Act, 1956 which gives protection to women from being kidnapped and being compelled to become prostitutes.
  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 which legalises abortion conceding the right of a woman to go for abortion on the ground of physical and mental health.
  • The Family Court Act, 1984, which seeks to provide justice to women who get involved in family disputes.

3) Women in the Field of Education:
After independence, women of India took to education in a relatively larger number. This reduced the gap between the literacy rates between male and female. Benefits like scholarship, hostel facility are being given to women who go for higher education. The National Educational Policy that was introduced way back in 1986 has been in favour of empowering woman through education. It also gave a call to remove the gender prejudices through the promotion of women study centres. In many towns and cities, educational institutions meant only for female children have been established like the Isabella Thorburn College in Lucknow. Girls have outperformed men in studies which again proves that securing education is not the monopoly of the male. The country has also established many such women universities in the country such as Mother Teresa University for Women ( Tamil Nadu ), Women's University ( Karnataka and in Poona ). They are being admitted to engineering and medical colleges. The females have now realized the social significance of education and hence most of them now want to develop their educational career.

4) Women in the Economic and Employment Fields:
In the 'employment market', they are giving a tough competition to the menfolk. They are increasingly coming out of the four walls of the household to become workers. They are choosing professions such as teachers, professors, clerks, judges, managers and typists etc. In the urban areas again, the women are choosing different occupations with unprecedented frankness. They are being recruited to the three wings of the armed forces - military, air force and naval force. The white collar workers are on increase since 1970s. Srinavas, a renowned sociologist remarked at this change that, 'it is nothing short of a revolution.'

5) Awareness of Women Regarding their Rights:
Earlier, womans of the rural areas or those who were uneducated had no consciousness of their rights. Prof Ram Ahuja describes that the level of awareness of rights by women depend upon the following four aspects:

  • Individual background of women which refers to their educational level, aspiration level and personal needs.
  • Social environment of women which includes the social expectation of kins, husband's values and family members perceptions.
  • Economic base of women which refers to the level of class-membership.
  • Subjective perception of women which refers to women's own feeling and assessment of their statuses and roles.

Woman's are not being identified as independent individuals but only as daughters, wives, mothers or as family members.

Bringing about more and more legislations to ensure better opportunities to grant more rights and concessions, is of no benefit unless there is a basic change in the people's attitude towards women and women's role in society.

( 11 ) Issues faced by Women:

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  • Increased instances of violence against women is into fire. Violence against women is almost universal and exhibited in almost all sorts of societies.
  • Women in Indian society have been victims of ill-treatment, humiliation, torture, and exploitation for long as written records of social organisation and family life are available. These records are replete with incidents of abduction, rape, murder and torture of women. But regretfully, female victims of violence have not been given much attention in the literature on social problems or in the literature on criminal violence.
  • Crimes against women include rape, molestation, dowry harassment, wife-battering, kidnapping female children to be sold into brothel homes, forcible embracement, forcible religious conversion and sexual harassments etc.
  • They are victims of domestic violence, marital rape, sex-trade, female genital mutilation etc.
  • Some women are compelled for forced abortion in case of a girl child detection, some have to go for a tubectomy operation,immoral trafficking in women and girls, forced prostitution and blackmailing of women etc.
  • A policy of male preference is followed in society which leads to female negligence and female disadvantages.
  • The domestic work is always branded as the work of the female while the voice of the female is always found to be suppressed as it is the male who dominates in the societies.
  • Problems such as bodily weakness, bloodlessness, high bleeding, fatness, problem in uterus, discomfort in breast, chronic backpain etc affect women but generally the health related problems of the females is overlooked. Studies have revealed that women themselves neglect their own health or rather they don't complain about it because of their virtue of 'self-denial.'
  • Womenfolk in India represents a declining sex as the sex-ratio is negative for females.
  • Women workers are paid less than the male workers for the same type of work. In the public life again, men are the most priortised.
  • Girls are discouraged for higher education. Regional imbalances are found in this sector. Increased drop-outs of female children is common. Generally, female children are discriminated against male children.
  • Due to lesser exposure, a large number of employed women are illiterate. Fearing the societal accusations, the females take a step back in the economic development of the country. They are subjected to economic exploitation. They are given threats of removal from jobs. Working women are generally preconceived as 'non-serious workers'. Furthermore, they have to face sexual harassment at workplace.
  • A woman's body is targeted to get things done. Media often carry out the character assassination of female victims. Advertisements play no less an important role in debasing women. The Government has passed 'The Indecent Representation of Women ( Prohibition ) Act, 1986 in order to prevent the media from misinterpreting the women.
  • They have to face deliberate abandonment of conjugal relationships. In the Indian context, it is mostly the husband who goes away from the family leaving the wife and children. Desertion causes lot of hardships especially for women. Divorce damages the social image of women and it becomes a permanent stigma in her life. Dowry harassments are again very common and it leads to the degradation of women. Dowry reflects the unscrupulous and money minded young men contract more than one marriage just for money. As early as in 1961 itself, the Dowry Prohibition Act was passed in order to prevent the practice of dowry.
  • There has been witnessed a decline in the political participation of women. Increasing violence and terrorism in politics has discouraged women from taking active role in politics. Theoretically, women's representation in politics is regarded as the first step towards women empowerment but the socio-political atmosphere has not yet become conducive for that.

