“Traditional concepts recognize higher education as an instrument of personal development. It helps in growing an individual’s intellectual horizons, wellbeing and potential for empowerment” (The Kurukshetra, September 2012, p. 25). It is considered as the single most important instrument of sociopolitical and economic transformation. But the picture of women’s educational empowerment is not rosy in India.
“The recently released United Nations Development Report 2011 ranked India 134 out of 187 countries” (The Kurukshetra, September 2012, p. 32). Without proper education to all children including girls, gender empowerment is not possible. This maxim – if one male child is literate personally he alone becomes educated but if one girl child is educated the whole family becomes benefited – has been realized by the national political leaders, policy makers, administrators and bureaucrats. In this regard P.H. Sethumadhava Rao (2001) considers that, “The most important thing is that they (the women) need to be given free and compulsory education so as to make them aware of the rights and duties and possible free legal aid so that they can fight their cases without spending money.”
An educated mother is a one thousand fold superior to a mere lecturer. Education creates self-confidence, self-esteem, self-sufficiency to a person. It brings light of hope; increases social, political, intellectual, cultural and religious consciousness; broadens the length of mind; removes all kinds of bigotry, narrowness, superstition and enhances fellow-feeling, tolerance etc. Kiran Devendra (2001) stresses the importance of health, education and self-esteem of women.
Devendra feels, “Empowerment of women would mean equipping women to be economically independent, self-reliant, have a positive self-esteem to enable them to face any difficult situation and they should be able to participate in developmental activities.” Devendra believes that empowered women will be able to participate in decision-making, policy formulation and implementation of different policies and programs. Education plays a great role in this sphere. Pathak (2003) argues in line with Devendra. He emphasizes that, “Women have to be empowered socially, educationally, politically, economically and culturally.” He further states that, “When literacy percentage is increased, the women could be able to understand their actual rights which have been already given to them by the constitution of India and accordingly the provisions contained in Panchayati Raj itself.”
Information Technology and media (both electronic and print) are assuming pivotal roles in dissemination of knowledge to the people and bringing the world nearer to one’s reach. In the present day situation it is not possible for any society to think about empowerment without the incorporation and utilization of IT. The outstanding feature of empowerment lies in its very term ‘power.’ Shaikh N. Meera and D.M.U. Rao (The Yojana, February 2003, Vol. 47, p. 29) consider that, “The empowerment process is one where women find time and space of their own, and begin to re-examine their lives critically and collectively.”
Further Shaikh and Rao (ibid) hold that, “Women’s empowerment is a state of being that reflects a certain level of critical consciousness about external realities and an awareness about their internal thought construction and belief systems that affect their well being in terms of gender justice and social justice; as well as the determination to use their physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual resources to protect their lives and sustain values that guarantee gender equality and personal, social, economic, political and institutional level.” Professor Ishita Mukhopadhyaya (2003) discusses the term ‘empowerment’ in a broader perspective. In her opinion, the person who has no power has to be empowered.
According to her opinion, “Empowerment means freedom from deprivation; empowerment means equal access to knowledge and information; knowledge of being within groups of their own; empowerment also means organization; it means creation of information system and knowledge base.” Poverty and illiteracy are intertwined with one another. Poor people are mostly uneducated or lowly educated. This mass of uneducated people feels one kind of powerlessness. They feel some invisible forces from outside are controlling their lives. This powerless and inferior attitude creates a sense of intimidation. They began to depend on fortune, luck, destiny and above all God or supernatural elements. With attainment of education and knowledge women can overcome these problems.
In this regard Renana Jhabvala (2001) feels that, “Empowerment is the process by which the disempowered or powerless people can change their circumstances and begin to have control over their lives.” It is a process by which the disempowered can change the equation of power, their living conditions and their existing unequal conditions.