In this essay, Jaideep Singh Saluja writes about how sports plays an instrumental role in empowering women, especially in India.
In the last few years, the attention of people all over the world, especially in India, has been focused towards the subject of women’s empowerment. The very fact behind this hype regarding the empowerment of women is that the discussion bears testimony to the appalling condition of women all over the world but more so in India and other developing countries. Earlier, women were always suppressed and treated like slaves. They were denied basic fundamental rights like the Right to free speech, the Right to Education, etc. There were several inequalities between men and women in any and every field, be it politics, sports, education or jobs at the corporate level. Even today, the perception of women remains negative. Women constitute more than half of the world’s population and are still paid less than men. In addition to their domestic responsibilities like taking care of their children, cooking food, looking after the family, they contribute to the growth of the nation. Some have become successful entrepreneurs like Indra Nooyi, some are handling the politics of the nation like Sonia Gandhi, some are running the fashion world and some are representing the country at the international level by excelling in various sports. Women have been successful in asserting their equality with men in matters of education, employment, inheritance, marriage, politics and in the field of sports as well. The status of women all over the world and in India has risen exceptionally in the 20th century. Women, who remained inclined to stay within the four walls of their household have today found their own way to rise above. Various steps have been taken by the Indian Government to empower women of every age and every caste. Criminal laws against sati, dowry, female infanticide and foeticide, eve teasing, rape, immoral trafficking and other offences relating to women have been enacted in addition to civil laws like the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939, the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 and other Matrimonial enactments. Recently, the Rajya Sabha has also passed the Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Bill, 2016 to benefit working women. A National Commission for Women (NCW) was also constituted for protecting women’s rights. The year 2001 was declared as the Year of Women’s Empowerment by the Government of India. Moreover, the 108th Constitutional Amendment Bill has been the hot topic for some time now since this legislation, popularly known as the Women’s Reservation Bill, seeks to reserve one-third of the seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies. These developments in the status of women are evidence of the fact that empowering women means empowering the nation, strengthening the economy and revitalizing the society.
Social stigmas often keep women from viewing themselves as physically powerful, proficient and self-governing individuals. In recent years, sports has surfaced as a mechanism to help women work against these self-limiting opinions. With the growing participation of women in sports globally and nationally, sports is being seen as a means of empowerment for women. Their participation in sporting activities enables them to live a life of dignity. New age sportswomen like Sania Mirza in Tennis, Mary Kom in Boxing and Saina Nehwal in Badminton are some of those Indian women who never gave up on their dreams despite of coming from conservative backgrounds.
The 2016 Summer Olympics, concluded in August 2016 at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, witnessed more than 11,000 athletes from 207 countries. India saw a participation of 117 athletes and bagged a total of two medals, one silver and one bronze; both of which were won by women. Badminton player P. V. Sindhu won historic silver medal in the women’s singles badminton event. With this, she became the first Indian woman to clinch a silver medal in Olympics. On the other hand, Wrestler Sakshi Malik secured a bronze in the 58 kg category to become India’s first female wrestler to win an Olympic medal. Not to forget, India was able to qualify an artistic gymnast into the Olympic competition for the very first time since 1964. Dipa Karmakar became the first Indian female ever to book an Olympic spot in the apparatus events and all-round event at the Olympic Test Event. Unfortunately, she narrowly missed out on the bronze medal, finishing 4th in the finals of the event with a score of 15.066. Indian long distance runner Lalita Babar scored a time of 9:19.76 in her heat, qualifying to the final. With this, she became the first Indian in 32 years to enter a final in any track event. At the final, she finished 10th with a time of 9:22.74.
Despite the fact that all these sportswomen belong from families with low income, they managed to gather all their confidence and achieve their goals. It was these women who saved the pride of the nation at the premier international sporting event. This is a clear indicator of how sports in India has come up to be a gateway to women’s empowerment.