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Role of Women and Women’s Organizations

Role of Women and Women’s Organizations: The status of women in India has indeed undergone significant changes throughout history. From their active participation in nationalist movements to being confined to the domestic sphere, women have experienced various phases of empowerment and marginalization. While there have been legal advancements aimed at safeguarding women’s rights, the practical reality is that discrimination, harassment, and humiliation persist.

This stark contrast between the progress made in laws and the ground reality calls for a comprehensive approach that tackles deep-rooted cultural and societal attitudes, promotes gender equality, and ensures the safety and empowerment of women in all aspects of life. It is crucial to acknowledge that women, like men, play an equally important role in society.

However, it is disheartening that societal norms and power dynamics have often subordinated women and hindered their full participation and agency.

Effects of Globalization on Indian Society


Early Vedic Age

  1. Women enjoyed complete freedom and respect in society.
  2. They held a central role in the creation of life in the cosmos.
  3. They had autonomy in various spheres of life.

Later Vedic period

  1. Women’s status declined compared to the early Vedic age.
  2. Men gained more prominence due to the need for a large army.
  3. Women were considered inferior and subordinate to men.

Medieval Period

  1. Female infanticide and other social evils became more prominent.
  2. Girls were deprived of education, and child marriage was prevalent.
  3. The rise of the bhakti movement and Sufism brought improvements in the status of women.
  4. Influential figures like Shankaracharya, Ramanuja, and Guru Nanak raised their voices against the mistreatment and suppression of women across castes and religions.

 During British Raj

  1. The British East India Company and British Raj implemented measures to improve women’s conditions.
  2. Enactments such as the Bengal Sati Regulation (1829) aimed to abolish the practice of sati (widow immolation).
  3. The Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act (1856) allowed widows to remarry.
  4. The Female Infanticide Prevention Act (1870) aimed to curb the killing of female infants.
  5. The Age of Consent Act (1891) raised the age at which girls could legally marry and consent to sexual relationships.

Women in Modern India

  1. Women’s Rights Movements: The modern period witnessed the emergence of various women’s rights movements and organizations dedicated to improving the status of women in society. These movements aimed to address issues such as gender inequality, women’s education, child marriage, dowry, and widow remarriage.
  2. Social Reformers: Prominent social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, and Jyotiba Phule played instrumental roles in advocating for women’s rights. They campaigned against practices such as sati (widow immolation), and female infanticide, and encouraged women’s education.
  3. Women’s Education: Efforts were made to promote women’s education during the modern period. Institutions were established to provide educational opportunities for girls, and women started gaining access to formal education. This led to the empowerment of women and increased their participation in various fields.
  4. Nationalist Movement: Women actively participated in India’s nationalist movement, contributing to the struggle for independence from British colonial rule. Prominent women leaders like Sarojini Naidu, Annie Besant, and Kamala Nehru played vital roles in mobilizing women and fighting for their rights.
  5. Legal Reforms: Several legal reforms were implemented to protect women’s rights and address gender-based discrimination. The Hindu Succession Act (1956) granted equal inheritance rights to daughters, and the Dowry Prohibition Act (1961) aimed to eradicate the practice of dowry.
  6. Political Participation: Women have made significant strides in political participation. The Indian constitution ensures equal political rights for men and women, and women have held important positions in politics, including the presidency, prime ministership, and parliamentary leadership.
  7. Economic Empowerment: Women in modern India have increasingly entered the workforce, contributing to the country’s economic growth. Efforts have been made to provide skill development programs, entrepreneurship opportunities, and financial inclusion for women.
  8. Women’s Movements: Modern India has witnessed the rise of women’s movements advocating for gender equality, safety, and justice. Movements like the “Me Too” movement and protests against gender-based violence have brought attention to issues affecting women and pushed for systemic change.

 Women in modern India have fought for their rights, achieved significant milestones in various spheres, and continue to work toward gender equality and empowerment. However, challenges such as gender-based violence, unequal access to resources, and societal norms still persist, requiring ongoing efforts for women’s progress.

Women’s Organizations by Women

The Ladies Society in Calcutta (1882): Started by Swarnakumari Devi, it focused on educating and providing livelihood skills to widows. Swarnakumari Devi was also the first Indian woman editor of the women’s journal Bharati.

Arya Mahila Samaj: Founded by Ramabai Saraswati in Pune, it aimed to provide education to women and combat the practice of child marriage. Ramabai Saraswati later established Sharada Sadan in Mumbai in 1889, specifically for the education of child widows.

