Many of those women who could grab the opportunities extended to them have proved that they are capable of discharging the responsibilities assigned to them on par with men. The nation which neglected almost 50% of its population for several centuries has now understood the necessity of giving equal rights and opportunities to its womenfolk.
The Constitution of India provides equal rights and opportunities to women. It does not make any discrimination on the grounds of sex. Indian women are also responding positively to this changed socio-political situation. This does not mean that our women are completely free from problems. On the contrary, the changing situation is causing them new problems. They are now beset with new stresses and strains. Some of the major problems haunting the modern women may briefly be analysed here.
i. Violence is almost universal:
Most societies exhibit violence in one way or another. Violence against men or women is a social problem because; a large number of people are affected by it almost every day. Each of us is affected in countless ways by the climate of violence. Violence disrupts society.
Every society creates institutions designed to achieve certain ends. Violence cuts short normal institutional functions. Every act of violence, from assault to armed revolution, detracts to some degree from the authority normally vested in society.
ii. Women as Victims of Violence:
Who is most likely to be victimised by violent crime? Women are less likely to be victimised by violent crime than men, though or some crimes and among some groups of women, victimisation is higher than men. Violence against women is not a new phenomenon in India. “Women in Indian society have been victims of ill-treatment, humiliation, torture, and exploitation for as long as written records of social organisation and family life are available.
These records are replete with incidents of abduction, rape, murder, and torture of women. But, regretfully, female victims of violence have not been given much attention in the literature on social problems or in the literature on criminal violence.
iii. Increasing Crimes against Women:
Crime against women is an ever-increasing problem. This problem has been growing more and more acute in India during the recent years. Crimes against women include violence against women, rape, molestation, dowry harassment, wife-battering, kidnapping female children to be sold into brothel homes, forcible embracement, forcible religious conversion, cheating young women with a promise to marry them or fetch them a job and various types of sexual harassments and abuse of women including eve teasing.
As per the report  of the “Crime Record Bureau” of the Central Home Ministry, crimes against women increased to a great extent in the year 1993-94. As per this report, in India on an average,
(i) every day for every 6 minutes one atrocity is committed against woman; (ii) for every 44 minutes a woman is kidnapped;
(iii) for every 47 minutes a woman is raped;
(iv) every day 17 dowry deaths take place. The same report says that crimes against women increased two times in the last 10 years; instances of rape by 400% in the last two decades; instances of kidnapping and blackmailing women by 30% between 1974 and 1993. In 1993 alone about 82,818 instances of crimes against women were registered. Many cases are not registered. It is said that only 10% of the rape cases are reported.
In a male dominated society like India violences against women are unfortunately increasing at an alarming rate. Such violences can be grouped into two types: (a) violence against women within the family, and (b) violence against women outside the family.
(a) Violence against Women within the Family or Domestic Violence:
Women are often subject to violence within the family, a place which is expected to protect their dignity and assure their safety. This type of violence includes crimes such as — dowry related harassments including death, wife-battering, marital rape, sexual abuse of female children and women of one’s own family, deprivation of sufficient food to female members, committing incestuous offences, inducing female members of the family to resort to sex-trade, female genital mutilation, abusing female servants of the family, and so on.
(b) Violence against Women outside the Family or Social Violence:
Kidnapping, raping and murdering women are very serious offences. The society at large itself is to be blamed for many types of violence’s that are committed against women especially outside the family.
Such violence’s include compelling women for abortion and to undergo tubectomy operation, eve-teasing, kidnapping girls of pre-matured age and forcing them to marry, sexual harassment of women employees in work place, immoral trafficking in women and girls, forced prostitution, kidnapping and mutilating the organs [such as hands, legs, ears, nose, etc.] of female children to use them for the purpose of begging, resorting to forcible religious conversion of young women, blackmailing of women, throwing acid at the faces of girls who refuse to marry, the police and the jail personnel committing sexual crimes against female prisoners, the police, armed forces and the border security forces committing sex crimes against the female citizens in the border areas and so on.
