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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS :Different faces of the Indian women’s movement


Source: The Hindu

  • Prelims: IPC, abala, sabala, All India Women’s Conference, National Crime Record Bureau etc
  • Mains GS Paper I and II: Vulnerable sections of society, Laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of vulnerable sections of society etc



  • The vibrancy of the Indian women’s movement is acknowledged worldwide.
    • It has moved from serving as the beacon for the nationalist movement to a rights-based civil society movement to a state-led movement for economic empowerment.
  • Mahatma Gandhi: When a woman, whom we call abala (weak), becomes  sabala (strong), all those who are helpless will become powerful.”



Background of Women movements:

  • All India Women’s Conference(1936): It was the hallmark of a nationalist movement that relied on women to serve as its face.
  • The political history of the Indian women’s movement is written in photographs, women satyagrahis being arrested during the salt satyagraha and the Quit India movement
  • Mrinal Gore and her women protesters carrying rolling pins and protesting against the price rise
  • Chipko, one of the earliest ecofeminist movements in the world, women clinging to trees to protest logging
  • Nirbhaya
  • Shaheen Bagh
  • Sabarimala protests.


Women’s activism:

  • The quiet revolution(1970s): It enhanced attention to women’s specific needs as street protests.
    • For example: Self Employed Women’s Association began to unionize women in the informal sector.
      • It lead the advocacy for reforms in legal and social protection for women workers;
      • It highlighted sex-selective abortion
      • discrimination in inheritance patterns led to legal reforms
    • women’s formal and informal collectives have worked hard to reform and implement laws against sexual harassment in the workforce and in public spaces.
    • The 73rd Amendment to the Constitution: reserving one-third of seats in panchayat and leadership positions in local bodies for women.


The latest epoch in women’s activism(SHG’s):

  • It is distinct from the politics of protest and quietly organized rights-based movements.
  • Self Help Groups (SHGs):
    • The Economic Survey: There are about 2(one point two)crore SHGs in India, most of which are all-women.
    • SHGs are supported and mentored by Community Resource Persons paid by the state.
    • SHGs function mainly as thrift and credit institutions, where members deposit small amounts of savings per month and can borrow in an emergency.
    • They support entrepreneurship through bank loans.


Issues with SHGs:

  • They replaced women’s groups under the older programme, Mahila Samakhya, which was explicitly designed to mobilize women and sensitize them about their rights.
  • Evaluating the current version of state-sponsored programmes under the NRLM by Imago and 3ie teams paint a mixed picture of loopholes and gains.
  • There is limited evidence of increased incomes due to entrepreneurship or women’s empowerment within the household.
  • The movement has carved into the base of women members who historically fuelled grassroots civil society movements and undermined these movements.
  • Sometimes it has been used as a political weapon by ruling governments —  The government uses SHG women in constructing a human wall during the Sabarimala protests in the State.
  • SHG movement: Its potential for enhancing women’s incomes has been underutilized.



What steps need to be taken?

  • If the state-led movement effectively enhances women’s access to income-generating activities.
    • It can serve women’s practical needs and improve their economic power.
  • Increased economic power will set the stage for serving their strategic needs, including:
    • reshaping discriminatory laws and policies
    • Disrupting patriarchal forces within the household.
  • SHG’s: Massive mobilization of women is supported with other programmes that provide enhanced livelihood opportunities, they will remain toothless.
  • SHGs under the NRLM have been able to use funds under MGNREGA to build income-earning assets for women, such as cattle sheds and poultry sheds.
    • It can be used in other parts of country.
  • Women’s cooperatives run by SHGs have been able to supply meals and products to various government-run programmes.
  • When convergence with other government programmes that build infrastructure or procure goods and services can be achieved
    • SHGs can enhance women’s incomes substantially.


Way Forward

  • Different strands of the women’s movement — political movements, grassroots organizing for legal and policy reforms, and state-led organizations for economic empowerment — each have addressed various dimensions of women’s lives.
  • Civil society mobilization around legal and policy reforms directly affecting women’s lives tried hard to remain non-partisan and build a rights-based agenda as a bulwark against persistent patriarchal institutions.
  • Evaluation of Mahila Samakhya by researchers from Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad: It noted the programme’s success in mobilizing women but highlighted its relative ineffectiveness in enhancing vocational skills and entrepreneurship.
    • This is a deficiency the current generation of the SHG movement, in close connection with the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), seeks to address.
  • Participation in SHGs is related to increased involvement in gram panchayat meetings, creating a potential for greater political power.
  • Regardless of the outcome, the growth of SHGs has brought a large number of women into the public arena.
  • If a strong civil society-led women’s movement continues to thrive, this enormous army of SHG members may be able to draw strength from government programmes that empower them economically
    • civil society institutions empower them socially and politically to create a formidable force for India’s development.



Discuss the desirability of greater representation to women in the higher judiciary to ensure diversity, equity and inclusiveness.(UPSC 2021) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)