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Women In Society

By Nivedita Singh

Society is a setup that includes people who have individual existences yet are together and have many common interests, traditions, and purposes. The role of each individual in a society is vital and there is no such thing as undermining or super emphasizing any one segment or group within. Every element of a society plays its part without which the complete cannot function adequately.

Women form an integral part of our society and have been playing multiple roles and shouldering responsibilities since ever, just like men do. We live in a country where women are worshipped as Goddesses – of knowledge (Maa Saraswati), wealth and prosperity (Maa Lakshmi), valour, and power (Maa Durga). We also worship our home as Motherland and the language which helps us communicate is our Mother-tongue.

Now while in our society, we have developed ways of highlighting women as reverend and attached high positions to them, the real female segment of our society has had to take a difficult path to bring forth their real worth and co-exist. Their role has mostly been defined by the men and had been confined by many boundaries and limitations. This, however, has become a thing of the past now.

In present times, women in society have come forth to present what more exists in them and how they can further add value to society. They have realized that there is no need to prove equality or superiority; rather they are on the path of proving their self-worth to themselves. This has come through a journey from when women were confined to their homes to when they were fighting to get themselves acknowledged and now to co-exist. Women are now moving ahead from seeking empowerment to enabling empowerment in society.

It has not been an easy task for them to come out of their shells, which society had covered them with, and shout out loud to the world that they have much more to offer than take care of household and kids. While the names of Goddesses and rivers which are worshipped are all female, women have been respected only for a set of defined tasks that men of the society felt were suitable for them. Times have, however, positively changed now. 

Women are now treading unconventional paths and proving to themselves and their surroundings that their true potential is much more than just being the caretaker of their home and family. Women are now enlightened to know that there exists, in them, all potential that they need, to pursue any career and any task in life. Be it in the field of Science, Fashion, Healthcare, Entertainment, Entrepreneurship, and Business among many others. women are now proving themselves all over. It is important to mention that they are doing this while simultaneously managing their core defined responsibilities of managing and taking care of their home and family. 

Women have always been great managers ever since they traditionally worked with limited resources and outlooks yet had solutions for obstacles of any kind. Problems do not cease to exist and probably this is what opens up opportunities for the women of our society. Women now, need to understand that they are their competition, and they need to rise for themselves, not to prove anything to anyone but solely to themselves. This has been acknowledged by a major part of our female society to a great extent already.

There have been many initiatives by the government and also private enterprises and investors to encourage women and help them build a career. It is important, however, to understand that Government can form rules and norms but to follow them wholeheartedly and to reap the benefit of them lies in the individual hands of the citizens – men or women. Thus, the need for awareness amongst women, about these initiatives and their associated benefits, is very high.

 Our country has experienced significant women Upliftment, which is mostly done by women themselves while reaping benefits of their intellect, government initiatives, and private investors. 

There has been a significant reduction in foeticide after initiatives like banning sex determination by the government were imposed. Awareness and mental development of citizens have also played a role here. Though we are yet to achieve the target of no female foeticide, we are on the path towards it. The government, in fact, has introduced many girls child related schemes to foster their birth as a reason to celebrate. These are done at both Central and State levels. We envision that in the coming 20-25 years, both awareness and acceptance of the fact that gender disparity is absolutely uncalled for is attained optimally. 

Women, today, have ventured out into many fields which were earlier dominated by men. They have proved their excellence and thus made a mark where they stand and grow. India, today, has about 15 million enterprises that are women-owned and this form a good 20% share of total enterprises running in the country (Women Entrepreneurship Report 2021 by Google and Bain Company). Here women are simultaneously proving themselves to be employment generators with over 25 million people employed in these enterprises. It is important to note that these are not figures with women being the owners just on paper. They are involved across various departments in the company, and it is estimated that by 2030, the number of women-owned enterprises would double and create jobs for over 150 million people. Women have been thriving to grow in broad segments like:

1. Employment creation enterprises

2. Womenpreneurs - Professionals and Solopreneurs

3. Home-based businesses like catering, baking, and art amongst various others

4. Rural agripreneurs who have taken the command in their hand to structure the sales and distribution of their agri based products