Gender discrimination refers to “the practice whereby one sex is given preferential treatment over the others. The practice of giving social importance to the biological differences between men and women is there everywhere. In some societies, these differences are very much pronounced while in others, they are given less importance. Even the Indian society is not an exception to this.
In comparison with some other social problems, “gender discrimination!’ does not “appear” to be a serious problem in India. It “appears” to be so because; it has not been made a very big social issue so far. But in reality, it has weakened the strength of the female community of India.
Though constitutionally men and women are equal, socially men are given priority and importance sometimes to the disadvantage of women. There are various areas wherein this discrimination is apparent.
(i) Discrimination in Socialisation:
In our socialisation process female children are becoming victims of discrimination. In the Indian social context even today male children are preferred to female children. Hence, female children are subject to discriminatory treatment. Male preference and female negligence has almost become a working policy especially in the rural areas.
Discrimination between male and female children is made in matters relating to food, dress, health, education, domestic work etc. The policy of male preference and female negligence has led to what is known as “female disadvantages “. In India, mothers show preferences for male children.
They give them importance because – males are wanted during their old age to offer protection, males have greater scope than women and occupational avenues are also wider for males than for females.
This male preference has led to the abuse of advanced technology. The sophisticated scanning and supersonographic equipments are being misused to find out the sex of the child; that is to go for abortion if the child is found to be an unwanted female child.
These medical tests which would cost between Rs. 80/-to 800/- are within the reach of the middle class and even the upper-lower class resulting in the killing of the female foetuses in large number. Between 1978 and 1982 more than 78,000 foetuses were killed mainly because of these medical tests.
(ii) Discrimination in the Distribution of Power and Work:
Most of the Indian families are patriarchal. Hence, the philosophy of equality of sex is not acceptable to them. Domestic works such as – cooking, looking after the children, washing clothes and vessels, keeping the house neat and clean, looking after the domesticated animals, serving family members like a nurse on all days and especially when they fall sick, etc., are branded as “women’s work”. Very rarely men do these works.
But when the question of exercising power comes, it is always the man who dominates. His decisions are final and his orders are ultimate. The female voice is always suppressed.
(iii) Women’s Health is ignored:
Women suffer from some distinctive health problems from which men are free. Women have to undergo the distinctive biological process of pregnancy, or child-bearing, delivering, nursing, feeding, child-caring or rearing etc. These are their maternal functions. But the insistence on the family planning has posed many health hazards.
The use of contraceptives, Copper-T, sterilisation, abortion and hormonal drugs has an adverse effect on health. Those who make use of them suffer from problems such as bodily weakness, bloodlessness, high bleeding, fatness, problems in uterus, discomfort in breast, chronic backpain, etc. As Neera Desai and Vibhuti Patel have criticised, the advocates of family planning do not seem to bother much about these problems.
a. Women neglecting their Own Health:
Studies have revealed that our women themselves are neglecting their own health. Normally Indian women consume less food [that is, on an average 100 calories a day] and spend more energy on work. Women toil for the good of the family and children even at the cost of neglecting their own health.
Women very rarely complain about their ill-health because of their virtue of “self-denial”. The records in the health centres reveal that women are lagging behind men [that is, 1:3, meaning one woman taking medical help for every 3 men] even in matters of availing of medical help.
b. Women have their own reasons to neglect their health:
Not finding free time to go to health centres because of heavy work at home; non-availability of proper medical facility to test the health or ill-health of the mother and the child especially in the primary health centres; inability to walk a long distance to reach a well equipped health centre in the absence of proper transportation facility; non-availability of female doctors in the nearby health centres, etc., are some such excuses.
(iv) Decline in the Female Population:
Normally, in the population of any country, male- female ratio remains more or less the same, that is, 50:50. In India as the census reports reveal female population has been steadily declining ever since 1901.
