Our ancient sacred books show that the women were highly respected. All the religious ceremonies were performed by the husband and wife together. Every mother was more or less of a goddess to her children. She was also mistress in the household matter. Marriage was a sacred ceremony. A woman had the freedom in the choice of her partner. Polygamy was rare. Widow remarriage was not prohibited. Child marriage was unknown. Thus the standard of female morality was very high. She enjoyed an honorable position in the society.Gradually, the position of women in the society began to deteriorate. Evils like child marriage, prohibition of widow remarriage and female infanticide crept in the society. The women were confined to the household. A woman was expected to rear children, prepare food and remain obedient to her husband throughout her life. Even now the conditions remain more or less the same in the villages and small towns.
Gender Equality in India
The history of equality of men with women or gender equality is very old. The women have been discriminated in the different spheres of life. Since times immemorial, the women have been suppressed in the male dominated society. Their role has been limited only to the four walls of their homes. They are only expected to bring up the children and look after the male members of the family. Many religious books have also supported gender inequality and the subordinate role of the women. As a result, the women have been ill-treated. They have not been given opportunities to make progress in the society. But the supporters of gender equality give the following arguments in its favour.
Arguments for Gender Equality
In the first place, women are human beings and not merely things of sex or sexual beings. Common man looks upon women as mothers, wives, sisters and beloveds, but they are human beings like men and objects of respect. Every human being should get equal status ii the society.
Secondly, women are n less intelligent than men. They have the ability to regulate their own life. So a woman need not be treated as an appendage of man. Thirdly, the women are entitled to equal civil, economic and political rights as other human beings. They also participate in all the activities of the society vigorously and lead better lives. Fourthly, the society does not give the women equal opportunities to develop their faculties. But if the women are given equal opportunities in all the aspects of life, they can contribute much to the progress of the society. Fifthly, when the women are as intelligent, hard working and well educated as man, they should not be confined only to the four walls of home. They should have the right to choose their career. It shall give them opportunity to prove their worth in respective fields. They shall also become
financially self-dependent. Sixthly, every country gives personal freedom to all its citizens, the woman should be given complete freedom to choose her life partner. Marriage is a contract between two independent and equal human beings so the marriage is based on mutual consent. The woman should not be denied the right to choose her life partner. If a woman does not want to marry, she should be left completely free to do so. Seventhly, generally the society expects a woman to work like a machine in the house from morning till evening. Why should the household activities be the responsibility of women alone? The husband should also perform household duties along with his wife. Eighthly, the woman must have equal right to inherit property. She should also have the right to acquire and dispose of property. Ninthly, the husband and wife are equal partners in the family. The relations between the husband and wife cannot be superior and inferior. Their relations should be on the basis of equality.
Measures taken for the Emancipation of Women
1. Work of Social Reformers. In the early nineteenth century, the social rçformers like Rajjm Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and later Swami Dayanand, Keshab Chandra Sen, Karve, Jayotiba Phule and Sister Nivedatta took up the cause of women. Many religious reform movements like the Brahmo Samaj, Rama Krishna Mission and the Theosophical Society also started movements to improve the condition of women. They established schools and colleges for imparting education to women. They encouraged the widows to re-marry. They condemned Purdah system, child marriage and the practice of Sati. Their efforts brought improvement in the position of women in the society.
2. Influence of National Movement. In the twentieth century the women also played an active role in the national movement. They took part shoulder to shoulder with men in the protest meetings, agitations, picketings, boycott of foreign goods and Satyagraha. They suffered lathi blows and faced bullets. The women also went to jails during the freedom struggle. The women political leaders brought awakening among the Indian women and made them conscious about their rights. The most prominent women leaders were Sarojini Naidu, Vijay Laxmi Pandit, Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay, Sucheta Kriplani, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur etc. The enlightened women leaders established the All India Womens’ Conference in 1927. It worked for the uplift of the women folk. Under the leadership of Gandhiji, the Congress made the uplift of women a part of its national programme.
3. Government Efforts. Our Government has also taken many measures to ameliorate the condition of women. The Constitution gives equal rights to both men and women. It also gives equal opportunities of work to women along with men and equal pay for equal work to all. Polygamy has been prohibited by law among the Hindus. The women have been given equal right to inherit the property of their parents. Prostitution has been banned.
Strict laws have been passed prohibiting dowry. Any person accepting dowry can be imprisoned t for five years and fined up to fifteen thousand rupees..To provide more facilities for education to women, many separate schools and colleges have been opened for them. This encourages women to come forward to receive education. A bill for the reservation of one-third seats for the women in the Central and State legislatures will soon be placed before the Parliament. It will give women more opportunities to take active part in the politics of the country It will raise their prestige and status in the society. No doubt, women have contributed much for the welfare of the society and making the country a prosperous. But unfortunately, most of the women in India do not enjoy a proper place in the society. There are many disabilities from which they still suffer.
There is no doubt that the demand for gender equality and emancipation of women is timely and t welcome. It is a reaction against the male domination in every walk of life. From the olden times, the women had suffered from injustice and exploition. Now they have risen against the rotten patriarchal society and their revolt is justified. The women have succeeded in achieving their civil, economic, political and cultural rights. They are contributing much to the welfare of the society and making the nation prosperous. Indian women are in military, paramilitary and police forces. They are pilots in our fighter aircrafts. They have crossed the highest mountain peaks shoulder to shoulder with men mountaineers. But unfortunately, most of the uneducated and poor class women still do not enjoy a proper place in the society The condition of village women has not improved much. There are many disabilities from which they suffer. The Constitution grants gender equality Our government has passed many laws for the advancement of women. It has set up commissions and corporations for the welfare C of the women. But these measures cannot prove to be of much use unless a woman asserts her rights as an individual in the same way that a male does.