Although women constitute over 48% of the population, the patriarchal society of India considers women’s issues to be secondary. Safety, justice and equality of over half of the population are primary concerns, but are conveniently forgotten when it comes to execution despite protests and rallies. Time and again, since history, we have focused on empowerment of women, but what does empowerment really mean? According to the Cambridge dictionary, the meaning of ‘empowerment’ is the process of gaining freedom and power to control what happens to you (someone).
One can gain the power of control fundamentally through the freedom of decision-making, and consequently by being confident enough to claim one’s rights. But all of this power stems from being financially independent. Like Mahalia Jackson once said, “It’s easy to be independent when you’ve got money. But to be independent when you haven’t got a thing – that’s the Lord’s test”. Financial independence is one solution that can kill many viruses troubling Indian women in various walks of life.
What is the 8-spoke Wheel of Financial Independence for Women?
The answer to how we should empower our women and where to begin from lies in the 8-spoke wheel of financial independence. There are complex, interdependent issues in our country, and ensuring empowerment through financial independence as a central point, makes these spokes create one bigger circle or wheel of holistic growth that encompasses solutions to various problems. How does this work in reality? Read on and find out.
1. Economic growth – The statistical overview of India as recorded in 2014 revealed that women constitute 25% of total rural labour force, and 15% of total urban labour force. The urban woman is more likely not to work, since generally the man of the house is the breadwinner. However, as statistics indicate women are and continue to be an untapped resource for India. If women workers grow, it will mean increase in number of consumers, rise in expenditures and consequent contribution to India’s economic growth via growth in tax collection.
2. Justice for All – Domestic /sexual abuse or other social evils such as early marriages can be mitigated via financial independence. It will not only ensure that women have the power/money to independently report cases against heinous crimes, but also make them capable to fight for justice in the court of law.
3. Fighting for rights – Since history, financial independence has led women to fight for their rights in solidarity. This can be exemplified by the role of Working Women’s Association, a body that planted the seeds for women’s voting rights in 20th century U.S.. In the Indian context, financial independence and education acted as bearers of change in order to win legal property rights for women; whereas in the past, only sons were legally authorised to inherit property.
4. Personal growth – Through societal constraints, a woman’s self-confidence is systematically destroyed, resulting in a constant emotional struggle. Since they are dependent financially, they cannot invest in personal/professional growth either, leading to a permanent limbo, which leads to suppression. In such a scenario, financial independence can be a beacon of liberation and increase the scope for personal growth manifold.
5. Decision making – Financial independence provides women the benefits of decision making, since they can choose to live by their terms, make mistakes and learn from them. As earners and spenders, it gives women the power to be active problem solvers and community builders.
6. Women entrepreneurship – Facilitation of financial independence and decision making gives women power to transform themselves into leaders and entrepreneurs. Women can then provide jobs, be mentors and role models for other budding leaders.
7. Education – Education is muse for women to achieve financial independence. Statistics indicate that only one girl out of 100 reaches grade 12, in India. As more women begin to learn and earn, they need to further invest in girls’ education for a better, more responsible world.
8. Family planning – Population continues to be a daunting issue which can be curbed significantly by making women financially independent. Information regarding contraceptive precautions along with provisions can be utilised efficiently by women earners of the house.
Undoubtedly inclusion & diversity, pay equity and education are the pillars that will create more and more financially independent women. Fundamentally, change is a choice we make every day; by removing the onus of financial responsibility from the husband, son, father and brother and placing it in ourselves – by learning how to save and invest (information can be found at on-ground centers & online forums) – we can be powerful harbingers of change. The need of the hour is to take the reins of action in our hands, combine our efforts by supporting one another and make a decision every morning, to be truly unstoppable in body and spirit.