This International Women’s Day 2022 is a day of reflection, recognition and reiteration of our commitment to making the world a more equitable place for all. Over the past decade, considerable efforts have been made to bridge the vast gap that existed between men and women. Yet we are still far from the dream of gender equity that we hoped to achieve.
The largest democracy in the world and the second most populous country, India is a unique blend of tradition and innovation. While women and men today compete in all spheres, successes in equality and empowerment remain selective and few. In this context, it is important to realize that development is not just about improving the standard of living or having a better quality of life – it is about being empowered to make choices about one’s own life. Empowerment is the acquisition of the ability to make strategic life choices – for those who have previously been deprived of them. Even in the 21st century, women continue to face obstacles in all areas of their lives globally. Above all, in their lack of freedom to make decisions about their own lives, and not being able to realize their full human and economic potential. It is a sad reality that the social position of women is discriminatory and globally inferior to that of men. Especially in terms of access to health care, education and professional development and family planning, which in turn leads to poorer health outcomes and greater exposure to disease.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the plight of women to the fore. While men make up the majority of those who have perished from the virus, women and girls bear the brunt of disproportionate care burdens, disruptions in income and education, limited access to health and to other essential services, increased risk of being dispossessed of their land and property, and numerical and wage gender gaps. Covid has also aggravated the situation for sexual exploitation, physical and mental abuse in addition to domestic violence due to the continued closeness of perpetrators to the accused, brought about by frequent lockdowns. For women already living in poverty, these impacts can be a shock to their overall economic stability and hamper their ability to buy basic necessities, such as medicine and food. While the pandemic will have negative effects on anti-poverty programs, it is also likely to set back achievements in women’s empowerment and set back decades.
The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution and India has also ratified various international conventions on women’s equality and human rights. Yet gender disparity manifests itself in various forms, including declining female ratios, discrimination against girls and adolescents, and maternal and child mortality.
Women’s equality in power-sharing and active participation in decision-making, especially in the political and economic process at all levels, is imperative for the pursuit of empowerment goals. Policies, programs and systems must be established to advance the integration of women’s perspectives into all development processes.
The protection and promotion of reproductive health and rights are fundamental to the empowerment of women. There is also an urgent need to promote equality through community initiatives and aggressive advocacy.
Investing in gender equality and the empowerment of women can unleash human potential on a transformational scale. For societies to thrive, women and girls must have equal access to education, health care and technology. They must have equal control over resources, mobility, land and markets. And they must have the same rights and opportunities as nation builders.
Transforming the ways we engage men in gender equality and women’s empowerment efforts is essential for lasting social change. We need to enlist their support for the empowerment of women and girls throughout their lives, and also encourage them to challenge negative cultural and social definitions that may limit their own ability to realize their full potential.
Even today, only 52% of married women make their own decisions about sex, contraceptive use and health care. While women have made some inroads into governance positions, their representation in parliament across the world is less than 25%. While one in five women or girls has experienced physical or social violence in the past 12 months, 49 countries around the world do not have laws that specifically protect women from such violence.
It is a sad commentary on deep-rooted prejudice and inequality. Let us acknowledge this harsh reality on this Women’s Day and strive to build coalitions and partnerships to end this subjugation and give women the dignity they deserve and an equal place in society to build a better future for posterity.
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