It is for this reason Neera Desai and Vibhuti Patel raised the point whether the womenfolk in India represent a “declining sex”. According to 2001 Census, there is a deficit of 35 million women as compared to 3 million in 1901. For every 1000 men, we have only 933 women at present as against 972 women in 1901.
The male preference has led to the abuse of technology. Thousands of “unwanted female” children are killed at the stage of foetus itself. It is said that in India, out of 12 million female children born every year, around 25% of them die before they attain the age of 15. Of the children who die every year, about 3 lakh female children, that is, more than the number of male children, die for one or the other reason. Of the children which die every year in India, the 6th child dies due to gender discrimination.
(v) Gender Discrimination in Occupations and Public Life:
Women workers are paid less than the male workers for the same type of work. Much labour is extracted from women by giving them very minimum wages. In matters of giving treatment, promotion, increment, facilities, etc., discrimination is normally made. In public life also men are given priority.
Excepting the glamorous film actresses and politicians, in all other fields, women are not given importance on par with men. Government officials also practise this discriminatory treatment in dealing with the people.
Problems of Female Education:
Social reformers and social thinkers believe that in a nation like India giving education to women in as large a number as .possible can prove to be a panacea for many of the problems of women.
Accordingly, much attention is paid to the education of women after independence. The female literacy level is also increasing steadily. It has increased from 18.7% in 1971 to 39.42% in 1991 and to 64% in 2001. In spite of this change in the trend towards literacy, some problem has cropped up. We find glaring differences between the level of education of men and women. For example,
i. It is found that girls are being discouraged to go for higher education and also for professional and technical education.
ii. There are regional imbalances also. In states like Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra, female education is encouraged and given almost equal importance. Whereas in states like Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh etc. education of girls is neglected even today.
iii. Increasing drop-out of female children from schools is another problem. Though female children are getting admitted to primary, middle and high schools in a substantial number, many of them drop out of the school in the middle without completing the course.
For example, as per the data furnished by the Ministry of Education [New Delhi], in 1984-85 the number of female children enrolled at primary school crossed the figure of 34.2 million, and at middle school level the enrolment crossed 9.2 million. More than 74% of these female children, between the age-groups of 6-14 years, quit schools and lapsed into ignorance.
iv. Admission to School: Even in the matter of admitting children to school at elementary level, female children are discriminated against male children. For example, in 1984-85, the admission of male children to school was around 90%, the percentage of female children was only 66.2. It means complete awareness is not there among people regarding female education.
Problems Relating to Employment and Unemployment of Women:
In the economic field the situation is such that majority of women who are ready to work are not finding suitable work to their satisfaction. Those who are in the employment sector are becoming the objects of exploitation and harassment.
Though an increase in the female literacy level and extensions of employment opportunities for women in the non-agricultural sector, have added to the trend in favour of female employment, these two problems continue to exist.
i. Large Number of Employed Women is Illiterate:
Of every 100 women employed, 52.59% of them are illiterate and 28.56% of them have studied only up to elementary level. Of every 100 women working in the rural areas, 88.11% are illiterate.
These illiterate women in the unorganised sector are totally exploited by their employers. Women working in factories, mining industries, building construction process, in dams, bridges and road repair or construction work are not only paid less but also made to work in unhealthy surroundings.
ii. Decreasing economic participation of women:
Technological development seems to have a negative effect on employment opportunities of women. Studies conducted between 1975-85 have revealed this fact. Application of new technology in agrarian sector, textiles, mines, jute, pharmaceuticals, small scale industries like coir, handloom, weaving, spinning, cashew, fisheries, tobacco, animal husbandry, fruits and vegetable processing etc. rendered many women jobless. Computerisation has also adversely affected the job prospects of women as clerks, typists and accountants.
Harassment of Women at Work Place:
Women constitute an important labour force in all the countries. During the recent years there are an increasing number of women especially in the Indian context, who are working outside the family to get more income for the family. In fact, “the term working woman ” refers to one who works outside the home for a wage or salary”.’
