India@75, Looking at 100: Women must be empowered to take charge of their lives – The Indian Express

India at 100, for me, will be progressively occupied by the spirit of women. It is the expanse where we’ve transcended from the on-paper legal and constitutional utopia envisioned for women to a space where every woman’s enterprise and individuality are recognised and she is free from the shackles of hackneyed traditions, distorted social perceptions, and contradictory standards of morality.
There are no two opinions on the fact that women have progressed since Independence. We now understand and acknowledge that the nation cannot progress if half of it is held back. From laws enabling women to own property and safeguard their interests, to being economically independent and leaving their mark in the business space, Indian women have seized the reins and developed a vision in tune with global developments.
As we march towards the 100th year of our Independence, the increasing recognition being given to a comprehensive system of growth must be marked by two factors — not just how and how many women perform, but also how gender-inclusive and representative institutions are and can become. Only 15 and 14 per cent of MPs in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, respectively, are women; 11 women feature in the council of ministers; just 26 per cent of the selected candidates for Civil Services were women; only 23.3 per cent are in the labour force; only 20.37 per cent are MSME owners; only 10 per cent of start-ups in India have women founders; and women only contribute 18 per cent to the nation’s GDP.
The discussion now needs to evolve to understand the “whys” along with the “whats” embedded in percentages or numbers. The debate around women’s participation must progress beyond the currently used metric of assessing the availability of opportunities, solutions, and avenues, which is, in my opinion, a unidirectional approach. A more holistic approach would entail an assessment of the comprehensiveness, feasibility, applicability, and accessibility of resolutions — whether in the form of a law, policy or directive — to propel women towards a promising future.
At the same time, every step in this direction must have social justice, equality, and inclusivity at its heart. We need to strive to ensure that every woman from a disadvantaged background has the same access to empowering measures as a woman coming from privilege does. We need more regional voices in strategic policy-making decisions, more rural women taking control of their economic decisions, and more women overcoming impediments and climbing the leadership ladder. We need to keep reiterating the same question: What is being done for the women in the country, and is it adequate? A policy is only good as the number of lives it impacts.
Tamil Nadu and its history are laced with the impactful legacies of leaders like Thanthai Periyar, C N Annadurai, and Kalaignar M Karunanidhi, who were not only proponents of equality and social justice for women but also set up practical examples for India and the world to emulate. Not only did Kalaignar discuss issues affecting Indian widows in his screenplays, but he also announced financial assistance schemes for them. He instituted the Women Entrepreneurs Scheme, the Women’s Small Trade Loan with Savings Scheme, reservations for women in government jobs and panchayat elections, marriage and maternity benefits, and other policies that have catapulted Tamil Nadu onto the path of development. His vision is what Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin has been furthering.
In the next 25 years, I hope for egalitarianism and justice to be the light of the nation. I fervently hope that we catapult more women forward, not only by empowering them to take charge of their lives, but also to impact the lives of thousands of other women, thereby initiating a cycle that creates space for inclusivity, empowerment, and development.
Thamizhachi Thangapandian aka T Sumathy is an academic, Tamil poet and DMK MP (South Chennai Constituency), and Member of the Standing Committee for Information and Technology. This article is part of an ongoing series, which began on August 15, by women who have made a mark, across sectors
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