The women’s status in society has remained lower than men for a very long time now. The reason for how this disparity came into existence is not clear, but it definitely put women at a disadvantage, leaving them dependable on men for several things. In India, women bore the brunt of evil practices including, but not limited to, sati, purdah system, female foeticide & infanticide, and child marriage. The idea of a woman working outside the house or her having a say in the important family matters was not even entertained. To end this continued oppression and bring liberation to women, women’s movement in India began.
Women’s Movement in India
Women’s Movement in India was inspired by feminism movements abroad. They deal with issues pertaining to women and are meant to empower women and bring them equal to men. A wave of feminism had started taking on the world in 1800s and since then, it has evolved to include all spheres of a woman’s life. Initially, it was about abolishing evil practices then it was about increasing their freedom and giving them more rights that would eventually empower them. In the modern idea, it has extended to include issues like giving them equal independence as men, providing them more choices, and such.
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Women’s Movement in the 19th century
In the 19th century, British rule started to take over the Indian subcontinent. Our country went through a bunch of social, economical, and cultural transformations. Indians were exposed to western values and ideas. Inspired by the English view, social revolutions began which were aimed at eliminating social aberrations like sati, illiteracy, purdah system, etc. These were major obstacles in the path of women’s progression and an idea was adopted that a society cannot progress unless all its members equally contribute to its progression.
Leaders like Savitribai Phule, Swarnakumari Devi, and Rassundari Devi contributed immensely during this time period to bring forth the plights of women and worked towards solving them. Savitribai Phule is a woman worth mentioning here. Referred to as the first female teacher of India, she belonged to a lower caste and worked tirelessly with her husband to end caste and gender-based discrimination. She educated women, raised her voice against violence against women, and evil social practices.
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Women’s Movement in the Post-colonial Period
By the time India got her independence, significant improvement in the area of education for women, sati pratha, purdah system, and female infanticide and foeticide was attained. There were educational institutions in the post-colonial period that were dedicated entirely to women. During the British raj, Indian women were at the forefront of the fight for independence, leading the struggle when men were jailed. This proved that women are not only capable of managing well outside their homes and leading, but are also sound in political matters.
They readily took part in famine and drought relief movements. Towards the Equality Report of 1974, however, laid bare the real truth that although the women’s condition had improved, it still needed a lot of work. Women continued to be regarded as the secondary gender, with minimum bare roles in political, economic, and social areas.
Several legislations were passed post-colonial period that aimed to strengthen women. Article 15 and Article 16 (2) of the Indian constitution are crucial for Women’s movement as they forbid discrimination on the grounds of gender. Thereafter, important acts like the Hindu Marriage Act, Dowry Prohibition Act, Hindu Succession Act, and Equal Remuneration Act were passed.
Women’s participation in the political sphere also increased. We got our first female Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi in 1966. The Communist Party of India established the National Federation of Indian Women which mobilised women in the political sphere.
1975 to 1985 was recognized as the International’s women decade. In 1975, Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8th for the first time, and since then March 8th is recognized as Women’s Day worldwide. Numerous women’s movements in India and abroad emerged during that time.
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Women’s Suffrage Movement
While talking about women’s movement in India and elsewhere, it is worth noting one of the most important women’s movements – women’s suffrage movement which began in the mid 19th century and lasted till 1920. This was a national movement started in the United States to reserve the right of voting for women. Before 1920, women were not allowed to cast votes in national and local political elections. This meant that their issues were not really catered to and regarded by the political parties.
It was vital to make their presence noted in the political arena. The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was formed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in May of 1869.
It was in 1920 that all the states in the USA had adopted the legislation that enabled women to vote.
Today’s women enjoy many more rights than the women in the 19th century. Social evils like sati, child marriage, and female infanticide have become extinct in almost all parts of the country. Strict laws have been framed for women’s protection in the economic, political, and domestic sphere. The women’s movement has brought forth the women’s issues and paved the way for their solution.