“Nothing will change if we do not work for it, and who but women know how to turn things around?” Says Pramila Bisoi, an MLA from Odissa, an advocate for women’s education and employment.”
26th August, 1920 was the culmination of the peaceful civil rights movement led by women, the 19th Amendment to the constitution that granted women the right to vote. We’re only an year to a century of the first step towards equality. Over the last 99 years, there have been several efforts towards equality at home, at the workplace, in the constitution, — bringing together the social, economical and political sphere.
The Indian scenario is contextually complex with religious beliefs, social institutions, and the patriarchal construct of the society with practices like Sati, female infanticide, domestic violence. Women’s rights and education in India has chosen to take its own path to evolve. To name a few, pioneers like Savitribai Phule, started the first school for girls in India in 1848; and then Tarabai Shinde, who wrote India’s first feminist text Stri Purush Tulana (A Comparison Between Women and Men) in 1882. Further, Pandita Ramabai, who criticized patriarchy and caste-system in Hinduism, and married outside her caste. From then to today, we’re still fighting the good fight.
Apart from all the unpaid household chores, child bearing and rearing, women handle massive emotional labor. Even after the responsibilities they manage, often the important decisions lie with the financial breadwinner in the family, usually a patriarch. This slowly has taken away social and cultural agency from women across various economic strata. Imperatively now it is necessary to bring women towards economic self sustainability to bring their say in their lives, and decisions in the family, and further the larger societal systems.
Statistical data from the World Bank says, “Women make up 48 percent of the Indian population but have not benefited equally from India’s rapid economic growth. Female child mortality is still a grave concern, with over 239,000 girls under the age of 5 dying each year. Sixty-five percent of women are literate as compared to 80 percent of men. India has among the lowest female labor force participation rates in the world. Less than a third of women — 15 years or older — are working or actively looking for a job.”
Women led organizations across the world and in India have been trying to create economic and employment opportunities for women. There are initiatives like SEWA established by Ela Bhatt in 1972 in Gujarat as a trade union. Snehalaya has been working with women and children, providing a safe space to build capacity and sell art, rescuing from human trafficking. Further, Vimochana in Bangalore set up as an activist group has provided a platform for activism towards rights of women, along with aiding medical help. Janodaya is another such organization working for the social and economical development of women, and former prison inmates to rehabilitate their lives.
At Happy Faces, we often find women from all social and economic backgrounds to share stories of how becoming a breadwinner at home has made a significant difference in their lives.
Rupa Dave, a women maker in the foundation shares,
“As a woman, I don’t want to be shut behind the four walls of my house. Since now that I am earning money myself, I no more have to ask for money from my husband every time I need something. I can take decisions myself.”