A limiting factor for women who work is many times their work is unpaid. World Bank estimates that 75% of women who are of working age (constitutes for 35% of the Indian working-age population) are not doing any pay-related work. Only 35% of women in the country use their bank accounts which is a limiting factor for them to make use of opportunities. Ownership of farmland is just 2% by women. The labour force participation rate, an indicator of the active workforce in a country, is amongst the lowest in India and it sadly continues to decline. The role of almost half of our population, which is female, is certainly significant here. A study by the Centre for Monitoring India Economy (CMIE) 2019, indicates that women graduates are 3.5 times more likely to be unemployed than their male counterparts. The study found that while overall unemployment in the country is 7%, among women it is 18%. 

Women, traditionally, have been taking up administrative and data processing jobs, which are now being rapidly automated. These imply that their skill up-gradation and career choices need to expand. The country needs to take a non-traditional approach to ensure that by 2030, the 1 billion working population which would include 40% females are encouraged to take up opportunities not just as job seekers but also as job creators. Presently only about 15-17% of women-owned enterprises hire employees, the rest are mostly run solo or with the support of family members.

Women entrepreneurship is a skill that has historically been observed in India. Kalpana Saroj, who is supposedly the first female entrepreneur of India, who is also known as the real 'Slumdog Millionaire' was known for turning around the distressed Kamani Tubes Company in 2001. She was awarded the Padma Shri award in 2013 and women like her have set up an inspirational path for others. 

These days women have much more opportunities and support from government and private investors, which can be tapped as opportunities. Indian Edition of Business Reality Show – Shark Tank experienced many women entrepreneurs participating in raising funds for their initiatives. The women here not only highlighted their disruptive business ideas and products but also managed to design a perfect pitch to market themselves and their offerings.

These women entrepreneurs showcased products across industries like fashion, hygiene, biodegradable products, and natural skincare among various others.

Women have also marked their significant position in the field of science. However, their share in the field remains low and most of the potential goes untapped as most of the women drop outpost completing their education. According to the All-India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) report 2019-20, women account for over 43% of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates in the country. However, only 14% of them go ahead and conduct scientific research in higher institutions.

Building a career in science is much lower than obtaining a degree in Science. In January 2003, a committee called 'Women in Science' was constituted by the Council of Indian Academy of Sciences, to address this issue. This committee was focused on the status and influencing factors of science careers for females in the country. Further in January 2005, a panel for 'Women in Science' (WiS) was formed to carry out the recommendations and suggestions that the committee had given for the upliftment of women in the field. 

Many initiatives in the area have been taken since then and a few vital ones include:

Lilavati's Daughters - Aimed at mentoring women seeking opportunities in science, engineering, and medicine. A book called 'Lilavati's Daughters' has been published which includes short biographies and autobiographies of existing women in various related disciplines. It highlights their interest, roadblocks, persistence, and achievements in the field.

Trained Scientific Women Power - is a study of women who have completed their Ph.D. in pure and applied science, engineering and medicine, but have not taken up a career there. This is aimed to find reasons and corrective measures to encourage these women to tap into their potential and pursue a proper career.

While on one end, there are government initiatives and the opening up of private enterprise arenas for women, there is a flip side where a major segment of the female population is still under a lot of struggle. A predominantly male society of ours is still on the path of realizing that women need space when thinking about their careers and profession. Families who encourage their daughters to study well also need to accept their individuality and decision-making. Marriage, managing the household, nurturing the kids and many such roles need to be carefully planned, shared, and taken care of. 

There are many instances where while women are sharing responsibilities and taking up their careers seriously, the household and family responsibilities are not adequately shared. Also, many times, women are unable to get due support from their families and instead are always showered upon with condemns and guilt arousing situations. While many women have strong personalities to overcome the negativity that these things create, there are times when many of them succumb to pressures like these. This may or may not be visible in their persona and duties but it's worse because they get mentally affected by them.

Working for money is different from making a career, and with innate personality traits that a female has, most of them strive to make a career. The journey towards this is not an easy one and thus any negativity coming from family and immediate acquaintances significantly impacts the mental health of women.

