This portal ( ) is now deprecated and not updated any longer.

Print Friendly

[Issue #3] Women – Status and Role in Society

Women and their role and status in the society has always been a hot simmering issue and frequently asked question in UPSC. March 8 is celebrated as International Womens’ Day and many a news daily came out with article on women and their status and role in the very week. We at ForumIAS has compiled all those article at one place along with a little bit of historical background to make it a UPSC relevant digest. The initiatives taken by government for bettering the conditions of women has also been discussed.

Traditional Role of Women In society

According to the Bible, Original sin in the Garden of Eden was woman’s .She tasted the forbidden fruit, tempted Adam and has been paying for it ever since. In genesis, the Lord said – “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. “Sociologists regard this quotation as a mythological justification for the position of women in society.

The following generalizations apply more or lean to known human society-

Women bear children
Women are mothers and wives
Women do cooking, working, sewing and other household work
Women take care of man
Women are subordinate to male authority
Women are largely  excluded from high status occupations and from positions of power.

Anthropologists and sociologists cite biological difference between men and women as the reason behind such division of labour. Men are physically stronger than women. Hence, men perform strenous task like hunting and wars while women look after households. Children are also more attached and dependent on their mother. Even in nature we see female elephant looks after baby elephant till it is self-sufficient and male elephant only joins the herd during mating  reason. Hence, mothers are naturally inclined to look after her kids. Men are more aggressive and dominant and hence, tend to subdue women or centralise authority with them.

But what started as a natural inclination based division of labour has over time become rigid. Women are expected to be confined to their traditional roles of child rearing and household chores while men are expected to be breadwinners and protectors.

Status of women in India:-

In early vedic age,

Woman enjoyed good status and respect in the society. Worship of goddesses depict the respect woman had in society

Woman had overall freedom regarding:

Could Select their partners (swayamvara)
Live as spinsters
Widow could remarry
Women were Educated
No child marriage
No sati
Dowry only existed symbolically, not as social evil
Could take part in religious activities like husband and wife performed yagna together
Women were considered equal to men. The concept of “Ardhangani”i.e. equal half, was prevalent
Women were very educated and just like man, went through brahmachary” discipline including “upanayana” ritual
Woman contributed largely to vedic literature as is apparent from the famous woman scholars like Ghosha, Visvavara, Maîtri, Gargi, and the like
The great Indian epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana, also depict woman playing an important role in society

Later vedic periods saw the decline of status and position of women in society.

It degraded further in the Mughal period and had hit rock bottom by the time the British arrived in India.

When foreigners invaded India, they brought with them their own culture. For the  muslim invaders, woman was the sole property of her father, brother or husband and she did not had any will of her own. This type of thinking crept into the minds of Indian people and they also began to treat their woman like this.

Imposition of Brahmanical austerities on the society and rigid restrictions imposed by the caste system further dented the status of women in society.

All this gave rise to new evils such as-

Sati The ritual of a widow being burnt alive on the funeral pyre of her husband
Plight of Widows In medieval India, living as a Hindu widow was sort of curse. They were not treated as human beings and were subjected to a lot of restrictions
Child Marriage  Woman were married off even before reaching puberty at the age of 8-10. Due to the huge age gap between girls and their husbands,most girls ended up being widows at a very young age. Child marriage also brought with it increased birth and poor health of women due to repeated childbearing and mortality rate of women and children
Devadasi Meaning servant of god. This custom was prevalent in South India. In this system, girls were dedicated to temples in the name of gods and goddesses. They were supposed to live a life of celibacy and spend their time in workshop of god by singing & dancing for him. But it was an open secret that most devadasis were used as prostitutes by the priests of the temples
Other Socio- economic problems Besides, women were barred from education and female infanticide was rampant due to the socioeconomic problems attached to the girl child. All in all, it was a dark age for women.

However, there was a flicker of silver lining. Efforts for upliftment for women:

Infanticide ● abolished by Bengal Regulation Act, 1795.

● abolished by Wellesley in 1802.

● Lord Bentinck also tried to suppress it by legislating Female Infanticide Prevention Act, 1870 that declared infanticide illegal.

Sati ● Abolition of Sati by Lord William Bentinck in 1829. Pioneering efforts in this direction were made by Raja Ram Mohan Roy
Education ● Vidyasagar opened a school for women.

● Viresalingam emphasized on the education for women.

● Ramabai worked for the education and rights of the women.She made first attempt to educate widow and for this purpose established Sharda Sadan at Bombay.

● Dhondo Keshav Karve made efforts for the education of women.

● India’s first Women University was established in 1916.John Fillot Bethune founded Bethune school in 1849.

Widow remarriage ● Vidyasagar made efforts in passing the Hindu Widow Remarriage Act, 1856.