Nearly 1/3 of our labour force [32%] consists of women. Working women constitute 16.43% of the female population of the country. As per 1991 Census, the number of working women was around 278.35 million, representing a growth rate of 26.12% over the previous decade.
The percentage increase of working women during the last decade was double that of male workers. The main problem with these female workers is that they are harassed in work place in different ways. “Harassment” refers to the basic violation of an individual’s rights. Not only the rights of working women are violated, they are often sexually harassed also.
i. Economic Exploitation:
Women workers are given much work but are paid less wages or salary especially in the unorganised sector. “Equal pay for equal work” remains only a slogan. “EqualRemuneration Act, 1976 has proved to be a dead letter in this regard. There are also sufficient instances of such exploitation even in the organised sector.
ii. Threat of Removal from Job:
In the Indian context, majority of women go for work not for fun but out of necessity. Some are compelled to work because of poor family conditions. Employers who are aware of the helplessness of these female employees exploit them in all the possible ways. They do not tolerate any type of opposition or protest from the side of the female workers. Due to the fear of losing the job, women bear all the exploitations, and do not protest.
iii. Women are given More Work:
Women normally work with devotion, seriousness and sincerity. This commitment to work is proving to be a big disadvantage for them. Hence, every time they are given more and more work which is not duly rewarded.
iv. Discrimination in Giving Opportunities:
In spite of the hard work which women do, many employers consider these working women as “non-serious workers”. They are also regarded as “non- permanent employees” especially in the case of unmarried female workers. They are discriminated with regard to recruitment, promotion, increment, training, over-time allowance, facilities at work place, and so on. Male workers are given preference in these matters.
v. Sexual Harassment of Women:
Sexual harassment of women at workplace refers to giving indecent treatment to women workers by violating all the norms of modesty. Many female workers have complained of such harassments during the recent years.
This harassment by men includes – continuous staring at women, making women the targets of lewd remarks, dirty jokes, repeated invitation to meals and outings, offers to drop them home, making unwanted comments about dressings, making “accidental” touches and dashes, making them stay back in the work spot even after the working hours, male bosses calling smart female employees to their chambers and making unwanted “advances” towards them, molesting women workers and so on.
The mass media such as the radio, television, news papers and the cinema play a vital role in social change and social development especially in the modern societies. But unfortunately, the media has not been playing a positive role in the case of women. The media is even condemned of exploiting and misrepresenting women.
(i) Journalism as Print Media and Women:
Newspapers, weeklies, monthlies or other types of magazines seem to be interested in increasing their circulation by rousing the cheap emotions of the people. “They target the woman’s body to get their things done.” Papers no doubt give due publicity to some unfortunate events under the captions such as “Atrocity against Women”, “Dowry Costs A Woman’s Life”, ‘Mass Rape of a Woman’, ‘Sexual Harassment of Women’, etc. But in doing so they give the least information about the culprit of the crime. On the contrary, they take more interest in weaving stories about the victim of the event which often amounts to character assassination.
(ii) Visual Media and Women:
Since about 35% of the people in our society are illiterate, visual media such as television and the cinema have a greater impact on people. The Indian visual media is a failure in playing a positive role in educating people and enriching their knowledge.
Like the newspapers, they also exhibit the female body and make it their main capital to mint money. Modern movies believe in achieving success by portraying more and more sex, violence and murder. Women are shown as targets of attack, sex, rape and such other exploitations.
Unfortunately, our T.V. is also following the example of the movies. With the invasion of our skies with a number of T.V. channels, the choice of T.V. viewers has greatly expanded. T.V. channels such as the Star Plus, MTV, Asian TV Network, Zee TV, and other Cable channels, are promoting a lifestyle which is totally alien to us. As usual women are presented in these channels in an indecent manner. Indian movies and T.V. serials are playing havoc with our values and morals.
(iii) Advertisements and Women:
Advertisements whether in newspapers or T.V. play no less an important role in debasing women. Advertisement firms also make use of female body in a cheap manner to get publicity for things.