Good mental health does not mean that a person stays happy all the time; rather it means that a person can well manage all emotions that are experienced at different points in life. Talking about women in our society, most of the time they are loaded with so much of input that it becomes difficult for them to realize the correct emotion that they may be feeling.

When a girl is young, families have restrictions on their travel, timings for an outing, career choices, and almost everything that they do. While these may seem normal routine way of dealing with it, these restrictions and limitations eventually affect the personality of a child. They may result in suppressed emotions and loss of self-confidence. Thus, like exploring a child is one of the extremely important aspects of good parenting, giving equal opportunities is another. 

Women in society go through stages of probable mental threats which include schooling, physical and hormonal changes at adolescence, career choices, leaving home, marriage and accompanied relationship dynamics, motherhood, and many others. While men have a life cycle involving various stages too, the difference lies in how women are often judged at most of the stages while men get the liberty of being understood for their choices immediately. 

It is important to understand that women at least should support their fellow women. Be it marriage, motherhood, or any important stage in life, females are mostly judged for whatever they choose. A simple illustration, when a woman becomes a mother, it's one of the most special occasions of her life but very evidently it is affected by judgments given for her choices. From trivial things of baby care like clothing to bigger decisions like feeding are all discussed and judged. The female here is then occupied mentally with so many things around instead of just enjoying her phase and the childbirth. 

While such may not be the case in every household, but it certainly is, in most of them in our country. This phenomenon needs to change. Right from birth to aging, these parameters which are set for women, affect them mentally. It is not surprising how depression, stress, and anxiety are rising in the country.

According to National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), India accounts for 17% of suicide deaths in the world (August 2021) and women form a major share of these numbers. World Health Organization (WHO) on the other hand, found that 41.9% of women experience depression-related mental disorders compared to 29.3% of men. Also, 6-48% of Indian females suffer from postpartum depression. 

Women and men are physically different in the way their brains are wired and thus how they process data and situations. This results in a difference in the way they get affected by events. Women, in fact, prove to be better responsibilities bearers and owing to the increasing need for EQ (emotional quotient) and empathy in the workplace, women are scaling up the ladder sooner due to these inherent qualities in them.

Having seen the developments so far, we envision women rejoicing in their true position and potential across fields of science, corporate, entrepreneurship, home management, and every other possible arena in a coming couple of decades. This is when we also estimate the true reverence being given to women in our society. The good part is that we have come a long way and are presently on the right path to make this happen.

Some Relevant Government Initiatives for Women:

1. Women Entrepreneurship Platform - An initiative of Niti Aayog, in partnership with SIDBI, to support and promote women entrepreneurs. This is based on three pillars:

a) Iccha Shakti - for motivating women to become entrepreneurs

b) Gyaan Shakti - for support with knowledge and an ecosystem in which they seek 

c) Karma Shakti - for hands-on support for business setup and scaling it up

2. Beti Bachao Beti Padhao - A comprehensive scheme of the Ministry of Women and Child Development of India to ensure better gender balance, security of girls’ child and ensuring their education.

3. Working Women's Hostel Scheme - To support women across rural and urban areas by building hostels for them, in turn promoting them to take up opportunities while staying assured of living space and safety.

4. STEP - Support to Training and Employment Program for Women - provides specialized training to women which helps in making them self-employed or even grow as entrepreneurs. Skills like handloom, tailoring, computer, food processing among various others are imparted under this scheme.

5. Swadhar Greh Scheme - A scheme to support distressed and abandoned women and children with basic needs like food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. This is aimed at helping them regain stability and become independent and grow.

6. Ujjawala Scheme - For rescue, recovery, rehabilitation, and counselling of women who have been trafficked and sexually exploited. 

7. Rashtriya Mahila Kosh Scheme (National Credit Fund for Women) - Initiative of the Ministry of Women and Child Development to provide credit and loans to women working in the irregular sector and belonging to the underprivileged segment.

8. Nand Ghar Yojana - Aimed at providing shelter and basic needs to abandoned kids and women, mainly belonging to the rural areas.

9. Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana - Assists expecting women who lose their wages during days of delivery.

10. Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana - A women empowerment scheme to ensure financial safety for girls by helping parents open up a bank account for the girl child and ensuring some savings.

By Nivedita Singh

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