Centuries have passed since human life began on earth. But each century brought new challenges for women to overcome and live freely. There is no denying the fact that many years or decades brought development in the position of women in our society. However, each development had its own conditions. Each development expected women to make sacrifices and be obliged for being provided with facilities which were actually their rights. And this is the reason why despite women's empowerment, the challenges that women face haven’t dropped. Rather for each step towards empowerment, women have to take two steps back.
To explain better, let me give you an example. Today, women’s education and employment have become somewhat compulsory. Because of this, women have started stepping out of the house. However, with the increased presence of women on the streets come increased crimes against women. Women who step out or stay late at night are often subjected to eve-teasing, stalking and sexual harassment. If women complain about it, they are outrightly asked to stay at home and quit their jobs/education. They are forced to choose between their safety and their freedom.
Now that we are on the verge of welcoming a new year, can we expect the challenges that women face to reduce? Can we envision a year free of discrimination and crime against women? Can we consider 2023 as a new dawn on women's empowerment that doesn’t come with conditions? Or will it just be another dusk of a tough day and a dark night?
To decipher that, let us make some goals for the new year and try to achieve equality without conditions. Here are a few challenges women face.
Challenges Women Face
- Lack of safety
In our society, safety is the biggest concern for women. Be it at home or in public, women are never safe. They are not only harassed by strangers but by the people they know too. Issues like workplace sexual harassment, domestic violence, marital rape and rape and murder in general keeps women deprived of the right to safety. It is because of the lack of safety that many women refrain from taking a step towards their empowerment. They live in the fear of enraging the male ego if they make any empowering decision. According to a recent NCRB report, there has been a 15.3 per cent rise in the number of crimes against women in India in the year 2021. The total crimes registered rose to more than 4 lakhs in 2021 from 3 lakhs in 2020. When each year is witnessing a rise in crime against women, will 2023 see a drop?
- Lack of education and employment
Even though steps have been taken to encourage women’s education and employment, the implementation has not been strong. The female literacy rate in India is 60 per cent which is 22 per cent less than the average literacy rate of the world. 96 per cent of girls enrol in government schools but as they reach class 10th, the rate drops to 77 per cent and 50 per cent in 11th. Moreover, despite the fact that women can contribute a lot to the GDP of the country, female labour force participation in India dwindles to 25.1 per cent. Even today, women are forced to choose between family and jobs.
The problem is that women are made responsible for all the burden of managing a house. There is no one to share the burden because housework is considered a woman’s responsibility. And so, it becomes impossible to manage so much work which is why women have to choose family over job/education. In 2023, will women get the right and freedom to manage their families and jobs together? Will their right to education and employment be valued? Will their existence be valued outside the kitchen?
- Lack of choice in marriage
In our society, women do not have the freedom to make decisions about their &t=1158s">marriage. When it comes to marriage, a woman’s choice is influenced by her parents' and society’s demands. Once a woman reaches marriageable age, she is expected to say yes to marriage, Parents and society define marriage as the ultimate aim of women’s existence. Therefore, women get no chance to think about whether marriage is their goal or not. Everything that a woman dreams of achieving in life is put on the backseat and marriage gets to decide the course of her future. It is considered more important for a woman to settle down at her marital home than in a company. But how long will marriage be a roadblock in a woman’s path to success? How long will women sacrifice their dreams to conform to social expectations? Will 2023 give women the right to choose whether they want to get married or not?
- Enforced motherhood
As soon as a woman gets married, everyone expects her to become a mother. If the pressure of marriage was not enough, women are burdened with the pressure of motherhood. Motherhood is considered the next step in marriage and not a choice that women should make. Even though pregnancy affects women the most, they don’t get to decide whether they want it or not. Job, education and everything else is devalued when a woman’s body is ready to conceive. No one cares about the choice, complications and career of a woman when it comes to motherhood. Moreover, if a woman wants to be a mother, it is made necessary for her to have a marital status or else her pregnancy is labelled illegitimate.
Will women get the right to choose whether they want motherhood or not? In 2023, will women gain more control over their bodies to decide what changes they want in life?
5. Lack of freedom to dress
2022 witnessed a lot of restrictions on women's clothing. For example, Karnataka Government banned hijaab in schools and colleges which gave a religious colour to the protests against the decision. Moreover, in Iran, Mahsa Amini died after being arrested for not wearing her hijaab properly. Consequently, huge protests were held across Iran which gained global support too. Women burnt hijaab and cut down their hair as protest symbols against restrictions on women's clothing in Iran. After all this, it is pretty clear that women in our society do not have the right to wear what they want. Be it short clothes, ghoonghat or hijaab, women are judged for any clothing they put on.
But will 2023 give women the right to decide what they wear? Will the year reduce society's restrictions and prejudices on women's clothing? Will women finally be able to feel confident in what they wear?
6. Lack of awareness about the female body
It is not a hidden fact that women’s health issues are downplayed in our society. Whenever a woman experiences pain, she is asked to bear it. The reason behind this is the gender bias that assumes women’s pain to be a minor discomfort. Prejudices have it that women are weak and so they react dramatically to small discomfort in the body. Moreover, women’s health is never prioritised over their responsibilities towards society. Women are expected to work in the house or office despite their demanding health. They are reduced into labour hands that can easily be replaced.
Another very significant reason behind downplaying women’s pain is the gender bias in medical and biological research that is conducted to understand the functions of the human body. The male body is often considered the ideal human body and the studies are based on this prejudice. This leads to a lack of knowledge and intellect to deal with women’s issues, which are different from those of men, separately. Consequently, many healthcare practitioners are not even aware of the issues that women’s bodies face.
But when will women’s bodies be valued? When will women’s health be prioritised? Will 2013 see a change in the gender dynamics that control women’s choices, bodies and careers?
Views expressed are the author's own.