There is a new awareness that even in democracies based on Universal Adult Franchise, every adult citizen has one vote. But, it does not ensure that every citizen is equally empowered. For example, women, minorities, marginalized social group like race or caste. of all the groups that need empowerment, women is one such category. Empowerment of women is a prerequisite to transform a developing society into a developed one. They are a potential resource for the overall and balanced development. As they constitute 50% of the human race, it is vital that every section of society develops equally and in harmony with each other. Social transformation requires that women should be empowered to make decisions. Hence, special efforts has been made to empower them so that the logic of equality of votes in democracy is fulfilled.
Women's empowerment has become a buzz word in the present context. Empowerment has an instrumental value as well that is why is seen both as a means to an end and an end itself. The idea of empowerment can be talked virtually in any context: human rights, basic needs, economic security, capacity building, skill formations or the conditions of dignified social existence. Irrespective of one's social and economic status, Constitution has created rights for all the members of society. Empowerment is seen as a way of addressing those unenforced rights and gives new emphasis to the building of social and economic capabilities among individuals, classes and communities. Effective policy intervention on part of the state is one of the crucial determinants for women's economic, social and political empowerment. India has a plethora of schemes, policies and programmes for women's empowerment. The state can intervene through intelligent policy intervention and can do something about these existing inequalities. The status of women can only be changed when a multi-sectoral approach is adopted. Thus, building of social capabilities has been the new emphasis of the government. Therefore, there are schemes for capacity building implemented through state.
In the context of women, empowerment is seen as an answer to exploitation, oppression, injustice, through their capacity building or skill development by driving towards literacy and education. Being disempowered means to be denied choices and empower-ment is the process that enables the person to make choices, those who have been denied earlier. The empowerment and autonomy of women and the improvement of their political, social, economic and health status is a highly important end in itself. In addition, it is essential for the achievement of sustainable development. The full participation and partnership of both women and men is required in productive and reproductive life, including shared responsibilities for the care and nurturing of children and maintenance of the household.
Recent Government Initiatives:
Improving the status of women advances their decision-making capacity at all levels in all spheres of life. This, in turn, is essential for the long- term success of population programmes. Experience shows that population and development programmes are most effective when steps have simultaneously been taken to improve the status of women. The Government of India has taken measures to promote the fulfilment of girls' and women's potential through education, skills development and the eradication of illiteracy for all girls and women without discrimination of any kind, giving paramount importance to the elimination of poverty and ill health. Government has taken necessary measures to ensure universal access, on the basis of equality between women and men, to appropriate, affordable and quality health care for women throughout their life cycle. National machineries for the advancement of women have been established in almost every member state to, inter alia, design, promote the implementation of, execute, monitor, evaluate, advocate and mobilize support for policies that promote the advancement of women.
Some of the most noteworthy programmes introduced by the Government of India in the last four years have been thoughtfully crafted and covers a lot of ground towards the upliftment of women.There are many such schemes that have been introduced and are well-intentioned,
Here is a quick summary of some of the many recent government schemes for women:
Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao: meant for uplifting women in the sphere of women's education.
Sukanya Samriddhi Account: meant to help families' save for their daughters.
One Stop Center scheme: to offer easy access for women suffering from domestic abuse or violence, and needing support.
Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana: to offer free LPG connections to women living below poverty line.
Mahila Haat: to support women entrepreneurs and women self help groups.
Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme for Children of Working Mothers: meant to provide affordable day-care services to working women.
Maternity Benefit Scheme: for pregnant women and lactating mothers.
Women's Helpline 1091: to provide emergency assistance to women in trouble, especially those facing violence of any kind.
Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (2015)
One of the most spectacular initiatives by the Government of India, deals with the upliftment of women by ensuring protection and survival of the girl child in light of the declining Child Sex Ratio. It was launched in January 2015 fulfilling one of the election promises by the current Prime Minister.Even after 70 years of independence, we are still chained to regressive mentality leading to inhuman practice of female infanticide. This scheme focuses on celebrating the birth of a girl child and being proud of them just as we are about our boys.This social campaign creates awareness and encouragement in 100 identified districts with alarmingly low sex ratio by extending Rs.1 crore each.
Sukanya Samriddhi Account (2015)
It was launched in January 2015. The government is making efforts not only to save more and more girls but is equally determined to provide them with better and economically secured future.India being a nation where although women are worshipped in every religion, society is keener on getting them married rather than educated. Instead, this plan concentrates on helping families financially for their daughters' education and wedding expenses.In accordance with this saving scheme, parents or guardians can open an exclusive account in the name of their daughter with any bank or post office with a minimum amount. Multiple deposits of any value can then be made every year up to 14 years from date of opening account. The deposit shall mature after 21 years. The deposit made can be claimed as deduction under Sec 80C of Income Tax. Also interest earned, presently 8.4% p.a, is also tax-free.