Discrimination and Atrocities through the Life Cycle:

  • Foetus
  • Sex selection
  • Female foeticide
  • Infant
  • Infanticide
  • Malnutrition
  • Early Age
  • Neglect of Medical Care and Education
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Physical Violence
  • Adolescence and Adult Women
  • Early Marriage
  • Early pregnancy
  • Sexual violence
  • Domestic violence
  • Dowry harassment
  • Infertility
  • Desertion
  • Witch hunt
  • High maternal morality
  • Older Women and Widows
  • Desertion
  • Neglect - Emotional, Social and Financial

The erosion of traditional values, increasing criminal tendencies in society, poor enforcement of legal provisions, excessive depression and others have contributed to greater atrocities in society.

( 12 ) Empowerment of Women:

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Meaning of the Concept of Empowerment of Women - The term 'empowerment of women' has become popular especially after 1980s. It refers to the process of strengthening the hands of women who have been suffering from various disabilities, inequalities and gender discrimination. The term 'empowerment of women' refers to the process of providing power to woman to become free from the control of others, that is, to assume power to control her own life and to determine her own conditions.

Historically, women have been regarded as constituting a weaker section. They have often been treated as secondary grade citizens or they have been pictured as home-makers busy in household chores. The quest for equality has always been pursued by women. Unequal treatment on the basis of sex is what that developed into gender discrimination. Further, the United Nations Declaration of 1975 compelled the national governments to shift their emphasis on women's programmes from welfare to development. The Third Women's World Congress was held in Kenya in 1985 to support the cause of women empowerment. The Fourth World Conference on Women held in China in 1995 unanimously passed a resolution on gender equality. The Government of India also declared the year 2001 as the 'Year of Women's Empowerment.'

Strategies for Women's Development:

a) Obtaining greater political participation of women. It was also recommended that some power positions should be reserved for women at the block and village level bureaucracy. There should be income generating schemes for women in line to extend financial security to them. Increasing literacy of females to garner self-reliance in females. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act has made an effort to give some special powers to women in all the three tiers of Panchayati Raj.

Factors facilitating Empowerment of Women:

Women cannot be empowered in a magical manner. It is not an automatic or a spontaneous process but requires deliberate and consistent efforts. It is through the combined and coordinated efforts of the Government, people and women only, the task can be fulfilled. Women are empowered through the woman emancipation movement, education, communication, media, political parties, and general awakening.

Acknowledging Women's rights, giving them the freedom to take decisions and make choices, providing them the access to education and employment and better opportunities for political participation.

Reasons behind the Need for Empowerment:

  • Giving them education means empowering them to enjoy the benefits of development which in turn enables them to contribute further to national progress.
  • Womenfolk need to be made stronger from the health point of view also.
  • Women require economic power to stand on their own legs on par with men.
  • Empowerment of all kinds is essential to guard them against all types of atrocities. Furthermore, it is essential to preserve their purity and dignity.

( 13 ) Human Rights and Women:

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Human rights are those basic rights which everyone inherits the moment one is conceived in the mother's womb. Human rights include the following rights such as, the right to life, the right to health, the right to education and the right to be free. These are natural and inalienable rights. They are indivisible and interdependent.

The philosophy of human right became popular in the 20th century and the issue of gender equality and equal rights for women assumed importance only after 1970s. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains several articles mandating equality and non-discrimination on the grounds of sex.

Rights and Protection Given to Women by the Constitution of India:

The Constitution of India in it's attempt to provide equal rights and opportunities to women, and to ensure protection and justice has made the following provisions:-

  • Assures equality to all its citizens including women - Article 14
  • Ensures that no discrimination be made against its citizens on the basis of caste, class, creed, sex, place of birth - Article 15 ( 1 )
  • Does not deny or impose sanctions or conditions on its citizens to make use of any public place or institutions on the basis of sex, race,caste, religion etc. - Article 15( 2 )
  • Recommends the State to make certain special arrangements in order to provide protection to women and children and to promote their welfare - Article 15( 3 )
  • No discrimination be made by the State against its citizens including women while providing jobs - Article 16
  • To pursue a policy of providing the minimum necessities of life to the citizen without discriminating between men and women - Article 39(A)
  • Fixing equal remuneration for equal work without gender discrimination.
  • The State shall take it as its responsibility to provide maternity benefits for its women employees- Article 42
  • Promoting harmony between people and doing away with all the humiliating customs in respect of women.
  • Reservation of seats for women in the Panchayats.

