Women Empowerment has become a heated topic of discussion, yet again, after the near victory and exemplary performance displayed by the Indian girls at Rio Olympics 2016.     

    Sports has the power to break the barriers and go beyond the shackles of sex, race, religion and nationality. It acts as a vehicle to promote physical health and mental wellbeing, in the sense that, it enhances self-esteem and confidence and at the same time, also teaches essential leadership skills, team spirit and perseverance.

   Right from the first representation of 22 women athletes in 1900 Games, to the London wherein women were seen to compete in every sport of the Olympic programme, to finally Rio in 2016 which witnessed approximately 4,700 women representing their countries in 306 events, women are seen to have more visibility in sports now than has previously been seen and recorded. Women in sports have come to defy and fight against socially accepted gender stereotypes, proving themselves to be at par with men, moulding themselves into inspirational role models for the present and future generations.

     With 119 athletes in its contingent for the Rio Games, India came into the 2016 Olympics with lot of hope and aspiration to win. Nearly a week before the Olympics ended, the Indian female athletes ruled the roost and made Rio Games their own by demonstrating exceptional strength and core competencies. Dipa Karmakar’s death defying and risky moves in the ‘Produnava Death Vault’, Lalita Babar’s historic finals on the track, Sakshi Malik achieving bronze level in female 58kg freestyle wrestling facing all odds and finally, PV Sindhu being the only Indian woman to win a silver medal in the Olympics. All these feats greatly speak of the fact that women are at the forefront always to bring honour and pride to the country and their families at any cost, contrary to the belief that they are a burden to their families that have to either done away with right in the womb or if they live, not let them avail of opportunities that would help them grow professionally and become financially independent.

      Having come from a land where daughters are killed in the womb, Sakshi broke all odds to take up a masculine sport and excel at it, breaking misconceptions of girl child being a burden. In Sindhu’s case, the country can learn loads from her in matters of how to be dedicated and consistent in efforts no matter what unforeseen situation confronts you, and if you have the right people to support you and the best coaches (Pullela Gopichand), you can achieve great heights. Lalita Babar, who became the first Indian women to reach the final of a track event in Olympics, India should respect long-distance runners and also aim to invest more in them to bring out their hidden potential and build upon their strengths. So is the case with Dipa who shows that sport is all about doing risky stunts not capable of being done by the ordinary and not compromising an inch on physical fitness in order to bring laurels for the country.

       The accolades and honour that our ‘Indian Girls’ have brought to this country have made even Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s pro-girl initiative slogan to change from ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ to ‘Beti Bachao Medal Pao’.

        As many industries have increasingly been recognized, women bring in new ideas, innovations and broaden perspectives. However, there is still a long way to go before we will witness true equality in the sports world. Girls and women throughout the world, as compared to men, get fewer opportunities and are less invested in. Their training and safety is compromised when they play sport, as compared to men. Fewer women are represented in leadership positions in the sporting organizations.

     India is still in the nascent stage of bringing gender equality and has to take multiple steps to accelerate its commitment towards the empowerment of women and eradication of discrimination against women. It still remains an integral part of our National Policy that needs to be addressed urgently.

  For realizing the true sense of women empowerment, the men will have to play a critical role in understanding them and supporting them to bring them back to power, as men and women co-exist in this world and ultimately, have to be co-dependent on each other on their survival in society.

     Men can do this by first acknowledging the gender inequality and then, immediately rectifying by taking certain conscious steps. There needs to be effective communication from both parties on the issues where women are ill-treated and addressing them to genuinely balance the scales of gender inequality. Men have to systematically break down false conceptions regarding women and realize that gender no longer differentiates what roles can men and women play or what they can do. Men and women equally have the right to choose what is best for them, however, not on the cost of each other. They also need to understand that empowering women does not mean that they will lose their power, rather will help them walk on the path of success hand in hand, respecting each other and at the same time, not compromising on one’s dignity as well. In simpler words, it would be sufficient to say that men have to learn to share power with women in order to achieve the so-called level of gender equality that the nation dreams to achieve some day.

     Considering Rio Olympics as a case study to learn great life lessons from, it is high time that India starts respecting its females, acknowledging their potential, the sacrifices they have made and the hardships that they have had to face to reach at the stage where they are today. Change needs to begin now, be it from the grass root level, rural or urban. India needs to be and should be proud of its daughters. It is time to think about women-led development rather than women development now.

Source: Pooja Dara