One Stop Center Scheme (2015)
Women in society are struggling from exploitation, torture and violence which needs to be checked. This violence could be in any form - physical, sexual, mental, economic or psychological abuse. It is the primary responsibility of any nation's government to give its citizens a fair and safe environment to blossom. In line with this goal of upliftment of women, One Stop Centre Scheme was introduced in April 2015.These One Stop Centres (OSC) step up for offering immediate response, emergency help, medical support and legal and psychological assistance to affected women and girls even below 18 years of age.
Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (2016)
Launched in March 2016, this is a step by the Government of India to keep every household fed and aims at providing free LPG connection to women below poverty line. It gained a lot of attention due to the social campaign and an appeal to the affluent class to give up LPG subsidy in favour of weaker classes. Making sure that each family has a LPG connection will have two way advantages. It will not only work for upliftment of women by improving their health, pushing them away from smoke and dust, but also save non-renewable resources used for fire by these people. They only need to submit the required documents and make an application to garner benefit of this scheme.
Mahila E-Haat (2016)
This plan emphasizes on empowering women entrepreneurs, NGOs, self-help groups and small producers. It was introduced in March 2016, this bilingual portal presents an online marketing platform for women all over our country to showcase products manufactured, and the services offered by them to attract customers. This portal shall act as a catalyst for their business and requires only a mobile number to be accessed from anywhere, anytime. A huge leap, it is in line with the 'Digital India' and 'Stand up India' social campaigns to boost the Indian economy.
Maternity Benefit Program (2017)
This scheme is for the benefit of pregnant and lactating women in India and desires to provide proper care, practice and efficient utilization of government sponsored facilities. Previously known as Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana, it was renamed as Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana in 2017 to combat the increasing maternal mortality rate. It presents conditional cash transfer for women of 19 years or above who are expecting or lactating for her first two live children. It additionally covers the wage loss incurred during this period.
Women's Helpline (2015)
It was adopted in April 2015, this Women's Helpline 1091 scheme is an initiative for upliftment of women who are in need of immediate emergency response facing violence. It provides 24 hour toll free telephonic assistance to any women or girl facing violence in the public or private sphere of life. It also spreads awareness about various plans and programs launched and run by the government and governmental agencies for their help. These helplines intervene in critical situations by referring to nearest hospital, ambulance facility, police station, fire department, and others.
Impact of the above mentioned policies:
Government policies had significant impact in bringing transformation in society. In the long run, policies like these will eventually bring changes in the condition of women. Different policies address different needs which is the essence of initiatives like these. As women's concerns include a range of aspects, it would be more appropriate if the government comes up with more policies. One of the weaknesses of these endeavours is the execution or implementation mechanism. These mechanisms are frequently hampered by unclear mandates, lack of adequate staff, training, data and sufficient resources, and insufficient support from national political leadership.
For the overall social development, it is extremely important to ensure that every individual is economically, socially and politically empowered. Empowerment of women is seen as a constituent as well as an instrument of development. No country can be considered to be developed if half of its population is severely disadvantaged in terms of basic needs, livelihood options, access to knowledge and political voice. The realization of these goals needs to be supported by the allocation of necessary human and financial resources to ensure gender equality at the local, regional, national and international levels. Programmes related to women's opportunities, potentials and activities should have a dual focus. On one hand, programmes should aim at meeting the basic as well as the specific needs of women for capacity building, organizational development and empowerment. Small enterprises are the best vehicle for stimulating participation of women in the development process. To combat the entire social and gender inequalities, empowerment is seen as very crucial and important.
Since, 1950s onwards, different approaches related to women and social policies were adopted. The approaches shifted from one to another on the basis of their needs. The wider approaches on the basis of which different policies have been adopted are the welfare approach, the Women in Development (WID) approach, Gender and Development (GAD) approach and lastly the Empowerment approach. Welfare basically refers to the services oriented towards women, or other poor and vulnerable groups of the society. They mainly have a relief goal. While, empowerment works towards the long term goal in contrast to the welfare one. Empowerment makes them capable of achieving and using the opportunities whenever offered. When empowered they can make the full use of welfare services that have been provided. Therefore, empowerment seems to be the pre-requisite for the welfare approach. No path of development can be adopted without dealing with empowerment.
(The author is an Assistant Professor in School of Legal Studies at K.R. Mangalam University. E-mail: