Women Empowerment through Technical Education

Abstract: The call for a matching supply of technical manpower is a natural consequence in this world of rapid industrialisation, liberalisation and globalisation. To achieve a sustainable development in any country, each member of the society has to be given equal opportunities, to unfold one’s inner potential. Since women constitute almost half the population, the healthy and harmonious growth and development of a nation would not be possible unless women are brought into the mainstream of the national development. According to India Country Report, making women equal partners in the national development processes and equipping them to make informed choices in order to actualise their self-worth through empowerment are goals to which the government is committed.

Keywords: women’s population ratio, marginalisation, women’s empowerment, economic development, human resource development, women’s education, social reforms movement, women as equal partners, women’s equality status, nation’s development, Five Year Plan, national education policies

“Investing in women’s capabilities and empowering them is the surest way to contribute to economic growth and, overall development” (Human Development Report, UAIDP 1996)

Rapid industrialisation coupled with ‘liberalisation and globalisation for the economic development of the country calls for a matching supply of technical manpower” (Rao, 1996). To achieve a sustainable development in any country, each member of the society has to be given equal opportunities, to unfold one’s inner potential. In fact, the progress of any nation depends mainly upon its human resources, which is the key to utilisation of all other resources (Khurana 2002). Since women constitute almost half the population, the healthy and harmonious growth and development of a nation would not be possible unless women are brought into the main stream of the national development. According to India Country Report, (4th World Conference on Women. Beijing, 1995), making women equal partners in the national development processes and equipping them to make informed choices in order to actualise their self-worth through empowerment are goals to which the government is committed.

Since independence, the Government of India’s policy on women’s development has undertaken various shifts of emphasis. The most significant changes occurred in the mid-1980s with the Seventh Five Year Plan, which started a move towards equality and empowerment. New institutions were established to expedite action. This included the Department of Women and Child Development within the Ministry of Human Resource Development and its counterparts in the states. In addition, Women’s Development Corporations were set up in most states to implement the new strategy, of economic development by facilitating access to training entrepreneurship development credit, technical consultancy services and marketing facilities. The Latest Five Year Plan marks a further and a definite shift towards empowerment of women, emphasizing women as equal partners in the development process.

What is Empowerment

The concept of empowerment has been much talked about in the context of organisation. Various authors have defined ‘empowerment’ in different ways. To some, it means ‘giving people, the power to make decisions’, to others, it means ‘getting people involved in a participative way’. Conger and Kanungo-(1988) defined it as the motivational concept of self­ efficacy. On the basis of a thorough review of relevant research, Thomas and Velthouse suggest that empowerment is multifaceted and that its essence cannot be captured by a single concept. According to them empowerment can be broadly defined as increased intrinsic task motivation manifested in a set of four cognitions reflecting an individual’s orientation to his or her work role: meaning, competence. self-determination, and impact. Bowen and Lawler III hold that empowerment is a process of providing information rewards, knowledge and power to people in work settings. They emphasise the importance of the need to share information and develop teams, which have decision making power. They also point out that people require relevant training and knowledge about how to be empowered. Empowered individuals must be rewarded for their increased responsibility and accountability. Randolph feels that empowerment is not just ‘giving people the power to make decisions’. They already have the power to make intelligent decisions to help the organisation operate effectively. He defines empowerment at its most practical level as ‘recognizing and releasing into the organisation, the power that people already have in their wealth of useful knowledge and internal motivation’. According to Spreitzer, empowerment means giving employees the authority, skills, and freedom to perform their tasks. Likewise, Schermerhorn et al hold that empowerment allows individuals or groups to make decisions that affect them or their work.

Empowerment provides individuals the authority to make decisions within their areas of responsibility, without first having to get approval from someone else. Empowerment also encourages employees to use their initiative and in addition to authority, they are given other resources, so that they are able to make decisions and have the power to get them implemented. Empowered people believe that they are competent and valued, that their jobs have meaning and impact, and that they have opportunities to use their talents (Dwivedi 1998).

The Indian Context

The concept of empowerment is not new to Indian culture. In fact, it is rooted in Indian philosophy (Dwivedi, 1995,1996, 1998).The Vedanta asserts: Tattvamasi,you are that. Which means you have infinite power within you. Likewise, the Bhagawat Gita (XVIII-46) specifies Svakarmana tam abhyarchyasidhimVindati Manava which means human being can attain the Sidhi- the final accomplishment, by worshipping God through his work. Work becomes a means of self-expression (power). To articulate work as a means of self-exp-ression, one has to understand that one’s energy and happiness are within oneself. There is a need for a person to merely realise that he/she has infinite energy, which can be expressed in the form of work.

But how does one attain empowerment? There are many ways and ‘education’ is one of them. Education is an important means of creating awareness and empowering an individual to become independent and self confident. It also provides one with knowledge and skill, which help him/her not only to survive but also grow and develop. Such a person can effectively use his/her faculties to his/her best advantage and can take independent decisions.

Women’s Education: Brief Historical Background

According to Chanana, Indian women share certain traits in common even today. For instance, traditionally, women were denied access to education, except those from privileged homes, who were given some rudimentary lessons in reading. Although the social position and education of women attracted the attention of social reformers earlier, it was only at the end of the nineteenth century and then, at the beginning of the twentieth century, that the debate over women’s education really picked up. A number of books were published which invariably referred to movements for social reform, changes in women’s lives, and the significance of education for women (Mayhew 1926: 205; Rajgopal 1936:99; Chiplunkar 1930: xiv; Forbes 1979: 149-50). The education of women had definitely come to be a public issue by the early 1920s. By this time, the slogan of Indian leaders and social reformers had come to be: ‘Educating a girl means educating a family (Rajgopal 1936: 199). The British government had also gradually changed its position vis-à-vis women’s education and was willing by that time, to lend open support to it. Therefore, the education of women came to be officially viewed as a problem requiring special attention and funds.

Women leaders in the early twentieth century were, by and large, educated and belonged to families deeply involved either in social reform or in the independence movement and in the activities of the Congress, or in both. Thus, the leaders of women’s movements in the early stage represented the elite. There were, women leaders like Sarojini Naidu, who were simultaneously involved in reform and politics. Then, there were women like Comelia Sorabji, whose role was largely non-political. They were working, like Ramabai Ranade, mainly in the field of women’s education or other social services. Women like Kasturba Gandhi and Kamala Nehru were closely identified with their husbands’ work, but were also working to help women.

Looking at women’s education from the societal viewpoint and relating it to the motivation of those who introduced it, one finds that the demand for women’s education arose as a concomitant of the social reform movement. As has already been noted, the social reformers reasoned that reform in the social position of women would reform the entire society. It was argued that since the family was and is the basic unit of social organisation in India, the contribution of women to the stability of the family, and through it to society, was crucial (Mazumdar 1976:66; Forbes 1979: 162-63). Moreover, women had considerable influence on the socialisation of children, and were central to child-rearing and house-keeping. Therefore, apart from influencing their own sphere of activity, they also influenced the sphere of male activity- mainly through ideas and values which pertained to cultural transmission and provided support to men. It was for this reason that, while they propagated the cause of women’s education, they also promoted the idea of traditional role reinforcement through social curricula. Further, educated men came to prefer educated girls as brides, and this preference motivated parents to send their daughters to schools in order to embellish their feminine qualities. However, the main idea in promoting women’s education was that since a girl had to be a wife and a mother, school education should train her to perform that role more effectively. The number of girls enrolled in various institutions steadily increased over the year and by 1945-47, more women were studying in coeducational institutions at the college level than at the secondary school level, presumably because the number of women’s colleges was not particularly large.

Technical Education and Women Empowerment

Technical education is a crucial component in human resource development, and is dedicated to the economic development of the nation. Our earlier policy makers were quick to recognise this, and in successive Five Year Plans, great emphasis was laid on the integrated development and promotion of technical education. Though the system has registered an impressive growth in the past five decades, it still suffers from a variety of weaknesses and problems. For one, the existing system is unable to muster an effective response to changing needs (Khanna,1996). The participation of women, in particular, is woefully inadequate. There is no denying the fact that women in our country are second to none, and have time and again proved to the nation and the world that given a chance, they can excel in any field and in fact, can do even better than men, in certain fields. Yet , the irony is that a very small percentage of women are seen in the technical fields. In this year 2002, when women should be marching ahead, shoulder to shoulder with men, in every field, there are still a variety of reasons, which restrict their entry into technical arenas. The most important being , the family tradition and the motivational factors. Hisrich and Brush reported men entrepreneurs to have degree in business or technical area (usually engineering) and women entrepreneurs to have degree in liberal arts. On probing for reasons, it was found that women took up liberal arts in college in accordance with the “nice-girl” stereotype who did not indulge in practicality.

As is well-known, the majority of the Indian population resides in the rural areas. The education of a girl child, particularly the higher education, is still , not an easy decision. Most parents are quite content to see their daughters get the primary or the basic education and help them in the household chores, only to see them married, as soon as possible. This thinking must and surely change, if the country has to reach the zenith of progress. Substantial motivational techniques have to be employed to change the mindset of such parents and the government as well as non-government machinery has to be used with full force, in this direction. There are undoubtedly, the budgetary limitations, but all out efforts have to be made to mop up funds for this purpose.

Ever since India became independent, the words ‘Science’ and ‘Technology’ and the phrase ‘Scientific Temper’, have been in vogue. These words have indeed, been often used to impress upon the people that these alone can alleviate the suffering of the poor in this country. So far so good, but the words have to be translated into real action, for witnessing any worthwhile results. In a country, where human resources, especially women, are not sufficiently encouraged and motivated to take up the challenge of new technologies, the removal of sufferings and poverty in the large part of the country, shall only remain a dream. And this is where, the “Will to do”, plays a very important role.

According to Giri, during the past half-a-century, India has witnessed a positive transformation in women’s empowerment and economic development, while retaining a great diversity in political and social system. Although India still has to go a long way in attaining gender equality and gender justice, no one can deny that its efforts towards redressing gender inequality are more pronounced, than in many other countries.

Women: A Major Force

Empowerment of women has been a widely debated and discussed issue, worldwide in the recent years. There is a school of thought among Indian corporate leaders that the more you encourage debate on women and issues related to them the more is the degree of discrimination or separation. The issue however, does remain that a larger women work-force is an essential element that organisations will have to reckon with, sooner or later (Sinha 2000).

The top decision-making positions remain largely male dominated spheres, where women have little influence (Prasad and Sahay, 2000). Several studies have shown that women in private and public sector organisations, generally participate very minimally, in decision-making, compared to their male counterparts (Foner, 1982: Muna, 1991; Odubogun, 1995). Women around the world, share a common condition: they are not full and equal participants in public policy choices that affect their lives. Nowhere is the gap between de jure and de facto equality among men and women greater than in the area of decision-making.

National Policy

The National Policy for the Empowerment of Women (2001) states that programmes will be strengthened to bring about a greater involvement of women in science and technology. These will include measures to motivate girls to take up science and technology for higher education and also ensure that development projects with scientific and technical inputs involve women fully. Efforts to develop a scientific temper and awareness will also be stepped up. Special measures would be taken for their training, in areas where they have special skills, like communication and information technology. Efforts to develop appropriate technologies suited to women’s needs as well as to reduce their drudgery will be given a special focus too. In recognition of the diversity of women’s situations and in acknowledgement of the needs of specially disadvantaged groups, measures and programmes will be undertaken to provide them with special assistance.

Computer: an Important Tool

Just as literacy is an empowerment tool for the disenfranchised, Computer Literacy can be a same type of liberating force for women in a technological society. The world wide web (WWW) is at one’s service 24 hours a day. Computers can give most women an opportunity to learn to manage technology, to gain a new competence in an area where many women are reluctant to enter. Learning to make decisions about one technology helps us feel that there are ways to make decisions about and control other technologies. Computers can really help in saving time. Thanks to word processing, mailing list computer programs and the networking capability, one can easily have access to libraries all over the world, and that includes feminist libraries, check on the latest developments on a full range of feminist and other issues, can leave a message to others to call back and talk. In fact, studies and personal reports suggest people probably do more personal communicating, because of the ‘high tech, high touch’ phenomenon (Dillman, 1985). Many new options open up when we can support women, who want to make their own choices, wherever they live, and to make them feel part of a movement that is alive and growing even in rural areas.

Women and technology network project is therefore, the need of the day. This means, the necessary hardware and software have to be made available down to village level, and which should be relatively inexpensive too, besides of course, the system being easy to learn. The Government and other agencies must ensure that with the help of female trainers, our rural women learn to feel comfortable with the computer and make best use of it. Such women may or may not have any formal educational qualifications / degrees to their credit, yet feel part of the technology oriented society. On the internet, they can check with each other, on a regular basis. It is a form of community exchanging ideas, telling a few stories about personal experiences, asking for help and so on. This is a period, which can rightly be called “Information Technology Revolution” and it is indeed a matter of great pride that India today, is at the forefront of this revolution and if we can motivate our women to benefit from this revolution, no one can stop India from being a super power, in not too distant a future.

Planners, academicians and even voluntary agencies are all advocating empowerment of women, Yet the modalities and its implementation have not been very clearly spelt out. In this knowledge era, technical education is one of the means through which women can be empowered. It is a cause for concern that there is a disproportionate representation of women in education, in general and in science and engineering education, in particular. This can, perhaps, be explained by some socio-psychological perspectives. Women are, indeed, capable of achieving excellence in any field they decide to pursue. However, they need to be constantly encouraged and supported by the family, government and society at large.

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AMULYA KHURANA. Has Master’s degree is in Psychology from Utkal University, Orissa. Took her Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi. Areas of specialisation are Organisational Behaviour and Educational Psychology. Publications include one book, over 55 papers, and chapters in 10 books. Is presently serving in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Delhi as Associate Professor.

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 Has Master’s degree is in Psychology from Utkal University, Orissa. Took her Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi. Areas of specialisation are Organisational Behaviour and Educational Psychology. Publications include one book, over 55 papers, and chapters in 10 books. Is presently serving in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Delhi as Associate Professor.

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