(iv) Media and Women Movements:
Media has an important role to play in strengthening women’s position. While pronouncing women’s weaknesses, it must also emphasise their strength. It must awaken women from the slumber of centuries, inform them, mobilise them and motivate them whenever required. It must give due publicity to women’s struggle for justice, equality and fairplay. This will help them in regenerating power. The present role of the media in this regard is not that encouraging, but disappointing.
i. Legislation to Regulate the Media:
The Government had passed as early as in 1986 a legislation namely; “The Indecent Representation of Woman [Prohibition] Act, (1986) in order to prevent the media from misrepresenting the women. Any attempt to degrade and discredit women, insult and humiliate them, assassinate the character of women, and present them in an indecent manner is declared punishable. The provisions of this Act are applicable to all the means of the mass media and also to advertisements, books, handbills, posters, etc. Violation of this Act is liable for punishment, which amounts to 2000 Rs. fine and 2 years imprisonment.
During the recent years, instances of desertion and divorce are increasing making the lives of many women very miserable.
(a) The Hardship of Desertion:
Desertion is defined as “deliberate abandonment of conjugal relationships.” As a matter of fact, desertion may take place at the behest of any one of the two, or both together. In actuality, in the Indian context, it is mostly the husband who goes away from the family leaving the wife and children at home to fend for themselves.
Desertion causes lot of hardships especially for women. It immediately drives a woman to a state of uncertainty and helplessness. Deserted women belonging to poor families all of a sudden become orphans especially when they are disowned by their own parents. Some of them may resort to immoral activity, some others fall prey into the hands of anti-social elements, while a few of them may commit suicide.
(b) The Agony of Divorce: Divorce is “…an institutional arrangement for terminating marital relationship…”
Causes of divorce are many:
Sociologists like Damle, Fonseca and Chaudhary together conducted a study in India which revealed the following causes of divorce : marital disharmony, sexual conflicts, maladjustments between husband and wife, marital desertion, husband’s cruelty, prostitution on the part of wife, sexual impotency, severe and unmanageable clashes with the in-laws, mother-in-law’s harassment, including dowry harassment, illicit sex relationship on the part of either the husband or the wife, irreparable health hazards, mutual distrust, total irresponsibility of the husband or wife towards the family matters and so on.
Divorce causes lot of hardships especially for the women. It damages the social image of the wife. It becomes a permanent stigma in her life. Many sensitive women find it difficult to come out of the shock of divorce. The impact of divorce on children is also very severe.
The burden of protecting and rearing of children also lies on the wife. Jobless and resourceless divorced women find themselves in a big economic crisis. Young and beautiful divorced women find it difficult to suppress their sex urge. They are often forced to resort to illicit ways of satisfying it. It usually leads to family disintegration.
The Problem of Dowry:
Dowry is both a practice and a problem associated with the Indian marriage. Though it was more in practice among the Hindus, it has now spread to almost all the religious communities of India.
i. Dowry refers to “….the property, money, ornaments or any other form of wealth which a man or his family receives from his wife or her family at the time of marriage.”
The age-old practice of dowry has now assumed the form of a social evil because the bride’s family is compelled to give some dowry as a price for marriage. It has become a social bane and a kind of bargain.
It has caused unhappiness, misery and ruin of the bride’s family. Huge amount of money is demanded at the time of marriage and the failure to give the promised amount would make the bride to suffer the consequences at the hands of her in-laws and also the husband.
ii. Dowry harassments are many. Women are ill-treated, disrespected, man-handled, tortured and subject to all sorts of cruelties in the name of dowry. Very often, our daily papers flash news about the tragic results of the dowry system, in which the newly married girls are always the victims of harassment, violence, murder and suicide. Dowry is demanded as though it is a fundamental right of the bridegroom.
