– Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities –
Dr (Captain) Manmeet Kaur Sodhi
Man and woman are two sides of the same coin of the human race. Man takes birth from a woman and woman is born of a man. This system is interrelating and inter-dependent. A man can never feel secure and complete in life without a woman. A man’s success depends upon the love and support of the woman who shares her life with him. The roles that men and women play in society are not biologically determined. These are socially determinable, changing and changeable. Although these may be justified as being required by culture or religion, such roles vary widely by locality and change over time.
Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social or economic strength of individuals and communities. It often involves the empowered developing confidence in their own capacities.The term empowerment covers a vast landscape of meanings, interpretations, definitions and disciplines ranging from psychology and philosophy to the highly commercialized self-help industry and motivational instincts. Sociological empowerment often addresses members of groups that social discrimination processes have excluded from decision-making processes through discrimination based on disability, race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. Empowerment as a methodology is often associated with feminism. Empowerment is ultimately driven by the individual’s belief in their capability to influence events
Empowerment is probably the totality of the following or similar capabilities:
– The ability to make decisions about personal/collective circumstances
– The ability to access information and resources for decision-making
– Ability to consider a range of options from which to choose (not just yes/no, either/or.)
– Ability to exercise assertiveness in collective decision making
– Having positive-thinking about the ability to make change
– Ability to learn and access skills for improving personal/collective circumstance.
– Ability to inform others’ perceptions through exchange, education and engagement.
– Involving in the growth process and changes that is never ending and self-initiated
– Increasing one’s positive self-image and overcoming stigma
– Increasing one’s ability in discreet thinking to sort out right and wrong
The process of empowerment
The process which enables individuals/groups to fully access personal/collective power, authority and influence, and to employ that strength when engaging with other people, institutions or society. In other words, “Empowerment is not giving people power, people already have plenty of power, in the wealth of their knowledge and motivation, to do their jobs magnificently. We define empowerment as letting this power out (Blanchard, K).” It encourages people to gain the skills and knowledge that will allow them to overcome obstacles in life or work environment and ultimately, help them develop within themselves or in the society.
According to the “International Encyclopaedia of Women”, the cognitive component according to Ms. Storm Quist includes, “women’s understanding of their conditions of subordination and causes of such conditions at both micro and macro levels of society. It involves acquiring new knowledge to create a different understanding of gender relations as well as destroying old beliefs that structure powerful gender ideologies.” The psychological component would include, “development of feelings that women can act upon to improve their condition.” The economic component, “requires that women be able to engage in a productive activity that will allow them some degree of autonomy, no matter how small and hard to obtain at the beginning.” The political component would encompass the, “ability to organize and mobilize for change. Consequently an empowerment process must involve not only individual awareness but collective awareness and collective action. The notion of collective action fundamental to the aim of attaining social transformation.” Empowerment is not as simple an issue as it is taken to be, the position, condition of women differs from culture to culture, from society to society. In the larger sense of the word empowerment means the women are allowed to have choices, to participate in decision making processes, to act independently on social, political or economic levels, to participate in developmental issues and to act as leaders, free access to education and non-traditional tasks etc. As according to Nelly P. Stromquist, “Empowerment in its emancipatory meaning, is a serious word one which brings up the question of personal agency rather than reliance on intermediaries, one that links action to needs, and one that results in making significant collective change. It is also a concept that does not merely concern personal identity but brings out a broader analysis of human rights and social justice.” (International Encyclopeadia of Women (Women, Education and Empowerment Vol. 2), Editors Dr. Digumarti, Bhaskara Rao Chairman and Mrs. Digumarti Pushpa Lehra. Executive member (Discovery Publishing House, New Delhi, 1998).
In the same sense, the famous feminist-cum-journalist Gloria Stein from U.S.A observes, about feminism which is also concerned with empowerment of women, ”There was little public understanding that feminism, by its very definition, has to include females as a caste across economic and boundaries, just as movement against social caste includes each individual marked by it, regardless of sex or class. There was even less understanding that sex and race discrimination are so pragmatically linked and anthroplogically interdependent that one cannot be successfully uprooted without taking on the other”.(Gloria Steinem, Outrageous, Acts And Everyday Rebellions, (Holt, Rinehart And Winston, New York, 1983) So we can say feminism and Empowerment of women are not isolated questions or problems. They are concerned with the transformation of the society as a whole.
Gender Equality and the empowerment of women is the burning subject of the day because on one side it is related with non-conventional role and status of women, on the other side, there are all sorts of major and minor crimes against women from rape, domestic violence to crimes in India like dowry deaths, bride-burning and women – infanticide etc. Entire nations, businesses, communities, and groups can benefit from the implementation of programmes and policies that adopt the notion of women empowerment. Empowerment is one of the main procedural concerns when addressing human rights and development. The Human Development and Capabilities Approach, The Millennium Development Goals, and other credible approaches/goals point to empowerment and participation as a necessary step if a country is to overcome the obstacles associated with poverty and development. Self-decision regarding education, participation, mobility, economic independence, public speaking, awareness and exercise of rights, political participation and many more factors ensure women empowerment. In short women empowerment is the breaking of personal limitation.
The ability of women to control their own fertility is absolutely fundamental to women’s empowerment and equality. When a woman can plan her family, she can plan the rest of her life. When she is healthy, she can be more productive. And when her reproductive rights—including the right to decide the number, timing and spacing of her children, and to make decisions regarding reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence—are promoted and protected, she has freedom to participate more fully and equally in society.
Despite many international agreements affirming their human rights, women are still much more likely than men to be poor and illiterate. They usually have less access than men to medical care, property ownership, credit, training and employment. They are far less likely than men to be politically active and far more likely to be victims of domestic violence.
Ways to Empower Women
One way to deploy the empowerment of women is through land rights. Land rights offer a key way to economically empower women, giving them the confidence they need to tackle gender inequalities. Often, women in developing nations are legally restricted from their land on the sole basis of gender. They encounter tremendous barriers to claim the land that should rightfully be theirs. Having a right to their land also gives women a sort of bargaining power that they wouldn’t normally have, in turn; they gain the ability to assert themselves in various aspects of their life, both in and outside of the home. (Agarwal, Bina. 1994. “Land Rights for Women: Making the Case,” in A Field of One’s Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia, pp. 1-50. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press) Another way to provide women empowerment is to allocate responsibilities to them that normally belong to men. When women have economic empowerment, it is a way for others to see them as equal members of society. Through this, they achieve more self-respect and confidence by their contributions to their communities. Simply including women as a part of a community can have sweeping positive effects. Participation, which can be seen and gained in a variety of ways, has been argued to be the most beneficial form of gender empowerment. Political participation, be it the ability to vote and voice opinions, or the ability to run for office with a fair chance of being elected, plays a huge role in the empowerment of peoples. However, participation is not limited to the realm of politics. It can include participation in the household, in schools, and the ability to make choices for oneself. It can be said that these latter participations need to be achieved before one can move onto broader political participation. When women have the agency to do what she wants, a higher equality between men and women is established. It is argued that Microcredit also offers a way to provide empowerment for women. (World Survey on the Role of Women In Development. 2009. Women’s Control over Economic Resources and Access to Financial Resources, including Microfinance. New York: United Nations) Governments, organizations, and individuals have caught hold of the lure of microfinance. They hope that lending money and credit allows women to function in business and society, which in turn empowers them to do more in their communities. One of the primary goals in the foundation of microfinance was women empowerment. Loans with low interest rates are given to women in developing communities in hoped that they can start a small business and provide for her family. (Bateman, Milford. 2010. Why Doesn’t Microfinance Work?: The Destructive Rise of Local Neoliberalism, New York: Zed Books). It should be said, however, that the success and efficiency of microcredit and microloans is controversial and constantly debated. (Parmar, A. 2003. “Microcredit, Empowerment, and Agency: Re-evaluating the Discourse.” Canadian Journal of Development Studies 24 (3): 461-76).
Women’s education is extremely important intrinsically as it is their human right and required for the flourishing of many of their capacities. It is, however, noticed that most programmes for education of girls and women in India have reinforced gender roles specially motherhood in curriculum as well as impact evaluation. The huge study of nearly 94% of India’s population done by Drez and others looks at female literacy and its negative and statistically significant impact on child mortality.The questions of power are interlinked and we understand that what is necessary is both objective power in terms of economic resources, laws, institutional roles and norms held by others as well as subjective power in terms of self efficacy and entitlements. Empowerment of women is closely related to formal and informal sources of education. Late 19th century & 20th century reformers advocated women’s education as a principal strategy to answer the ‘women’s question’. Many innovative efforts are accelerated after the NPE. In UP a renewal process of correcting gender stereotyping was initiated in 1998 looking at textbooks and training besides infrastructure and community mobilization. There is marked improvement in girls enrollment and steady decline in dropout rates.