( 14 ) Measures to Promote the Development and Welfare of Women:

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  • Strict legislations should be implemented to support the cause of women.
  • Legal assistance should be there to ensure justice to women.
  • The National Commission for Women should go ahead taking steps to check incidents of violence against women.
  • Relief and rehabilitation should be extended to all the women who have suffered some or the other abuse.
  • Women's Day Programme should be celebrated with a sense of awareness about the rights of females and should work to extend the same.
  • Social and economic programmes must be undertaken to ensure the welfare of women.
  • Educational grants and developmental plan should be carved out for women.
  • There should be programmes aiming to improve women's health.
  • Voluntary organizations seeking the welfare of the women should be acknowledged, supported and improvised.

( 15 ) The Position and the Problems of Indian Women : Future Prospects

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What will happen to the status of Indian women in the near future? Will they become free from the problems with which they suffered for centuries? Can we expect better status and brighter prospects for our women in the years to come? Will they be able to lead a free and independent life as their counterparts do in the West? Or, whether their status is going to deteriorate further in future? Will they attain equality with their menfolk? These are some of the questions currently being discussed in connection with the status of Indian women. On the basis of status-quo, some observations and broad generalisations could be made regarding this issue.

  1. New problems such as atrocities against women, dowry harassments, immoral traffic of women, oppression and exploitation of women etc. have made it difficult for women to lead an equal life with men.
  2. The continued dominance of male supremacy has made the attainment of the concept of gender equality much bleaker in the near future.
  3. Women should set aside the regional, caste and class differences and should work towards developing common interests amongst themselves.
  4. Relaxation on the women's movements and contacts will make it easier for the women to breath freely in society.
  5. Women should get aware of their rights and raise voice against exploitation.
  6. They should forge ahead in terms of education and employment.
  7. Powerful women organisations and movements must be channelised to a new level.
  8. Romila Thapar has observed, 'Women's liberation does not have any immediate relevance to the Indian social situation.' It's scope should be enlarged and broadened both to fit in the larger picture of the interest of females.
  9. Protection should be ensured to lower caste women. The social status of women must be changed in order to bring a revolutionary change.
  10. The Government and political leaders should not develop an indifferent approach towards the females of the society. They should go a step ahead in changing the scenario around to garner rising careers for women.

Conclusion

Women in India are not yet equal to men. There is no legal or constitutional barrier to equality. There is only the social barrier. Women in India are more after a 'respectable' and 'meaningful' social status which is free from all sorts of exploitation. There is no urge in them to outsmart men. They want their interests to be protected and problems solved. As long as the problems of women remain as 'women's problems' and not as 'societal problems', so long, attempts at the solution of these problems do not get the required speed. Indian women expect a change in the attitude of men towards them and their status. On the contrary, they expect greater freedom, better education, self-dependence, decent jobs, a proper treatment of women by menfolk, and a socio-economic environment free from all types of exploitation. Our attempts to provide such a type of socio-economic environment to women will definitely influence their social status and the socio-economic conditions in the days to come.

Without outlining the common good of females in our society, the concept of public interest as a whole can never be infiltrated out. Hence, we all must take an oath on God to always stand by the females of our society and be the part of the revolution which is yet to come.

.    .    .

End Notes:

  • www.unwomen.org/en
  • Ian Robertson's Sociology - Pg. 294
  • Robert Bierstedt in 'The Social Order' - Pg. 377-78
  • www.wikipedia.org/
  • William Kornblum in 'Sociology in a Changing World'- Page: 328
  • www.unwomen.org/en
  • Barry Bacon and Child as quoted by Ian Roberston - Page 292
  • Linton ( 1936 ) as quoted by Wallace and Wallace in 'Sociology' - Page: 204-05
  • fairgaze.com/
  • www.oliverwyman.com/index.html
  • N.J. Smelser in 'Sociology'( 1993 ) - Page 346
  • Alfred Tennyson, from 'The Princess' as quoted by David Popenoe- Page 128
  • knowlaw.in/
  • socwomen.org/
  • www.voicesofyouth.org/
  • Richard Schaefer's 'Sociology'- Page 286-87
  • The New York Case Study: Karthrya Walker and Margaret Woods
  • Lucy Komisar's Comments on Advertising
  • Florence Howe's Women and Society
  • Barbara Bovee Polk 'Sociology' - Pg. 280
  • Racism by Blauner
  • www.pewresearch.org/
  • Collins Dictionary of Sociology - Page 589
  • Sandra and Daryl Ben, 'Sexism' - Pg. 498
  • William P.Scott in Dictionary of Sociology - Page 154
  • Women's Development and Problems by Shamin Aleem - Pg. 88-89
  • Prof. Ram Ahuja in 'Violence against Women'- Page 11
  • Ram Ahuja's Indian Social System- Page 111-112
  • David Jary and July Jary on Society.
  • Anjana Mitra Sinha - 'Women in Changing Society' - Page. 105
  • SC Dube in Indian Society- Page 95. 

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