● Viresalingam also laid emphasis on the right of widow to remarry.

● Widow Marriage Association was established in 1861 by Ranade and Vishnu Shastri Pandit.

Child marriage ● Behramji Malabar made efforts in passing of the Age of Consent Act in 1891. By this act, the age of a girl for marriage was increased from 10 to 12 years.

● Rai Sahib Harbilas Sharda moved a bill for increasing the age of marriage.

● In 1929, the age of marriage was increased to 18 years in the case of boys and 14 years in the case of girls by Child Marriage Restraint Act commonly known as Sharda Act.

● In 1931, Child marriage was banned by Infant Marriage Prevention Act.

Devdasi ● Muthu Lakshmi Reddi opposed Devdasi system. She made efforts in passing the Act for Traffic in Minor in 1925.


Participation in the Swadeshi movement, anti-partition movement, Home Rule movement, etc during the early decades of 20th century was a major liberating experience for the otherwise home centric Indian women.

After Independence;

Free India’s constitution provides legal measures relief to Indian women in the following ways-

Articles 14 and 15 Provides legal equality to women and prohibit any discrimination by the state on the basis of gender.
The Special Marriage Act, 1954 Permits inter-caste and inter-religion marriage.
The Hindu marriage Act, 1955 Abolished bigamy and permitted dissolution of marriage on specific grounds.
The Hindu succession Act, 1956 Made the daughter equal co-heir with son, thus, abolishing discrimination with respect to inheritance laws.
The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, Enhanced the status of women by giving her the right to live separately and obligation of husband to maintain his wife while obligation of father in law to maintain widowed doughtier.
Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 Which makes demand of dowry  before, during or after marriage an offence.


The Factories Act, 1948 Provides for health, safety, welfare and house for women laborers working in factories.
The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 Provides for payment of equal wages to both men and women workers for the same or similar and also prohibits discrimination against women in the matter of recruitment.
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 Provides for maternity benefit  for women workers.


Gender development Index : GDI

The new GDI measures gender gaps in human development and achievement by accounting for disparities between  women and men in 3 basic dimensions of human development.

Health– life expectancy of the population.


(1) Mean years of education among adult population.

(2)  Expected years of schooling for children of school entry age.

Living Standards – Per capita Gross National Income (GNI).

The UNDP has ranked India at 130th portion among 188 countries in the 2015 human development  index (HDI) with 0.609 score in the medium human development category.

Gender Inequality Index (GII)

India is ranked at 130th position with a value of 0.563 out of 155 countries in 2014.

The top 3 countries In HDI Ranking:

  1. Norway (1st)
  2. Australia (2nd )
  3. Switzerland (3rd )

In the Gender Inequality Index (GII),  India fares poorly and is well behind Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Among 155 countries,

  1. India’s rank – 130
  2. Bangladesh’s Rank-111
  3. Pakistan’s rank- 121

GII is based on

Reproductive Health Measured by maternal mortality and adolescent birth rates.
Empowerment Measured by share of parliamentary seats held by women and attainment in secondary and higher education by each gender
Economic activity Measured by the labour market participation rate for women and men.

Parliamentary seats held by women in India = 12.2%

Adult women educated upto at least  secondary level = 27%

Maternal mortality rate (MMR) i.e, no. of deaths per 100,000 live births – 190

Inequality in Labour

Workforce participation i.e. the proportion of working age population in paid employment or looking for paid work. Women workforce participation is 27% and  79.9% is the Men workforce participation.

This gender gap manifests itself in following ways-

1. Women labour force participation is dismal
2. Women are disproportionately represented in lower productivity sectors such as agriculture and informal economy. Women need to be shifted into higher productive sectors such as business services at par with employment patterns of men.
3. 75% of unpaid work like cooking, cleaning, childcare, caring for the elderly, etc. are done by women.
4. Women tend to drop out of workplace because of lack of flexibility at work.
5. Women need to be equal partners at home and in the society for them to be equal participants at work.
6. A huge proportion of women are not allowed to work after marriage while another huge proportion of women are married of at an early age with no access to higher education.
7. Safety and security issues at work
8. Patriarchal attitudes keep women at home engaged in “women jobs”
9. Women earn less than men


According to the 2011 census, sex ratio in India stands 940 females for every 1000 males. Some states have very skewed sex ratio  and low socio-economic status of women and violence against women are very high in these states. Female infanticide is still a major concern in India.


Giving women increased economic opportunities can trigger social and cultural change in women’s status in the society as will as overall change in socio-economic condition of the country. For e.g. women typically spend a higher proportion of income than men on their children’s education. So increasing their participation in the labour force will result in higher school enrollment for the girl child.

