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Role of Education in Women Empowerment

Women Empowerment

Education is a milestone of women empowerment because it enables them to respond to the challenges, to confront their traditional role and change their life. It assists in bringing equality and works as a means to improve their status within family, society and politico-economic system


Through quotation

“There is no greater pillar of stability than a strong, free, and educated woman.”

Angelina Jolie

“There is no chance of the welfare of the world unless the condition of the women is improved.”

Swami Vivekanand
Through anecdote

As a young girl, Malala Yousafzai defied the Taliban in Pakistan and demanded that girls be allowed to receive an education. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012 but survived. In 2014, she became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She said-

“The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them.”

There are several ways to define woman empowerment. But simply put it refers to raising the status of woman through promoting equal rights for them vis-à-vis man. Education provides women knowledge, skill and confidence. It also helps women respond to challenges, access to opportunities and change attitudes and outcomes for themselves. It is the foundation of economic empowerment of women. Mainstream feminism sees economic empowerment as the key to realizing empowered women.

Body Content

Historical Perspective

It is not possible for a bird to fly on one wing”.

Traditionally, women in Vedic India had fair access to education and they enjoyed great social status. They participated in Vedic sacrifices and chanted mantras. Texts prove that some of the hymns of the Rigveda were composed by women. We get references of such learned ladies as Lopamudra, Maitreyi, Gargi and others. Maitreyi, the wife of an ancient philosopher Yajnavalka, used to hold discussion on complex philosophical questions with her husband.

The decline in the status and education of women began in the later Vedic period, when Brahmanical practices barred women from Vedic education. The remaining damage was done by Manusmriti, a so-called family code which reduced her status to a dependent in the society. Manusmriti dictated that in childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons, thus handcuffing the independence of the women. This decline of educational status of women continued for several centuries even till today leading to numerous incidental problems like role assignment, poor labor force participation, secondary status in family, economic dependence, political untouchability, crime against women and exploitation due to oblivious of legal-democratic rights.

Current Status

The traditional Indian imagination of women almost takes it for granted that home is where the women belong. This thinking of confining the role of women to household chores like cooking, cleaning, childcare etc. means ever since her birth the focus of society is to make her learn these tasks instead of good primary and higher education; the result of which is detrimental to confidence of women.

Women’s enrolment in higher education, which was less than 10% of the total enrolment on the eve of Independence, has risen to 48.6% in 2018-19. Yet, India in 2021 has slipped 28 places and has been ranked 140th among 156 nations participating in the world economic forum Gender Gap report rankings. The report is a measure of gender gap on four parameters: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

The gap on educational attainment and health and survival has been bridged. So, it’s safe to assume there is more to women empowerment than just access to education. Also, while access to education in Quantitative term has improved, women enrollment in promising sectors of engineering and technology is abysmally low.

There are various challenges to women empowerment like- Socially, it is said that a woman works for more time than their male counterparts although most of their contribution is in unrecognized caregiving and household jobs. Also, a woman is routinely subjected to violence in various forms like infanticide, marital rape etc.

Poor access to education means that women do not possess the skills to be employed thus leading to poor female labor force participation, presently at 20%. As it is, domestic work does not produce any goods or services it is unpaid and not reimbursed, neither calculated in GDP calculations. Non-employability reduces the chances for women to improve their lives in terms of finances and healthcare for them and their families. Most to suffer here are vulnerable SC/ST, minority, single women who fall in the trap hunger and poverty.

Similarly, since the woman is not an earning member of the she must live the life of a dependent. Women often compromise on health, food, nutrition and other parameters for the sake of their families. This inculcates a culture in the family that women come last and further strengthens the prevalent patriarchal constructions, affecting women’s Right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

The lack of education results in lack of economic independence. This dependence further affects the mentality of women. She does not have the necessary wherewithal to learn, study, acquire skills, make independent decisions etc, thereby, trapping women in a web of deprivation.

Further, non-education leads to non-participation of women in political sphere and nation building processes. Women do not exercise independent adult franchise. They neither represent themselves well in Parliament, Assemblies, bureaucracy or the judiciary.

Non-empowered women are not aware of their legal rights, which often make them prone to abuses like domestic violence, harassment at workplace, sexual crimes and online crimes. This in turn forces them to live under the same circumstances, without being able to change them.

It is surprising that most of these problems are associated directly to the education of women. B R Ambedkar had once said,

“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.”

Education is fruitless without educated women and agitation is incomplete without the strength of women.” Our freedom struggle is dotted with examples of what educated, empowered women like Sarojini Naidu, Nalini Sen, Usha Mehta, Aruna Asaf Ali can achieve.

Modern examples like Kiran Majumdar Shaw (Biocon), Saumya Swaminathan Yadav (WHO Chief scientist), Ritu Karidhar (Rocket women of India) only strengthen the present case for women education.

Woman Empowerment Way Forward

There is a need for sustained State intervention along with participation of NGOs, Market and other stakeholders if women empowerment through education is to be achieved. Foremost is to strengthen the Fundamental Right to Education. The RTE must not just remain another right but should trickle down to the last in line, especially rural women and in particular SC, ST, OBC and minority women. The school dropout rates must be controlled and schemes like Mid-Day meal be revamped. A strong school education is the foundation of empowerment.

Incentives must be provided to women at Higher education like scholarships, hostels, concessional educational loans, digital online course and reservations. Focus should be to attract women also in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Re-inventing schemes like Dhanlakshmi, DRDO women scholarships and AICTE Pragati scholarships, SWAYAM is needed to make education more accessible and affordable.

Participation of NGOS like SEWA, Snehalaya, Vimochana and Northeast Network is crucial. The state may not reach where the NGOs can and thus fill the crucial plugs in the gaps. Work of SEWA since 1972, under Ela Bhatt has seen lot of success. SEWA has helped more than 1 million poor self-employed women in income security, food security, and social security, which includes health care, childcare, insurance, pension, and housing.

In addition to that, the focus of State must be on developing skills through schemes like Nayi manzil, Humsafar, Priyadarshini. The skilled and semi-skilled womanpower will increase the labour force participation and ultimately contribute to individual and national development. According to an estimate by World Economic forum the India GDP has potential to increase by 17% if female labour force participation is realized well.

Lasty, sufficient legislative and judicial interventions are needed for overall empowerment of women. Despite education, women will hesitate to be part of political democracy. Reservations in Panchayats, Assemblies and Judiciary can be good starts. Strong legislations and stronger implementation are needed for laws related to women education, women security & crime, sanitation, healthcare and equal wages.

Financial independence and skills developed through a formal education enable women to break the chain of bondage and deprivation. It gives the strength to step out and learn the ways of this world, instead of confinement to the household chores. Education of woman plays the most vital role in the overall development of the country. It is thus necessary to look at this education as the development of half of the human resources of a society.

The empowerment and autonomy of women and the improvement of their political, social, economic and health status is a highly important end in itself. Music artist Brian Bingham has said,

“You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation”.

It is a simple fact that educating a woman results in educating her children and her family. This creates a ripple effect in the society. Ultimately, the result is the empowerment of large number of women and the society as a whole.

Education paves the way for women empowerment but education alone is not enough.

Read more: Relationship between modernity and westernization. Is there modernity without westernization?

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