Violence against women who bring less dowry or no dowry include – wife battering, emotional neglect / torture, verbal abuse, refusal of sufficient food, imposition of heavy physical work, severe physical harassments to the extent of killing the victim, and so on.
In spite of the legislation against the practice of dowry, it persists. Demands for dowry have even caused dowry deaths. According to an estimate, as many as 4148 dowry deaths were reported in the year 1990 and it increased to 4366 in the year 1993, and to 6205 in the year 1994, that is, at the rate of one dowry death for every 17 minutes.
iii. Dowry leads to the degradation of women. Prevalence of the practice of dowry reflects the inferior status of women in society. It makes a girl a great liability on her family’s resources. Some unscrupulous and money minded young men contract more than one marriage just for money.
It disturbs the normal relationship between the married women and her in-laws in the husband’s family. Some poor parents, who cannot pay a huge amount as dowry, are often compelled to arrange the marriage of their daughters with old men, or physically or mentally handicapped persons. Such marriages prove to be miserable for women.
As early as in 1961 itself, The Dowry Prohibition Act was passed in order to prevent the practice of dowry. It was amended in 1986 to make its provisions more severe and stringent. In spite of this Act, the practice continues to be in vogue.
Decline in the Political Participation of Women:
Participation of women who constitute 50% of our total population in politics and public life is very much negligible in India. We find only a negligible number of women in prestigious positions like those of Central and State cabinet ministers, governors, secretaries and legal advisers to the governments, ambassadors to other countries, IPS, IAS, IFS officers, judges in courts, mayors of big cities, office bearers of all-India parties, etc. No political party of India has given position to women in accordance with their number in the total population. In some areas seats are reserved for women as we find in Gram Panchayat, Jilla Panchayat, University Senate, etc. Even in these areas women have not constituted themselves into a “pressure group “. Hence in our political life, we have caste lobbies, linguistic lobbies, capitalist lobbies, minority lobby, etc. but we do not have “-women lobby ” to bring pressure on the government.
i. Increasing Violence and Terrorism in Politics:
Political corruption, criminalisation of politics, erosion of political values, disappearance of political decency, instability, lawlessness, terrorism and confusion have been increasing in our public life since 1980s. This state of confused political situation has discouraged women from taking active role in politics.
ii. Minimum Representation of Women in Lok Sabha:
The representation of women in Lok Sabha has been very poor since 1962 elections. For ex: there were only 33 elected women members in the third Lok Sabha [out of 494 members] after the 1962 elections. In the 6th Lok Sabha out of 544 elected members there were only 19 women members and their percentage was only 3.4. In the 10th Lok Sabha [1991 Elections] there were 39 elected women members and their percentage was 7.4.
iii. In the 1996 Elections for the 11th Lok Sabha though the total number of women voters increased to 28.24 crores [47%], only 477 women candidates as against 14,250 men candidates contested for 543 seats. [In the 1991 Elections for the 10th Lok Sabha 325 women candidates contested as against 8,374 men candidates for 521 seats]. These figures reveal that only a small number of women are interested in political life.
iv. In the 1999 General Elections for the 13th Lok Sabha also women’s participation was the poorest one. Though political parties were speaking vociferously in terms of 33% reservation for women in legislative bodies including the Parliament, no political party had given tickets to women in more than 10%. In some parties, the percentage of women candidates was not even 2 to 3.
v. Poor Participation of Women in the Party Politics:
Not only in the legislative bodies but even within the framework of the political parties also the participation of women is very poor. Political parties are still male-dominated and unwilling to give sufficient representation to women.
For example, at present, [that is, in 2001] the Congress Party has only 3 women in its 20-member Working Committee. In the BJP Working Committee, out of 75 members there are only 8 women, and in its 650 member National Council, there are only 150 women.
The Communist Party [Marxists] has only 12 women in its 150 member National Council, and 3 women in its 21 member National Executive. Though theoretically women’s representation in politics is regarded as the first step towards women empowerment, the socio-political atmosphere has not yet become conducive for that.