Gender inequality is not only the issue of a particular country or place instead it has always been a global issue for people. Men and women are almost equal in the total global world but still women are not given equal status with men and this unequal gender role in socialization process operates in every society. Women have faced assaults, domestic violence, sense of inferiority, were subjected to treat like a servent etc. Time is passing but in all the ages women are supposed to face some issues because it has become the universal concept that they are supposed to serve men. Though our religious beliefs make women a goddess but we fail to recognize her as a human being first, we worship goddesses but we exploit girls. Ideally it is being said that they obtain equal position like men in our society but it is sad to say that still they are going though several types of discrimination in domestic and professional lives. Like men-folk, women must have equal roles to play for the progress of the society.
History of Gender inequality
Gender inequality is the idea and situation that women and men are not equal. Gender inequality in India refers to health, education, economic and political inequalities between men and women in India. Gender inequalities, and its social causes, impact India’s sex ratio, women’s health over their lifetimes, their educational attainment and economic conditions. Gender inequality in India is a multifaceted issue that concerns men and women alike. Although the constitution of India has granted men and women equal rights, gender disparity still remains. There is specific research on gender discrimination mostly in favour of men over women. The gender inequality and status of women in India has gone through many changes over the past few millenniums. Gender Inequality has been seen in India from the very beginning. There were women of most affected in India and many changes were seen in their status. It is also very difficult to know exactly the status or position of women in different period of times but researchers and grammarians, like katayana and patanjali, have thrown some lights on it from the old scriptures and from other sources. The gender inequalities and status of women and their activities can be divided into three main historical period, the ancient, the medieval and the modern.
In Ancient period- During the Vedic period and according to the Hindu scriptures, in the ancient time women were given a respectable position. They were considered half part of men or it can be said that men were considered to be incomplete without them. Men can’t execute their wives and they were called as “Ardhangini”(Half Body) of men. In the early Vedic periods there was no gender discrimination. There is enough evidence that in the society the women had equal rights with men during the ‘Rig-Vedic’ periods (1500-1000 BC). The Rig Vedic women in India enjoyed high status in society. Their condition was good. There were many women Rishis during this period. Through monogamy was mostly common, the richer section of the society indulged in polygamy. There were no Sati system or early marriage. In the ‘Rig Vedic’ verses we also find that women married at the mature age and could choice their husbands. Both boys and girls had ‘initiation’ (Upnayana). Very few girls continued their studies because of hard lives and different austerities had to be taken at different stages of their student-lives. So some of them only contended with such hard lives and in depth study of the Vedic lore and other women preferred cozy home live. They engaged themselves in cultivating arts and craft and became good housewives. They were known as ‘Sadyovadhus’.
But among the girls who took seriously the study of ‘God-realisation’, some of them were very good in the prevailing ways of learning. They were known as ‘Brahmavadinis’. In the Vedic literature 27 such ‘Brahmavadinis’ were mentioned, e.g. Gargi, Maitreyi, Visvanara, Lopamudra, Apala, Saswati, etc. women started being discriminated against since the Later Vedic period in education and other rights and facilities. Child marriage, widow burning, the purdah and polygamy further worsened the women’s position.
In medieval period- During the medieval period, gender inequality was on high level and woman was given a position subordinate to man. Law and religion did not recognize the equality and equal rights of man and woman. The women’s place was largely regarded as being in the home. In short, the role of women was conceived to be one of subservience to her husband, the master and ruler of her family. Child marriage, practices of sati, prohibition of widow marriage were considered in a ritualistic way among the Hindus. The status of women among the Muslims was no good than this. Practice of purdah among the women started at this period. Among the Rajput women in Rajasthan the ‘Jauhar’ was practiced to save the chasity of women. Among the Hindus polygamy was a part of the lives and among the Muslims polygamy was accepted in the name of religion. In some parts of the country the system of ‘Devdashi’ or ‘Temple Women’ was prevailed and both the rich people and the ‘Temple Priests’ sexually exploited them. This continued for many decades till the rise of the ‘Vakti Cult’ movement. One of the women leaders of ‘Vakti Cult’ movement was ‘Mirabai’ she was a saint, a poet and a singer. At that time women felt some sigh of relief from the orthodox society. In this time ‘Guru Nanak’ tried to spread the messages of equality among men and women of the society. This had a very effective impact on the societies in some parts of India.
In the Modern period- In the modern period, the status of Indian women can be divided into two distinct periods, the British rule, i.e. Pre-Independent India and the Post-Independent India.
Pre-Independent India – The British Rule in the 18th century brought in some degree of political orderliness, but the social structure, customs and practices remained unchanged. It was mainly during the 19th century that the reform movement undertaken by enlightened thinkers and leaders of Indian society like Raja Rammohan Rai who understood the important of women’s participation that the status of Indian women started changing for the better. Though initially all the leaders were men, women gradually came into the scene and played their role not only in changing history but also the society as a whole, through their efforts in different areas of work such as education, politics and freedom movement. Mrs. Annie Besant, Dr. Sarojini Naidu, Kamladevi Chattopadhayay, Mrs. Nellie Sengupta, Durgabai Deshmukh many others gave a change and betterment. Indian women actively participated in the freedom movement to highlight the importance of the elevation of the status of the Indian women which also had different thrusts. Women took equal initiative and participated in all types of struggle for national freedom, i.e, non-violent movement advocated by Mahatama Gandhi and the Indian National Congress as well. Women enthusiasm in participating in the armed resolution helped Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to set up the Rani of Jhansi Regiment of the Indian National Army. Women’s participation in the freedom movement was very extensive. Smt. Kasturba Gandhi, Madam Bhikaji Cama, Sarla Devi, Muthu lakshmi Reddy, Aruna Deshmukh, Priti Lata Waddedar, Captain Lakshmi and Janaki Davar of INA, Jahanara Shahnawaz, Randhabai Subbarayan, etc., are only few to have out of many.
Post-Independent India – In 1947, India won freedom from foreign rule. In 1949 a Constitution was drafted which gave equal rights and status of all Indian Citizens. Independent India has seen various programmes for the uplift of women of all communities. Indian women have played an important role from the very beginning of Independence in different walks of life. Women have taken bold steps in all nation building activities, which started with education and have now blossomed into women’s involvement in every activity of India. They have participated in all activities such as education, politics, media, games, arts and culture, service sector, science and technology.