“All human beings are born free and
equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and
should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood,” reads Article 1 of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by the UN
General Assembly on December 10, 1948. However, there is a huge gap between the
ideal and the real. Ideally, women and men are equal in all respects. But in
reality, there is discrimination against women in every walk of life—in family,
education, employment and in the society at large. In a largely patriarchal
society, most families prefer a son to a daughter.
As per 2011 Census, there
are 943 women per thousand men in India. Among the states/ UTs, only Kerala and
Puducherry have positive sex ratio—1084 and 1038 respectively. On the other
hand, Haryana, Delhi and Chandigarh record low figures of 877, 866 and 818
respectively. In Daman and Diu, the ratio is as low as 618. The Census data exposes
this grim reality when, biologically, a woman has a longer lifespan than a man.
The appalling sex ratio portends an ominous trend—in the days to come there may
not be as many young women for our young men to marry.
records a better sex ratio than the national average. Of course, at 978, it
still requires vast improvement. The ratio is better among the tribes than
among others—it is 990 at the national level. In Odisha, the sex ratio among
the Scheduled Tribes’ population is 1029 females per 1000 males.
Read More : Breaking the Glass Ceiling - Barriers to Women's Empowerment
face discrimination almost everywhere, from womb to tomb. Sex determination is
a crime; but it is carried on clandestinely in clinics and nursing homes. In a
family, women usually eat the last and the least, after serving every other
member. Naturally, in a poor and even low middle class family, there is not
enough food left for them. National Family
Health Survey-3 indicates that 55 per cent Indian women are anaemic. And so far as education is concerned,
the family gives priority to boys. People erroneously think that boys are the sole
bread earners of the family. 2011 Census data shows that the percentage of literacy of India stands at
74.04, male literacy at 82.14 and female literacy at 65.46.
Women face violence and intimidation.
Such reports appear in the press almost every day. In December 2014, a lady was allegedly raped in a taxi in Delhi by its
driver when she was returning home after attending a dinner. In Kolkata, a Japanese
young lady complained that a man who introduced himself as a tourist guide used
her ATM cards to drain her bank accounts and almost forced her to have sex with
him. The rape and murder of a mentally-challenged Nepali lady in Haryana’s
Rohtak in early February this year caused anger and indignation throughout the
country. Only a few days ago, it was reported that the body of a
seven-year-old girl, who was allegedly raped and murdered, was found in a hotel
at Lonavala near Pune. And I do not know how many more such cases will come to
public by the time this write up appears. In the wake of increasing
gender-based violence, safety and security of girls and women assumes great
women occurs at home, in public spaces such as roads, marketplaces and
gatherings. In most of the rape cases, offenders are not strangers. Countrywide
statistics reveal that during 2013, offenders were known to the victims in as
many as in 94.3% of rape cases. In certain cases, offenders were relatives, colleagues,
employers, neighbours and even family members. What else could be more shocking
Society expects women
to conduct themselves the way it prescribes. And in some parts of north India, khap
panchayat orders honour killing for someone who refuses to follow its
diktats! The mere perception—which may not always be right-- that a woman has
brought ‘dishonor’ to her family or community is enough to violate her right to
Laws have been enacted
to deal with acts of violence against women. But mere law is not enough; action
is necessary. It is necessary to bring reforms in every sphere of
administration, particularly in the police. It is also the duty of the
community and the civil society to work towards eliminating gender-based violence and ensuring
safety, equality and dignity of women.
True, good progress has been achieved in providing better opportunity to
girls and women in education and other fields of life. The pace, however, must
be very rapid to ensure equal status to women in every walk of life.
Read More : WOMEN AS AGENTS OF CHANGE
Day is observed on 8th March every year to raise public awareness on
the rights of women. Although National Women’s Day was observed by different
countries on different days since 1909, it was in 1975 that the United Nations
started celebrating the day on the 8th of March. Since then the
World Conference on Women has been held in different countries across the
world, the first one in Mexico in 1975, the second in Copenhagen in 1980 and the
third in Nairobi in 1985. The fourth conference was held in Beijing in 1995 and
fifth one is going to be held this year. It was a matter of great joy for me
that my wife late Justice Sunanda Bhandare was a member of the Indian
delegation to the 1st World Conference on Women held in Mexico in
1975. All through her life she worked hard for the empowerment of women. But
for her untimely death, she could have been the first woman Chief Justice of
Today we live in a world of human rights. After two bloodiest world wars
in the last century, the urge for peace ushered in an era of human rights
through the formation of United Nations.
The focus is increasingly on gender equality and empowerment of women. No
longer do we live in a society governed by physical prowess, which has been
substituted by a society governed by brain power. In physical power, nature has made men
stronger than women but, in a knowledge society, this imbalance is corrected
and women have greater parity than men with regard to brain power. Physical
strength has been rendered redundant. Things now happen with the push of the
finger—be it a computer, a television remote or a telephone set.
In a world governed by brain power girls are equal or even superior to
boys. We notice that girls outshine boys
in board, university and various competitive examinations. As the Chancellor of
several universities in Odisha, I have noticed that women far outnumber men
among gold medalists. We see women excelling in various fields such as
teaching, nursing, medicine, administration, banking, engineering and
information technology. In all these areas, we have seen how a knowledge
society is creating opportunities for women to excel. However, the opportunities
for progress available to women are far less than those available to men. The
government as well as the community must work towards removing the inequality.
Women are capable of higher achievements and they must reach the top.
Change of our mindset is of foremost importance. It should not be viewed
as a mere slogan of a few activists only. "Women's Rights are Human Rights" as Hillary
Clinton said in her address to the fourth World Conference on Women held in
Beijing on September 5, 1995
must be replaced by an equal society. People must see women at an equal footing with men. As Mahatma Gandhi
has said, “Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities.
She has the right to participate in the minutest details in the activities of
man, ad she has an equal right of freedom and liberty with him.” There should be equal opportunity in
education, health, economic empowerment with gainful employment. Equality,
dignity and safety of women are the three major issues that need to be
addressed. Empowering women is empowering the humanity.