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These inventions that have empowered women have enabled them to live much better lives, and freed them up to reach for those glass ceilings.
“To all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me: I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion, … And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
Said Hillary Clinton in what I (among many others) had hoped to be a victory speech. The United States of America witnessed history as they got close to having their first female President ever. It made me ponder on how far we women have come, if we compare our lives with that of our mothers and grandmothers.
What are some of the inventions, and social innovations and reforms that have liberalized us and we could not imagine our lives without them? So much of the quality of women’s lives is tied up with their biology, and with their social roles, that most of these inventions and reforms necessarily focus on that.
Here is my list of 25 such inventions that have empowered women (in no particular order) and transformed our lives in the past century.
We have all heard of women (and children) tragically losing their lives during child birth due to an unusual position of the baby, and a lack of medical facilities. Anesthesia, invented in the 19th century, has helped minimize pain, and also made surgical intervention possible. Delivery of a baby through the C-section has helped save many lives, and in urban India it has become more ‘normal’ than the natural birth process.
In the olden days, it was not just women who tragically lost their lives during childbirth, but babies and infants also died from common illnesses. Vaccinations have been around for at least a couple of centuries now, but the current infact and child vaccination programme that we have has more comprehensive and safer vaccines. Infant mortality rate has decreased since the invention of vaccinations, consequently reducing the pressure of women to have multiple pregnancies.
Whether it is birth control pills, IUD, or diaphragm, women now have options that they can access in consultation with their health care providers – freeing them from unwanted pregnancies.
IVF has been a remarkable blessing for couples, transcending some of the the barriers to motherhood. It has in turn empowered women to focus on their aspirations and not succumb to the clichéd “ticking biological clock”.
Hearing the heartbeat of that tiny life is truly magical and all women who are mothers would vouch for that precious moment of a lifetime. Various other tests and screenings during pregnancy have helped detect abnormalities in the foetus and guided women to take informed decisions.
The former has become widely popular among working women who want to provide breast milk to their infants and the latter is equally nutritious for those who may choose to not breastfeed, or cannot breastfeed for any reason.
The baby in the other room may be off sight, but can still be checked on, thanks to this invention!
Women would be suffering from a lot more back pain, if we did not have these!
Yes, we have all heard our mothers / grandmothers tell us horror stories of using the cloth! Aren’t we glad we were not born then?
These are certainly very convenient with a high accuracy rate, and ensure a woman’s privacy, giving her a greater control over her choice.
Our modular kitchen would be incomplete without the ease of kitchen appliances like pressure cookers, mixer-grinders, roti-makers, refrigerators, microwave ovens – these have all helped ensure that women spend lesser time in the kitchen and need not cook fresh food 24/7.
Think of the wood fires of history. Don’t you think it is so much more convenient to use cooking gas?
How many of our grandmothers are well educated? Education for women was considered optional. While emphasis on education for women has become prevalent in urban India, things are slowing changing in rural India as well. The Government has also started recognizing the need for better sanitation facilities in schools for girls to ensure that there are no barriers to education.
The internet has liberalized women by giving them access to a wide range of opportunities. Knowledge sharing, social networking, reading books online, working from home, online counselling etc. are some of the avenues that have been paved for women.
The home computer has a very big hand in paving the way for various job opportunities for women – a majority of freelancers today are women, and use the home computer for this.
No wonder the Haryana khaps imposed bans on mobile phones as they are “responsible for the fall of social barriers!” Yes, the mobile phone has empowered women by helping them stay connected with those who matter to them. Not to forget, these also serve as a saviour when it comes to women’s safety.
The direct result of education is the financial independence for women. Further, monetary digitization has helped women manage their money and savings much better than previous generations could have thought of. Bank accounts, cheque books, ATM cards, lockers in banks, installment payments are all making women self-sufficient.
As women started stepping out of the home to get an education and to work, they also needed a way to get there without depending on men. And we gradually started learning how to drive! Most women now have their own vehicles.
The controversial section 498A of the Indian Penal Code has empowered many a woman to file a complaint against the husband or his family in case he has subjected her to cruelty and coerced her for any unlawful demand.
Dowry used to be a tradition. Some righteous and progressive people ahead of their times may have frowned upon it but a prohibition is certainly landmark. It is a tight slap on the exploitation that has taken place for centuries in the name of culture.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP), 1971 has been challenged as women have sought permissions from the Indian courts to seek an abortion or grounds such as pregnancies resulting from rape, foetal abnormalities, and psychological trauma. At times, women have fought and won. But even when they have lost they have at the least given a voice to a vital movement.
India has been a preferred destination for foreign couples who opted for surrogacy. Laws have been amended to ban surrogacy for foreign couples, and commercial surrogacy has been a sensitive issue. But I think it is still empowering that a woman can bring a child to this world that is biologically hers though she cannot give birth, through another woman who can probably improve her quality of life by bringing life.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is a legislative act in India that seeks to protect women from sexual harassment at their place of work.
Workplace harassment is unfortunately a reality and most women have faced it at some point; the degree may vary. This acts aims to put a check on some perverted men who think that any woman who leaves the house to support herself would do so at any cost, and use their power and position to take advantage of women.
16th December 2012 shook India as a young life was brutally crushed in a horrific gang rape. It led to Parliament passing the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, “that widened the definition of rape and also provided for death penalty in rape cases that cause death of the victim or leave her in a vegetative state. It also created several new offences such as causing grievous hurt through acid attacks, sexual harassment, use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe, voyeurism and stalking”.
I watched the movie Pink recently and it was iconic that a relevant concept like ‘consent’ was conveyed for the first time in mainstream cinema.
Yes, we have come a long way. The inventions above have come in consonance with technological, scientific, medical and legal advancements. But there is a lot more to change, as far as the perception and role of women in considered.
I hope that when 50 years later when somebody writes a similar article, there would be so much more to be proud of!
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I like to write about the problems that have plagued the Indian society. I feel that the concept of gender equality is still alien , and that has been the focus of my articles and posts. read more...
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If you want to get back to work after a break, here’s the ultimate guide to return to work programs in India from tech, finance or health sectors - for women just like you!
Last week, I was having a conversation with a friend related to personal financial planning and she shared how she had had fleeting thoughts about joining work but she was apprehensive to take the plunge. She was unaware of return to work programs available in India.
She had taken a 3-year long career break due to child care and the disconnect from the job arena that she spoke about is something several women in the same situation will relate to.
More often than not, women take a break from their careers to devote time to their kids because we still do not have a strong eco-system in place that can support new mothers, even though things are gradually changing on this front.
A married woman has to wear a sari, sindoor, mangalsutra, bangles, anklets, and so much more. What do these ornaments have to do with my love, respect, and commitment to my husband?
They: Are you married?
They: But You don’t look like it
Me: (in my Mind) Why should I?
Why is being married not enough for a woman, and she needs to look married too? I am tired of such comments in the nearly four years of being married.
I believe that anything that is forced is not right. I must have a choice. I am a living human, not a puppet. And I am not stopping anyone by not following any tradition. You are free to do whatever you like to do. But do not force others. It’s depressing.