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Women Movements

Women Movement in India Before Independence.

Women Movement in India was started by liberals like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. British government has also brought legislations like Widow Remarriage Act, Prevention of Sati act, Sharda Act.  There was growth of human Organisation in different parts of the country.

Gandhian movements were not directly aimed at women concerns yet They brought consciousness among women and ended the stigma with respect to the participation of women in public sphere. The most prominent organisation during freedom movement was All India Women Conference setup in 1927. The achievement of the organisation was Sharda Act 1929 and Lady Hardinge College in Delhi.

Women Movement after Independence

After independence we can divide rule Movement in two three phases.

Phase 1. Up till 1978

Apana Mahanta calls this years as grey years of women movement. She suggests that was greater activism in women movement before independence. Activism was stopped after independence. Tt was thought that there is no need for movement against indigenous government. Government will automatically take care of women concerns.
Constitution of India is a Revolutionary document in many sense. It has given equality of status to women equal rights including Right to vote and to stand in elections.

Phase 2.  1970s and 80s

Phase of revival and activism. UN declared 70s as a decade for women. It has directed the government to prepare the report on status of women. Government of India had set up a committee enquiry the status of women in India. The report was published with the title Towards Equality 1974. It was an eye opener as it brought shocking facts with respect to women like declining sex ratio, gender based violence, discrimination and declining participation of women in political and economic sphere. It also recommended to constitute watchdog body like National Commission for Women.
It has resulted into changing the approach of government towards women. The process changed from welfare to development and there is growth of women organisations including organisation of Muslim women like Majilis, Aawaaz-e-Niswaan, organisation of dalit women like All India Dalit Women Conference. 80s was full of activism.

Prominent issues in a 80 where
a] increasing number of dowry death
b] Mathura rape case
c] Sati at Deorala
d] Shah Bano judgement

Approach of government also changed from development to empowerment. Since 6th five year plan, government has introduced gender component in each plans.

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Phase 3 1990s.

By 1990s new trend emerged due to worldwide growth of feminist movements. The nomenclature of women organisation changed. They became more inspired by radical feminism. The new names adopted were: Saheli, Vimochana, Manushi, Jagoree etc.

Towards 1991 women movement started getting divided on the lines of caste and religion. Initial solidarity was lost.  From 1990 onwards Indian politics is getting shaped more by caste and religion in that women issues also get mixed up.

Overall assessment of women movement

According to Madhu Kishwan, the only achievement of women movement has been some bizarre pieces of legislations.

According to Neera Desai and Usha Thakkar women movement faces following challenges
1] Challenge of identity
2] Women issues are not just women issues
3] Division and ideological line along with caste and religion.
So far they have never presented any challenge any charter of demands.

Women reservation in Parliament and assembly.

The issue was discussed even before independence
Views of Pandit Nehru.
He opposed reservation. He argued that it compromises merit and if introduced it cannot be rolled back.
Sarojini Naidu was also against reservation. According to her, it will impact the confidence of women. Women can be elected on the basis of their merit

Towards equality report 1974
It opposed reservation in Parliament and assembly do favoured reservation in local bodies.
Its approach was reformative rather than radical women issues. It is wrong to think that men can not represent the interest of women. In India women movement was started by progressive men. Both men and women should work together for the cause.

Ela Bhatt of SEWA.
She opposes women reservation and suggest that government should focus on economic empowerment.

Shirin Rai – feminist scholar
She also opposes reservation because it does not serve the purpose. She gives the example of Pakistan. Pakistan national assembly has a reserved seats for women but it does not mean that it has resulted into improvement in the status of women.

Prominent politicians of all major parties like Sonia Gandhi Sushma Swaraj and Brinda Karat favour women reservation.

Ministry of Panchayati Raj has conducted the study of reservation of Women in Panchayat on positive consequences and it becomes the basis of introducing reservation in Parliament and assembly.

Feminist scholars Keenan & Laura support women reservation on following Grounds.
1] Women representation has been stagnant for below the proportion for most of the Year has not been an 8%.
2] Women are not elected does not mean that they are not talented. Not all members present in a parliament are on the basis of merit efficiency.
3] Women are not able to get elected because of the social environment, which remains poor and hence catalysts like reservations at needed.


Women reservation is needed. It will make a democracy inclusive in general terms. It will be an empowerment measure. However, it is going to be one of the measure. Women empowerment also requires educational empowerment and most imp economic empowerment. 

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Role of Women in Panchayat

73rd AA introduced reservation for women at all levels including chairpersons. Not less than 1/3rd of the seats are reserved for women.
Initially there was reluctance towards the approach of introducing reservations. It was assumed that women will be the mouthpieces of male members of the family or just proxies.
Sudha Pai coined the phrase ‘Pati Panchayats’. She has even conducted some field studies in western UP (Merath Dist). She found that in reality, reservation of women in Panchayats was hardly representing their voice.
Rohini Pandye also conducted the field studies and found that there was a lack of clarity even over the role of women in Panchayats. It was assumed that women are present in Panchayats for women related issues.

Above studies were however showing the reality of the first phase of the introduction of reservations.
However later studies started showing a different scenario. Study conducted by ministry of Panchayati Raj show that reservation is creating favourable environment towards women. There are examples where women resisted the efforts of male members to dictate the terms. They refused to be the mouthpieces and asserted their autonomous view. Women reservation has contributed not only to ‘political empowerment’ but most importantly the cognitive /psychological empowerment.

It has been observed that families are now more inclined to send girl child to schools. Hence on the basis of the study, there emerged a strong case to extend women reservation in parliament and state legislature. Studies conducted by UNDP show that not only women have been empowered, women have also empowered Panchayats. The panchayats headed by women representatives had performed much better in comparison to those headed by men. Women have taken the issues of basic services like drinking water, more seriously and efficiently. UNDP has awarded Fatima Bi, a women chairperson of a Panchayat in Kurnool Dist. in Andhra Pradesh. She has done remarkable work in creating self help groups among women. Thus provided a source of livelihood to large number of extremely poor women.

The most important concern is the capacity building of women representatives. Hence govt. should continue the programs like ‘Panchayat Mahila evam Yuva Sashaktikaran Abhiyan’.

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there’s something wrong with the challenges mentioned by neera desai and usha thakkar