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Empowering Women-Folk

- Tapati Baruah Kashyap

In a human society, each individual can utilize his or her own thoughts and ideas and that is considered to be the basic human right of an individual. But it is a matter of irony that in reality each one of us hardly gets any opportunity to display our own individual ideas. Especially the women the most vulnerable sections of society are often being sidelined from taking any important decision.

Another very important aspect of this point is that women themselves are still ignorant about their own rights and policy formulated especially for them. Since of late modern women has become very conscious of their rights, and empowering the women as a whole has become a new motto of the world around.

Mahatma Gandhi, while defining empowerment of women, had described it as a situation "when women, whom we call abala become sabala, all those who are helpless will become powerful."

Defining the empowerment process is very difficult, since it needs the total encompassment of the real situation of an individual. Empowerment of women in a country like India is yet more difficult, because different communities in this vast country have a long history of injustice and discrimination towards women as a whole. Yet, efforts to empower women began simultaneously with the struggle for India's independence.

Non-government women's organizations have been in existence in this country for a long time. While such women's groups have been pressing the government for establishment of a national-level official forum to exclusively deal with women's issues, it was only in 1992 that the National Commission for Women came into being. The National Commission for Women, which provides a platform for releasing the aspirations of millions of women all over the country, is also the most important consultant for the government on all matters concerning women.

In Assam, the movement for empowerment of women is almost as old as the freedom movement in this part of the country. It dates back to as early as in 1926, when the women attending the Dhubri session of the Asam Sahitya Sabha got together under the leadership of Chandraprabha Saikiani and announced formation of the Asom Mahila Samiti, which was later rechristened as Asom Pradeshik Mahila Samiti. Three years later was established the Tezpur District Mahila Samiti, a major constituent of the Asom Pradeshik Maliha Samiti, and it was under these two banners that the movement for empowerment of women made significant steps in empowering the women folk in Assam.

The long history of Assam is replete with several instances of women's bold and strong roles in spite of their traditional roles in a patriarchal family set up. Women of Assam also played a significant role in the freedom struggle too. Assam has innumerable examples of women who had shown excellence in different fields and who are at par with their male counterparts. Women have also played a significant role in politics also.

Despite these, however, the majority of women in general continue to live in a state of deprivation, ignorance and neglect in Assam, which has led to a situation where they are compelled to lag behind their counterparts elsewhere in the country. The gender difference in work participation, for instance, is considerably high in Assam (being 29) and is as bad as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. Even states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which are supposedly lower-placed than Assam, have smaller gender gaps in work participation. Among the states of the Northeast too, Assam's position in this aspect is the worst.

Similarly, infant mortality rate (IMR) in Assam (74 per 1000 live births) is also higher than the national average. It is even more alarming in the rural Assam, with 79.5 girl infants dying before completion of one year of age. Prevalence of anaemia among married women in Assam (69.7%) is also higher than the national average (51.8%). Likewise, the gross dropout rate of girls in Assam in the Class I to X stage is 77.92% (national average is 70.60%). Yet another alarming indicator is life expectancy at birth. Latest official statistics have revealed that while the national average of life expectancy among women stands at 66.91 years, in the case of women in Assam it is as low as 60.87 years.

The above few indicators only speak of the deplorable state of women in Assam and these are the direct outcome of widespread ignorance among women, which again stems from lack of awareness and facilities to acquire basic knowledge and information. This has also led to lack of economic empowerment of women.

But, it is an established fact that once so advanced women members of our society are now in a disadvantageous position. Everywhere women are being left powerless, as compared with their male counterparts. Although the educated and women belonging to the middle and upper middle classes are marching forward, yet those belonging to the lower or rural areas are still to know their basic rights. Their existence as women on the globe is still to be realized.

So, those who are in an advantageous position should come forward to help their copartners. The need of the hour is to empower those underpowered sections of our society. The first step in this connection is to empower the women folk and make them understand their basic rights like political, social, legal and their reproductive rights or rights of their body.

It can be ascertained that a large number of crimes are being committed in our society because of women's ignorance of their own rights. The cases of domestic violence also tend to rise abruptly because few women belonging to the rural areas know that there is law to help them resolve their domestic problems. Apart from their legal securities, very few rural women know their reproductive rights also. As a result frequent pregnancies at a young age make women weak and undernourished. A less healthy mother gives birth to weak, feeble and disease-prone babies. This fact ultimately adds to the statistics of MMR and IMR.

The modern concept of empowering women as a whole also means sensitizing all sections of the society, which includes men too. But the reality is quite different, and thus there is every need to awaken the womenfolk in particular and make them aware of their genuine rights so that they can realize the worth of their existence as women and also can participate with the male folk in any field of decision making of the society. (PIB)