Yes, Empowered and Independent are 2 of the top 3 words that come to our minds when we hear the phrase "The New Indian Woman". Well, which is the 3rd word ? Refer my previous post on this word. And which are the others ? The complete list from a survey conducted amongst my friends is available here …
I searched for word meanings of these 2 words Empowered and Independent. At first, both look related. It is as if they are always together.
The range of meanings for these 2 words per se are pretty huge. But when I searched for women's empowerment and independence, it became more clear. Looks like the meanings of these words itself show a hierarchy and if you go by the definition in the context of women, it becomes very limited. It is obvious women need to go a long way from the basic levels of empowerment and independence we are talking about.
From what is available in Wikipedia, I liked this small part for its simplicity - "Empowerment is the process that creates power in individuals over their own lives, society, and in their communities. People are empowered when they are able to access the opportunities available to them without limitations or restrictions, such as in education, profession and lifestyle. Feeling entitled to make your own decisions creates a sense of empowerment. This includes the action of raising the status of women through education, increased awareness, literacy, and training."
A definition of independent I found in the urban dictionary is like this. I agree with this to some extent, especially considering financial independence - A woman who pays her own bills, buys her own things, and doesn't feel she needs a man's approval.
Let us consider a woman is who is dependent on her father/husband for food, shelter and clothing. She may find herself "trapped" or forced to accept her situation, as she has no other option. In a more common context, a woman is financially independent means she earns an income and if the situation so demands, she can set out on her own. But in most cases, she doesn’t. She earns the money, but has no control over the money herself and needs a man's approval. In most such cases, she is not empowered - she doesn’t feel she is entitled to make her own decisions. Even in such situations when she is not empowered, the fact that she earns an income increases her confidence and even her awareness. Awareness of herself, her potential and limitations.
From the above explanations of the words, it seems clear that these 2 words need not go together always. As in, if a woman is financially independent doesn’t mean she is empowered and vice versa. Let us look at some scenarios to understand this better.
Scenario 1 - Financially Independent but not empowered
My friends who are professionally qualified and earn a good salary tell me about how they do not have freedom on even the smallest money decisions. They often need to check and get their partner's approval for decision making. Well, if this is how they have jointly figured out how they would like to do decision making in the family on money matters, it is fine. I was shocked to hear about questions asked by the husband for petty sums(for the kind of money they earn and their lifestyle). I remember my friend hesitating to take a cab from her far away office when she was having her periods. I know of another friend whose ATM card and online transaction pin numbers are in the absolute control of her husband. We were planning to have a college get together and she said the husband will not pay for this amount! These are decisions about money itself, but this could extend to decisions on children's education, buying a house, investment options, and the list goes on.
Well, does this scenario look familiar to you ? Assuming you are financially independent, would you consider yourself empowered ? Which aspects of your life do you think you have least power over ? When I say your life - think of you as an individual and then extend to your family. Are you able to access the opportunities available to you ? If not, do spend some time to think about it..
We will look at the other possible scenarios of empowerment and independence in the coming weeks..