The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. The Constitution not only grants equality to women, but also empowers the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favour of women. However, there still exists a wide gap between the accepted goals and related mechanisms on the one hand and the situational reality of the status of women in India, on the other. The access of women, particularly those belonging to weaker sections of society to education, health and productive resources is inadequate. They remain largely marginalized, poor and socially excluded. But a number of programmes are being implemented and various kinds of efforts, as shown in the following figure no. 25.6, have been made to empower women. The following major steps are being undertaken for empowerment of women:
- Economic Empowerment
- Since women comprise the majority of the population below the poverty line, poverty eradication programmes are specifically addressed to their needs and problems.
- In view of the critical role of women in the agriculture and allied sectors as producers, concentrated efforts are being made to ensure that benefits of training, extension and various programmes reach them in proportion to their numbers.
- Comprehensive support in terms of labour legislation, social security and other support services is provided to women to enable them to participate in various industrial sectors, especially electronics, information technology, food processing, agro-industry and textiles.
- The provision of support services for women, like child care facilities, including crèches at workplaces and educational institutions, homes for the aged and the disabled are being improved to create an enabling environment and to ensure their full cooperation in social, political and economic life.
- Social Empowerment
- Efforts are being made to ensure equal access to education for women and girls, eliminate discrimination, universalize education, eradicate illiteracy, create a gender-sensitive educational system, increase enrolment and retention rates of girls and improve the quality of education to facilitate life-long learning as well as the development of occupational/vocational/technical skills by women.
- A holistic approach to women’s health which includes both nutrition and health services is being adopted and special attention is being given to the needs of women and girls at all stages of the life cycle.
- In view of the high risk of malnutrition and disease that women face, focused attention is being paid to meet the nutritional needs of women at all stages of the life cycle.
- Elimination of all forms of violence against women, physical and mental, whether at domestic or societal levels, including those arising from customs, traditions or accepted practices has been getting top most priority.
- Political Empowerment
Women have been enjoying the right to vote and contest any elections ever since independence. They have the right to participate equally in decision making at all levels of governance. The 73rd and 74th Amendments (1993) to the Indian Constitution have served as a breakthrough towards ensuring equal access and increased participation in political power structure by providing 33.3 % reservation of seats for women in rural and urban local bodies. This has played a central role in the process of enhancing women’s participation in public life. A Bill to provide reservation of seats in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies is under consideration by Parliament.