Empowerment of women in the world cannot be seen as an issue of uniformity and treated with stereotyped measures. As a result, there are many issues around the world, and consequently, there are too many needs. In order to empower women, we cannot administer stereotyped programs designed to generate quick results. A few more women are not really able to make educated choices in their lives by gaining some power. The issue of discrimination and bias impacts women in society on several levels, and addressing it in a limited, sexist manner will not lead to women being empowered globally. The structures of society need to be changed today, because they systematically discriminate against women.
The waves of change
Currently, women’s empowerment in the world is regarded as a principled movement for change bolstered by the establishment of gender-neutral structures and systems within society that encourage gender equality. Today, women empowerment goes beyond financing small-scale projects or supporting small businesses and includes redistributing funds to women and giving them control over their finances. Our thinking needs to change since money cannot dissolve overnight the social norms, institutions, and relationships that are integral parts of our existence and that seem to be the main cause of widespread discrimination and bias against women. Poverty reduction is not the end of women’s empowerment. It is just one of several goals women must pursue.
On the other hand the real question to ask is whether women empowerment in world has been able to change the authoritarian structures behind the social norms, institutions and relationships which openly propagate gender bias and discrimination. The development model of empowerment does not answer this question satisfactorily and therefore the developmental model should be considered as one of the tools of empowerment rather than the beginning and the end of empowerment. The time has come when women empowerment in world needs to expand into the consciousness of women and awaken the power within each and every woman. Awakening this power should not be for just making money or gaining limited power in the present biased structures of societies but it should act as a catalyst for creative and generative change in all spheres of life. Such awakening of internal power and consciousness for creative and generative action will give birth to agents of real change. Through numerous pathways and diverse solutions these agents of change can bring genuine transformation in the society for the betterment of women and the whole of humanity.
Though the process might seem slow at first, the fire will catch on and the results will become evident over time. Women’s empowerment in the world is still a far-fetched idea, we need to accept this fact. It is imperative that we take action at both the local level as well as the global level to bridge the gap between women empowerment as a vision and the current reality of gender bias and disparity. A greater role for women in local decision making bodies can only be achieved through greater participation of women at ground level. Thus, women will be able to participate in the economy more, have greater economic opportunities, and become socially and politically empowered. When a grassroots movement becomes engrained in a local area and grows there, it will naturally act as a catalyst for an improved quality of life for women in that area, including both educational achievement and better health care and nutrition.
Focusing on the ground level but simultaneously thinking globally
Rather than a destination, women empowerment should be seen as an ongoing journey. To accomplish this, we have to get rid of the typical baggage, assumptions, and stereotypes that are associated with gender and development today. To assess whether the actual experiences of women on the ground match the change that is sought by various women empowerment programs, it is important to gauge the actual experiences of women on the ground. There is an urgent need for real and genuine change in our world, and in this regard it is vitally important to take on the existing institutionalized gender inequalities.
By creating new structures based on gender equality, this challenge should be creative in nature. We must agree to the fact that women in different parts of the world have different needs and issues to be addressed and therefore one-size-fits-all interventions should be avoided. There are differences between countries and we need to acknowledge this fact and work by keeping these differences in mind. Development of empowerment models which suit to a specific situation is the need of the hour and by implementing programes as per the need of the different countries, societies and localities we can make a profound impact at the ground level. But the real change that we are seeking will only come when at the ground level women participate in a campaign which begins from their inner self and which spreads like a fire to bring creative and generative change. Such a campaign shall enhance the social, political and economic participation of women at the ground level with a purpose that envisions everlasting change in the direction of gender based equality.
Movements and campaigns like these will be more powerful and responsive to the needs of women than simply bringing a few women into politics, since they will make other institutions of the society accountable and more responsive to the needs of women. Traditional structures and institutions will have to change so as to be able to reflect what is true in the present. Gender equality and equal rights for women are nothing less than the truth of today.
Local campaigns based on lived experiences
The goal of women empowerment in the world should be a mass campaign for change, but the movement must gain traction in the grassroots. The movement or campaign can only become rooted at the ground level if the issues and experiences of the local women are taken into consideration. In order to begin such a campaign, one must address the basic inequality against women in society, which may take many forms. In order to launch a campaign, local issues or needs that result from this inequality in society should be addressed. The focus must be on providing solutions to the local needs and issues of women through the leadership of the local community. Schools and training institutes can be offered to develop local leaders through constructive and creative means. Working on the local structures which need to be changed can help these leaders take the campaign forward in their areas. Thus, schools and training institutes can serve as the foundation for cultivating the next generation of leaders capable of working within the existing framework as well as establishing new ones that will benefit women and humanity as a whole. As a result, society will be able to slowly construct structures that are based on gender equality. Rather than relying on stereotypes, women empowerment must emphasize lived experiences. This newer approach of developing local leaders who can galvanize constructive change should be at the forefront of campaigns or movements that originate at the local level. Having done so, you can naturally move the campaign to regional, national, and international coalitions for change.
Gender inequality as the primary impediment in Empowerment of women
It is essential for us to understand why such changes are needed when we discuss the need for change. We need a social order founded on gender equality if we are going to bring about constructive change. There must be an acknowledgement that the issue of gender inequality and discrimination based on gender is the primary reason for a grass-roots campaign. A grass-roots campaign should primarily focus on gender equality. In fact, gender inequality is a large impediment to women’s empowerment in countries all over the world. Both overt and covert forms of gender inequality can be observed in rural and urban settings, including violence against women, discriminatory practices, and issues relating to reproductive health. Only by eliminating issues of bias and discrimination at every level can gender based equality be achieved.
