Women’s Empowerment and International Women’s Day

by Renu Gulati March 8, 2022

What is the purpose of Women’s Day?

UNESCO states, “The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on February 28 1909, which the Socialist Party of America dedicated in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York where women protested against harsh working conditions.

International Women’s Day, also known as IWD , was borne out of the labour movement and thereafter became an annual event recognised by the United Nations. The seeds were planted in 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote.

International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, aims to focus global attention on the status of  women when in the areas of gender equality, bias, stereotypes and discrimination; the purpose is to make the world more diverse, equitable and inclusive for women.  This is a big statement and there would be endless opinions based on culture, creed and social status

Employment for women is not necessarily the same as empowerment of women. Of course it makes sense that women ought to be given equal rights to men in the areas of employment, education and voting and in fact every walk of life. Why would they not be, I would ask the question. In the main, particularly in western societies such rights are in place however, there are  societies where the laws are more supportive of men than women and the same applies to religions. Why did this happen in the first place? Of course, men and women are different ‘species’ so to speak but nevertheless equal rights should be in place. Without getting into a discussion on politics and religion, I would like to move onto the subject of women’s empowerment, a popular slogan used in today’s world ( sometimes even for marketing due to its political correctness). I shall now relate my personal experience.

I have been working with women’s rights for many decades in the Western and Eastern worlds; I worked in  the areas of law, abuse, employment, empowerment with skills development and awareness on the pride of being a women. Having been born and raised in the west, yes I did witness and experience the oppression of women but not in the same way as I have seen in the eastern cultures. I currently run a women’s empowerment organisation in Rishikesh by the name of Stree ( streewellness.com) and have worked hard to skill women, employ them and support them in any way possible. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet, I did it because I felt a genuine need for women to be treated equally. In fact I felt a need for all humanity to be treated equally and not just women. My organisation is based on Ayurveda which is founded on the principle of ahimsa ( non-violence); one of the interpretations of ahimsa is equality for all. Of course different species have different qualities and the definition of equality would be variable but this is another discussion in itself. In my work with Stree, I have in the main experienced a pattern of behaviour amongst many women. It looks like this:

Poverty to employment to enhancing their skills – to greed – to wanting loans and more possessions to ruthlessness about how they achieve their ultimate aim of wealth. So ahimsa is lost in the process. When the women come to be they are timid and kind and then when greed takes over they become manipulative and greedy. I will not say that they have all turned out like that but this is a pattern I have seen repeatedly in many. Gratitude goes out the window despite my attempt at promoting awareness sessions based on ahimsa and the fact that wealth is not a bad thing when acquired on the basis of dharma.

Sounds like a sad story and a disheartening one too but that is my personal experience. So now what to do? What is the best way to ‘empower women’? I am shying away from the word empowerment now and prefer to use the word employment for I think in the main that is what empowerment has come to mean in the modern world.

My views of empowerment are quite different as they are based on fulfilling one’s innate potential which is borne from dharma and this is not exclusive of men by any means whatsoever. However as this blog has been written for women’s day we shall address women here.

Women are the creative force of nature and woman is symbolised as nature or prakriti in the Samkhya system of Indian philosophy whereas the masculine force known as purusha is considered the unmanifest from which all originates. Without purusha and prakriti  the cosmos and all it contains would not exist. Through the primordial dance (tandav) of purusha and prakruti, it is believed that  the cosmos was borne. This in turn suggests that we are inherently a combination of purusha and prakriti. Women however are made up more of the prakriti ( feminine) energy whilst men of the purusha ( masculine) energy; in terms of the Japanese tradition we would define yin as the feminine energy and yang as the masculine energy. In yoga terms we would define the moon energy as feminine and the sun as masculine.

This is all philosophical it may be seen but how does this apply in the practical world. 

Let us look at some of the qualities of prakriti since we are addressing women here:

  • Creative
  • Soft
  • Gentle
  • Warm
  • Affectionate
  • Nurturing
  • Sensitive
  • Emotional
  • Physically weaker than men

For me women’s empowerment would be to bring these qualities out to their fullest potential. When we say a woman has a more sensitive nature it does not necessarily mean that e.g. she can’t become a leader. A woman can even lead as a president, as we have seen in many nations, but her leadership is far more effective when she does her work through enhancing on her innate qualities rather than the purusha qualities. This is not to say that the purusha qualities should not be used; indeed they must be but the purusha must not over the prakriti or else it will disturb the balance of a woman on all levels  of her health. Women are to be women and men are to be men.

With the rise of feminism, we see that this is not happening and many a woman deny their prakriti in place of purusha which results in disharmony and many a disease.

A woman is in fact more powerful and fulfilled when she taps into her feminine qualities than when she tries to embody man. It was only the other day that a feminist friend of mine ( almost a man hater) said to be that women are happier when they have a male partner for women need protection from the barbarism of the world. Of course this would only be helpful if the woman and man can nurture a wholesome relationship between themselves and I would say this would be more likely if the woman stays the woman and the man stays the man. It is when this does not happen that disharmony happens.

On a final note, I would like to stress that a woman is very highly revered in many traditional societies though this may not seem to be the case nowadays. It is even said in the Bhagavad Gita that where a woman is not respected, families and societies go to ruin. In simpler terms lets say ‘happy wife means happy life’ and ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’.

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