Some of the initiatives taken to increase women participation in labour force are-

A. Sexual harassment of Women at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 It come into force from 9th Dec, 2013 and seeks to cover all women irrespective of their age or emplacement status and protect them against harassment at all workplaces both in public and private sector, whether organized or unorganized. It provides for an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) and Local Complaints Committee (LCC) which are mandated to complete inquiry within 90 days. The employer or district officer is mandated to take action on the inquiry report within 60 days. The Act casts a responsibility on every employer to create an environment which is free from sexual harassment.
B. Working women Hotel (WWH) Under this scheme, financial assistance is provided for construction/running of hostel in rented premises for those working women who may be single, widowed, divorced, separated or married but whose husband/immediate family does not reside in the same area and for those women who are under training for job. Provision for day care of the children of the inmates of the the Hostel in an important aspect of the scheme.
C. Maternity Leave The Labour Ministry , on the recommendation of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, amended the Maternity Benefit Act 1961 to increase maternity leave in the private sector from 12 weeks to 26 weeks putting India among the 16 countries having the longest paid leave for mothers. This is being done to factor in six months of exclusive breastfeeding required for a child’s physical well being and also to curb the rising dropout of women from work for childbearing.
D. Women of India Ministry of Women and Child development along with e-commerce giant has launched a new brand called “Women of India” for online production of goods made by women entrepreneurs. Under the initiative, women will be trained in pricing and designing to open “E-SHOPS” for their products on ebay.
E. MAHILA-E-HAAT  Seeking to promote women entrepreneurs, especially from the rural areas, govt. has launched a first-of-its-kind website – Mahila-e-Haat-an online platform where women entrepreneurs can sell their products directly and without having to bear any costs.

Some other important schemes are-

Rashtriya Mahila Kosh(RMK), 1993 National Credit Fund for women (rural) gives access to micro credit for livelihood support and income generating activities
Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (Sabla) (approved in 2010) Aims at vocational training for girls above 16 years of age for their economic empowerment
Support to Training & Employment Program for Women (STEP) Launched  in 1986-87 Seeks to upgrade skill of poor and assetless women and provide employment on sustainable basis by mobilizing them in vital co-operative groups, strengthening marketing linkages, support services and access to credit
Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme With a view to encourage women to  join/continue gainful employment, this scheme was introduced for children of working mothers in 2006.
Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) 2010 Conditional Maternity Benefit (CMB) scheme is a cash transfer scheme for pregnant and lactating mothers on fulfillment of certain conditions like enrolling in Anganwadi, attending counseling, taking leave from work, etc. It is meant to compensate women working in unorganized sectors with no maternity leaves/benefits.
National Mission for Empowerment of Women (NMEW) 2010 aims to strengthen overall processes that promote all round development of women.
Mother and Child Tracking System (MCTS), 2009 To ensure all mother and children have access to all the required services and medical care during  pregnancy and delivery.
Ujjawala Conceived in 2007 for the purpose of preventing trafficking and rescue and rehabilitation of victims.
SWADHAR A Scheme for rehabilitation of women in difficult circumstances through shelter, food, clothing, counseling, training, clinical and legal aid .
Gender Budgeting Budgets which promote gender equality within the national developmental framework.

Women’s Reservation Bill

History of Women’s Bill


Women’s Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha in March 2010 amid obstructive theatrics from some political parties but also with an unusual level of cooperation among the national parties, especially the Congress and the BJP.
Roadblocks The real stumbling block to the Bill has not been political from parties opposed to it, but essentially patriarchal within the very same parties that have affirmed support to it.
It is obvious that despite the pretty speeches and public posturing, the political space in the country, regardless of the ideological divide, is uniformly and strongly chauvinistic.
Opposition to the Bill has often taken the form of a demand for the proposed quota to be diced along other parameters of disadvantage, such as caste and class.
Progress so far  The number of women legislators in the current Lok Sabha is a mere 12 per cent, it has steadily increased through the years (it was 5 per cent in 1951).

More importantly, the number of women contesting elections has gone up manifold in the same period. Of course, in the global context, this is change of a glacial pace — and not the social engineering that is needed for women to get their political due.

Alternatives To encourage parties to push more women workers into the political arena.

Another is for political parties and governments to expend their energies in enabling women to lead better lives, to ensure that girls stay in school, that they have access to health services, that communities work to guarantee and protect women’s autonomy.

Women need to overcome gender prejudice firstly in their respective parties before entering the wider electoral fray.

Step towards social and gender justice To have more women in legislatures and the government is a big step towards empowering women in society.
The experience of several village panchayats that have women as effective leaders bears testimony to this fact. Affirmative action of this kind is the best way to usher in social and gender justice.
A transformation of Indian womanhood is underway — through education, technology and opportunity. It needs to be enabled and facilitated — till the political class can get its act together

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao

Aim It aims to spread awareness about the declining trend of Child Sex Ratio in the country
Objective To prevent gender biased sex selective elimination by strict enforcement of laws with stringent punishment to violators.
Nodal Agency The Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD), is the nodal agency for the implementation of the scheme
Course of Action Union government will try to ensure access and availability of essential requirements related to nutrition, health-care, education, protection and elimination of discrimination of girl child. This scheme will also generate awareness and improve the efficiency of delivery of welfare services meant for women.