Bharat Mahila Parishad (1905): The women’s wing of the National Conference, affiliated with the Indian National Congress. It worked to improve the social conditions of women, focusing on issues such as child marriage, widowhood, dowry, and other harmful customs.

Stri Zarthosti Mandal (Parsi Women’s Circle): Emerged from the plague relief work carried out by the family of Naoroji Patuck in the Parsee community. The organization expanded its efforts to include medical care, and education, and sought support from Parsi philanthropist Sir Ratan Tata.

Other Urban Associations: Many small urban educated families formed similar organizations in cities like Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras. These associations aimed to address various social issues concerning women.

These women-led organizations played crucial roles in addressing the challenges faced by women in India, such as lack of education, child marriage, and widowhood. They contributed to the empowerment and upliftment of women, creating awareness and advocating for social reforms.

National Women’s Organizations:

Bharat Stree Mahamandal (1910): Formed by Sarala Devi Chaudhurani, it aimed to bring women of all castes and creeds together. They focused on liberating women from the purdah system and promoting female education.

Women’s Indian Association (WIA) (founded in 1917): Founded by Margaret E. Cousins, a woman of Irish origin, with a secular agenda to unite women across creeds, classes, and castes. Annie Besant later became the first President of WIA, and other notable founding members included S. Ambujammal, Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, and Saralabai Naik.

National Council of Women in India (NCWI) (formed in 1925): Established with the efforts of influential women from Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras who had made significant contributions during the war. It served as the national branch of the International Council of Women.

All India Women’s Conference (AIWC): An organization dedicated to the upliftment and betterment of women and children. Maharani Chimanbai Gaekwad of Baroda served as the first President, emphasizing the need for education compatible with women’s nature. Margaret Cousins served as the Secretary, and notable leaders in the organization included Sarojini Naidu, Kamla Devi Chattopadhyay, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Renuka Roy, and Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy.

These national women’s organizations played crucial roles in advocating for women’s rights, social reforms, and education. They provided platforms for women to come together, raise their voices, and work towards improving the status and welfare of women in India.

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Women in the National and Labour Movements:

  • Swadeshi Movement and Home Rule Movement: Women participated in limited numbers and attended sessions of the Indian National Congress (INC).
  • Non-cooperation Movement (1920): Women played a vital role in organizing processions, picketing shops selling foreign clothes and liquor, and faced arrests.
  • Peasant Movements: Women actively participated in the Borsad and Bardoli Satyagrahas.
  • Salt Satyagraha, Civil Disobedience Movement, and Quit India Movement: Women from all walks of life took part, faced police charges, and went to jail.
  • Women in Revolutionary and Extremist Activities:
  • Kalpana Dutta: Part of the Chittagong armory raid.
  • Nonibala Devi: Associated with the Jugantar Party and arrested for transporting weapons.
  • Preetilata Waddedar: Chittagong revolutionary.
  • Captain Laxmi Sehgal: Commander of the “Rani of Jhansi Regiment” in the Indian National Army (INA) under Subhash Chandra Bose.
  • Women in Labour and Trade Unions:
  • Anusuya Sarabai: Led the Ahmedabad textile workers’ strike and started the Ahmedabad Textile Mill Workers Union.
  • Maniben Kara: Socialite leader of railway workers.
  • Ushabai Dange and Paravai Bose: Communist leaders of textile workers.
  • SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association): Founded in 1972 by Ela Bhat in Ahmedabad, aimed at improving conditions for poor women in the unorganized sector through training and support.

Pre-Independence Women’s Movement: Considered the first wave of feminism in India, women challenged tradition and social structures, seeking redress through education and legal reforms.

Women’s Organizations: Played a crucial role in bringing women’s issues to the forefront, empowering women to step out of domestic boundaries, gather, and fight for their rights. These organizations laid the foundation for women’s active participation in the freedom struggle.

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What is the role of women in society?

Women play a crucial role in society. They contribute to various spheres, including education, healthcare, economy, politics, arts, and culture. Women are leaders, caregivers, professionals, innovators, and agents of change.

What are some challenges faced by women in society?

Women face various challenges, including gender-based discrimination, violence, limited access to education and healthcare, unequal opportunities in the workforce, societal stereotypes, and limited representation in decision-making processes.

What is the significance of women's organizations?

Women's organizations play a vital role in advocating for women's rights, promoting gender equality, providing support and resources to women, and addressing issues such as violence against women, empowerment, education, and healthcare. They work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society.

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