WOMEN’S DEVELOPMENT – HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
Women’s empowerment is a noted concept in social change, which is much discussed, often elusive and sometimes abused. Yet in the context of development, women’s leadership and agency in social change have been levers for women’s empowerment within communities. Women have sought to fight entrenched interests for community benefits, and have garnered through their collective strength, a new identity. Women’s rights around the world are an important indicator to understand global well-being.
“Creating the environment which imparts equal status to women in family, society and country is the sole motive behind various facets of programmes being run for women empowerment.” –Pratiba Patel, President of India (Express newspaper apr.14, 2011)
Though Women have a unique position in every society whether developed, developing or underdeveloped, she still belongs to a class or group of society which is in disadvantaged position on account of several social barriers and impediments. This is particularly due to the various roles they play during various stages of their life, as a daughter, sister, wife, and mother etc. However, she tries too hard to stand equal to that of the men. The historical phase of development of women very well portrays the empowerment of women, in different periods.
During the Vedic period women enjoyed a fair amount of freedom and equality. The Vedic period can be termed as feminine glory. Women participated in all spheres like men. They studied in Gurukulas and enjoyed equality in learning Vedas. In Aitereya Upanishad, the wife was called as companion of husband. In the Rig-Veda, the wife was blessed to live as a queen in the house of her husband. The word Thampati, so often used in the Veda, characterizes both wife and husband. According to MacDonnell and Keith, this word signifies the high status of women in ancient India. Men and Women together performed religious duties and carried out other function. In the Mahabharata the wife was called the root of Dharma, prosperity and enjoyment. No man was allowed to perform religious duties without his wife. Thus, like the status of women in the contemporary western world, the status of women in India was based on liberty, equality and co-operation.
Post – Vedic period:
In post – Vedic period the status of women suffered a setback when various restrictions were put on women’s rights and privileges by Manu. This decline dates back to the period of the Manusmriti and the increasing authority of man. The birth of a daughter which was not a source of anxiety during the Vedic period became the source of disaster for the father. Education, which had been an accepted norm for women, was neglected and later on girls were totally denied access to education. Despite the overall social and cultural subordination of women, it is surprising to find that law givers recognized the right to property, particularly that which was known as streedhana, women’s property. Medieval Period:
With invasion of India by Alexander and the Huns, the position of women was further degraded. Their education and training came to a sudden halt. For reasons of security, movement outside was restricted which in turn denied opportunities in community affairs. Uneducated and devoid of any status, they came to be treated as chattels. Social evils like sati, child marriage, and female infanticide arose. Women suffered great disabilities. The evil of dowry had become deep–rooted and the system of Devadasi has already spread. The medieval period saw women living oppressed in the feudal social order and patriarchal families.
The attitude, behaviour and living pattern of Hindu society changed drastically during the British regime due to education and western impact on the...