Women on cloud 9

If given an opportunity, women can surpass every obstacles and for them, even sky is not the limit. This has been proved by Indian women in some recent events.

Women in combat roles

June 18 2016 may become the day India’s armed forces induct women in combat roles

President Pranab Mukherjee told Parliament that “in the future”, the government “will induct women in all fighter streams of our armed forces”

women fighter pilots will still be on short-service commission (SSC) and on an experimental basis of five years.

Air India operates ‘world’s longest all-women flight’

Air India flew the “world’s longest” all-women operated and supported flight from the national capital to San Francisco.

The flight distance of around 14,500 km in close to 17 hours, was operated as part of International Women’s Day celebrations.

For the first time, on the world’s longest non-stop flight, entire flight operations from cockpit crew to cabin crew, check-in staff, doctor, customer care staff, ATC [air traffic control] and the entire ground-handling… were handled by women. It is a symbol of women empowerment.


International Women’s Day is a good occasion to reflect on the status of women in India. The best measure of a civilised nation is whether it’s women are treated with respect, dignity and equality. We seem to fall short. Even though they make up nearly half the population, women here have endured discrimination for centuries. It’s a national shame that India ranks 132 on the Gender Development Index and 127 on the Gender Equality Index. It doesn’t befit a country where ancient scripture placed women on a high pedestal.


The most effective tool is perhaps women’s political empowerment. As American social reformer Susan Anthony remarked, “There will never be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.”Today, the Lok Sabha speaker and chief ministers of four states are women. Just a few years ago, we had a woman president of India. But the empowerment at the top has not trickled down.

So what is required is a sustained, comprehensive drive to end inequality.

A first step would be to improve the access for girls to education to reduce the in-built disadvantages that they have from birth onwards.

A second step would be to address market and institutional failures that lock women into low-return, highly vulnerable forms of employment and of self-employment.

Much can be achieved by encouraging the creation of a large number of jobs that are seen as suitable and safe for women.

A third step will be to address the violence against women and girls in South Asia.

This violence has a multitude of negative effects, from poor education and health to discouraging women from commuting to better-paid jobs.

Remedies will include improved legal systems, institutions and services. Specific remedies could include using reproductive health personnel as a way of counselling women suffering this violence. It could also include sensitizing police officers so that they no longer stereotype victims, building shelters for abused women and appointing judges specialized in gender violence issues. Remedies will also require expenditure on infrastructure so that cities are well lit and women are safe on public transport.

No country can reach its full economic potential and achieve widespread prosperity if half its population cannot participate fully in the economy. As we mark Women’s Day, it is important to remember that equality for women is to the benefit of all.

Much has improved but a lot still needs to change to see women at par with men.



BY: ForumIAS Editorial Team 

Print Friendly

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Shree

    Thanku FORUMIAS

  • Chirag_Jogani

    Very Useful and Comprehensive Information…

  • Heisen_berg

    Comprehensive article ! Thanks a lot team forumias
    Please write on other issues under society topics if possible

  • Aaryan

    can you please share link for :

    Issue # 1 was on India US Solar Dispute and WTO

    Issue #2 was on Lodha Panel

  • Wasim Akhter

    Superb atricl sir

  • Abhijeet***

    very nice and useful sir

  • ann

    thanks !

  • Kartik

    Nice one exhaustive article 🙂

  • What a great history we have …never doubt women capabilities …Indian women wrote vedic literature ..
    very nice article forumias team.

  • Hi,

    Issue are a series in itslef with each one featuring on a different topic.
    Issue # 1 was on India US Solar Dispute and WTO
    Issue #2 was on Lodha Panel

  • Issue #3 ?? admins were there any earlier parts in the series also ??

  • Ajay Rathod

    Remarkable !! all the info in one !!

  • Mannu

    good summerization. Thanks

  • upender42

    Took their time, but it was worth waiting for it. Thanks ForumIAS, loved it.

  • nicely presented and summarized

  • Thanks a lot ForumIAS

  • banupriya

    thank you ForunIAS:)

  • Milan Ghosh

    Thanks ForumIAS !

  • learn

    thanks a lottttt sir

  • Anant Jain

    This is just awesome 🙂 Thanks Forum IAS

  • Nyatum


  • KBisoyee

    good one.Pls specify model questions..If possible.

  • bob2016

    Thank you very much sir for your work in helping us 🙂