Health:2005-06 National Family Health Survey (NFHS –3) conducted through 18 research organizations between 2005 December and August 2006 provides us with several important data based insights not provided by earlier surveys. There has been a steady increase in institutional delivery percentages from NFHS – 1 to 3 from 26 to 41 the increase in rural from 17 to 31 is more promising than urban from 58 to 69. Overall fertility rate has declined from 3.4 to 2.7. The states of Punjab and Maharashtra have reached the replacement level of fertility, i.e. around 2 children per woman. Women in Chatisgarh and Orrissa are expected to have an average of about 2.5 children at current fertility rates. The urban areas in five states studied by NFHS, Chattisgarh, Gujrat, Maharashtra, Orissa and Punjab have reached below replacement level fertility. There is a difference between the fertility of women with no education and those with 10 or more years of schooling. Trends in antenatal care have remained more or less constant in NFHS – 1 and 2 between rural and urban women but have increased from 65 to 77% total. The five state study shows regional imbalances in post natal care from only 23 per cent in Chhatisgarh to 54-59 per cent in Maharashtra, Punjab and Gujrat.
More than 40% ever married women and about one third men in Orissa and Gujrat are thin for their height, undernutrition is much lower in Punjab (12-14%) obesity is the major problem in Punjab 38% women are overweight. Overweight women percentage has increased in the last 7 years from 16 to 20 per cent in Gujrat from 12 to 17 per cent in Maharashtra and from 4 to 7 per cent in Orissa. The extent of overweight is greater in women than men. Overall 14.8% women are obese. Except in Punjab, in other states more than 50 per cent of the children of women without any education are underwseight.
The percentage of anaemia ranges from 38% in Punjab to 63% in Orissa. Anaemia prevalence is alarming among pregnant women 57.9 which is more than last recorded 49.7%. 33% of women still have BMI below normal, which has declined from 36.2. IMR has gone down but gender differences persist. This is true also of under 5 mortality. Life expectancy of women however stands a level higher than that of men. From 1961 to 2001both in total population as well as in the population of 0-6 there has been a decline in sex ratio from 943 to 935 and 976 to 927 respectively. There is a fear that overall reduction of state resources in the welfare sector and specially less than 1% investment in health is going to exacerbate the existing gender bias in society.
Many of the barriers to women empowerment and equity lie ingrained into the cultures of certain nations and societies. Many women feel these pressures, while others have become accustomed to being treated inferior to men (Nussbaum, Martha C. 1995. “Introduction,” in Martha C. Nussbaum and Jonathan Glover, eds. Women, Culture, and Development: A Study of Human Capabilities, pp. 1–15. Oxford: Clarendon Press) Even if men, legislators, NGOs, etc. are aware of the benefits women empowerment and participation can have, many are scared of disrupting the status quo and continue to let societal norms get in the way of development. (Nussbaum, Martha C. 1995. “Introduction,” in Martha C. Nussbaum and Jonathan Glover, eds. Women, Culture, and Development: A Study of Human Capabilities, pp. 1–15. Oxford: Clarendon Press)
The Cairo conference in 1994 organized by UN on Population and Development called attention to women’s empowerment as a central focus and UNDP developed the Gender Empowerment measure (GEM) which focuses on the three variables that reflect women’s participation in society – political power or decision-making, education and health. 1995 UNDP report was devoted to women’s empowerment and it declared that if human development is not engendered, it is endangered, a declaration which almost become a lei motif for further development and policy planning.
Equality of both sexes in Sikhism
All through Indian history it has been the practice to eulogize the achievements of men, praise their valour, and sing their ballads but the contribution of women are never acknowledged who consistently and devotedly nurtures and built the male members of society into heroes. Their commitment, vision, accomplishments, and sufferings have seldom been the popular themes of literature, history, or folklore. It fell to the Sikh Gurus to give women their due and treat them at par with men. The Sikh Gurus infused in them such a spirit that they became the conscience of men. Take for instance the story of Mai Bhago. How remarkable it is that a village woman took up cudgels to fight and became instrumental in turning a losing battle into a resounding victory. Sikh Women have played a constructive, significant, and positive role in Sikh history equal to men and yet they haven’t won a whisper of recognition from the historians. A Sikh is what aSikh woman creates him to be otherwise how would a nine yearold child (Guru Gobind Singh) willingly agree to lose his fatherand invite untold problems at his tender age?
No one can deny the fact that even in the most advanced societies, women had to wage titanic struggles to acquire the minimum rights which should be inalienable for irrespective of gender – such as the right to vote, to own property or to appear as credible witness in a court. Many of these rights were won less than a hundred years ago. The inevitable question is: In the power structure of human relations, how did the downward slide of women’s share occur? How did this march begin in its precipitous decline to the point where women were no better than property?
To ensure equal status for women, the Gurus made no distinction between the sexes in matters of initiation, instruction or participation in sangat (holy fellowship) and pangat (eating together). According to Sarup Das Bhalla, Mahima Prakash, Guru Amar Das disfavoured the use of the veil by women. He assigned women to supervise some communities of disciples and preached against the custom of sati. Sikh history records the names of several women, such as Mata Gujri, Mai Bhago, Mata Sundari, Rani Sahib Kaur, Rani Sada Kaur and Maharani Jind Kaur, who played an important role in the events of their time.
The wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of the Sikh gurus, were instrumental in bringing about many of Sikhism’s time honored traditions. Generations of Sikh ladies selflessly served the Sikh community. Some were unassuming and quietly supportive, others courageously outspoken and fierce in battle. When faced with adversity, Sikh women showed strength of character and deep commitment to the values which they helped to establish and instill in their faith and families.
Sikh women have played a glorious part in Sikh History and have proven themselves as equal in service, devotion, sacrifice and bravery. Examples of their moral dignity, service and self sacrifice are and will remain a source of inspiration. Women are the backbone of the history of the Sikhs, their culture and tradition yet there is little written about the huge contribution by the Sikh women to the great history of this religion.
At the time of the Gurus, women were considered very low in society. Both Hindus and Muslims regarded women as inferior and man’s property. Women’s only value was as servant or for entertainment. They were considered seducers and distractions from man’s spiritual path. Men were allowed polygamy but widows were not allowed to remarry and encouraged to burn themselves on their husbands funeral pyre (sati). Child marriage and female infanticide were prevalent and purdah or burqah (veils) were popular for Muslim women. Women were also not allowed to inherit any property. Many Hindu women were captured and sold as slaves in foreign Islamic countries.
In such a climate Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism shocked the entire society by preaching that women were worthy of praise and equal to men. Five hundred years later, the rest of mankind is only now waking up to this fundamental truth. The Gurus actively encouraged the participation of women as equals in worship, in society, and on the battlefield. They encouraged freedom of speech and women were allowed to participate in any and all religious activities including reading of the Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji said men and women are equal and therefore women cannot be considered socially or spiritually inferior. From woman, man is born; within woman ,man is conceived. to woman he is engaged and married. Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come. When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound. So why call her bad? From her, Kings are born . From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all. (SGGS , p.473).
Guru Nanak broke the shackles of women by admitting them into the sangat (congregation) without any restrictions or reservations. Guru Nanak felt that his message was meant as much for women as for men.Therefore, a Sikh woman can participate in all religious activities without being discriminated on the basis of her sex. Rather, in Sikh religion, the credit of blessing the world with a bhagat or a noble person is given to the mother. Also, every morning and evening, in their prayer, Ardas, Sikhs recount the courageous role played by Sikh women and their contribution to the community. “Come my sisters and dear comrades! Clasp me in thine embrace. Meeting together, let us tell the tales of our Omnipotent Spouse (God). In the True Lord are all merits, in us all demerits.” (SGGS. p. 17)
Guru Amar Das condemned the cruel custom of sati, female infanticide and advocated widow remarriage. Guru Amar Das also believed that women wearing veils (purdah) was demeaning. The Guru refused to meet the queen of Haripur or to allow any women into the congregation wearing a veil.”All (women as well as men) acknowledge the same God as their own; Show me anyone who does not. Each person is responsible for his (or her) own actions And shall have to settle his (or her) own account.”(Guru Amar Das in ‘Suhi ki Var’) “They are not suttees who burn themselves with their dead husbands; Rather they are suttees, Nanak, who die with the mere shock of separation from their husbands. And they too, are to be considered suttees, who abide in modesty and contentment, Who wait upon their Lord and rising in the morning,ever remember Him.” “Women burn themselves in fire with their husbands; If they appreciate their husbands, they undergo sufficient pain by their death. If they appreciate them not, Nanak, why should they burn at all?” (GG, 787)”
On Baisakhi day in the year A.D. 1699, Guru Gobind Singh convened a big gathering of his followers. He took his five tried men, dressed them in warrior’s uniforms and began to make preparations for initiating them into the Khalsa. The Guru was preparing the Amrit (baptismal water) with his sword, when his wife, Sahib Devan, offered some sugar cakes as her contribution. Guru Gobind Singh made the Khalsa initiation ceremony open to men and women alike, a woman being just as worthy. At the time of Amrit a man is given the name Singh meaning lion, the woman is given the name Kaur, meaning Princess. A Sikh woman is an individual in her own right, she does not have to take her husband’s name and is Kaur till her death. Guru Gobind Singh did not see any distinction between the Khalsa, men or women could keep the 5 K’s. Guru Gobind Singh issued orders forbidding the Khalsa having any association with those that practised female infanticide. Guru Gobind Singh also forbade Sikhs to exercise any proprietary rights over women captured in battle, they could not be kept as slaves or wives but were to be treated with utmost respect.
We can conclude that the Sikh women in the Scripture as well as in the secondary sources, in practice have been provided equal status, dignified and in position. They have got equal power to male – members theoretically and they have shown it practically in Sikh history.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2012, All