Lessening the burden on women
Women should also be addressed within gender equality campaigns, in order to lessen the burden on them. Finding ways to meet woman’s child-bearing, breastfeeding and child rearing needs while also allowing them to be active in the workforce can make their lives easier. Here, men should be encouraged to shoulder more responsibilities than they normally would, including those relating to raising a family, sexual and reproductive behavior, and social roles. Women should be able to act and enhance their decision-making skills at the local level, which should be one of the major objectives of gender-based equality. In galvanizing action at the local level, women will be able to influence policy changes that will improve their own well-being. This action will also greatly benefit them in promoting equal opportunities for themselves. Local activism can play a vital role in improving gender equality, eradicating harmful practices, attitudes, and discrimination against women and girls. Public behavior will be changed so that there will be no tolerance for discriminatory practices like urging children to have sons, unequal care for girls, and violence of all kinds like female genital cutting, rape, incest, sexual violence, and human trafficking.
Readdressing gender inequality
By creating sufficient force and momentum from the grass root level, we can influence the larger systems and structures to respond to the need for social, cultural and legal change. The grassroots campaign can have an impact on the higher structures of society because it creates momentum. Grassroots campaigns can be initiated in a variety of ways. The issue at hand will determine which type of campaign to launch. To give some examples, common issues that can be taken up through the grass root movement include taking up services to women victims of violence, prevention and counselling services against violence including telephone hotlines, addressing inequality in health programmes, programmes to educate women about reproductive and human rights, offer training in literacy, employment skills, legal rights, parenting, child health and social mobilization. Strengthening the capabilities of women by elimination of gender gaps in secondary education, increasing adolescents’ and women access to sexual and reproductive health information and services are other major areas to focus.
Focussing on enhanced security for women
Trafficking in human beings is another major problem affecting large parts of the world. A large part of the problem arises from weak structures at the grass roots level, which force women into circumstances that lead to their trafficking. In the local area, appalling socioeconomic conditions cause human trafficking. The issues of trafficking in women and girls, along with violence against women, require both strong legal measures and action at the local level.
Violence against the girl child and women
When we talk of issues related to gender discrimination then one of the burning issues is violence against the girl child and women. This is a major problem in many parts of the world. The elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child should become a must. In large parts of the world the girl child faces unending discrimination and is subjected to violence of many kinds. In conflict zones the violence against girl child is widely prevalent. There is hidden violence against girl child and women who stay at home where even their reproductive and sexual health rights are contravened. This deprives the basic human dignity and is life-threatening. Even the survival of the girl child and her coming into the world itself is becoming a big question mark because of sex selective abortion of the female child and if she takes birth and manages to survive then she lives a deprived childhood with genital mutilation, lack of basic education, marriage at 12 years and rape. By the age of 12 the girl child already becomes infected with deadly sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and AIDS. This is a bitter truth in many parts of the world. Even if the child passes this period then still she enters into a life of drudgery as an unpaid servant of the house or in many cases turn out to prostitution. A few lucky go to school and college and manage to get education eventually to get married to someone and life a live of a house wife. Then the ordeal starts all over again for a life time with domestic violence and the burden of running a home without even the basic health, nutrition or reproductive rights in sight. Now these are issues which are actual ground realities and we need actions against them.
The role of the state in empowerment of women
In the empowerment of women, the role of the state is far from satisfactory, but starting from the ground up is the only way to galvanize it. By focusing on local issues, we can build mass movements on the ground that can shake the system, allowing it to respond more rapidly to change. Our discussion will cover a number of issues that need to be addressed urgently at this level. There have been new forms of violence against women which have appeared, while freedoms previously enjoyed have been undermined. In order to empower women, states must increase their sensitivity to these issues and focus on empowering them. It is common knowledge that many states are not taking enough measures to promote gender equality, and the protection of women’s human rights is not a priority. A clear contrast between the international standards that have been set and the national legislation, policies, and practices of individual states illustrates this problem. In addition, the UN should also play a more prominent role as a coordinating agency. But again the crux of the story is simple. We should start by working at the local level if we want to make an impact at the state level as well as at the international level. It is better to start from the ground up and work upwards, rather than approach the problem from the top down.
How to make the present structures accountable and responsive
It is not the objective to increase the number of women in top level organizations or government structures, but rather to make these organizations and structures more responsive to the ground realities and therefore positively influence the way in which they do business. Governments and international organizations fail to implement the gender equality action plans they sign. The best way to create necessary heat and pressure for top level organizations to react and change in this scenario is to mobilize masses at local level by focusing on local issues and local leaders. Around the world, there are countless instances of state apparatuses suppressing rights and silencing opposition voices. The importance of implementing laws and regulations that ensure women’s rights is not given the priority it deserves. Grassroots movements with real and genuine people gathered as change leaders are the only way to tear down such authoritarian structures. It should be done in a constructive and creative way rather than destructively. In order to hold governments accountable for social justice, grass root social organizations, including both men and women, must come together and form a grass root force that will affect the government to act. At the macro level, other obstacles include the lack of quality data disaggregated by gender, the underfunding of women’s programs at both the national and international levels, and confusion over the relative merits of gender mainstreaming and women’s programs. Political clout and commitment are factors that determine these factors.