Issue of Gender and Women’s movement

Women Movement

The status of women has been the central concern of many reform move­ments before and after independence. Leaders of the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj were concerned with issues like sati, remarriage, divorce, female education, purdah system, polygamy, and dowry.

Justice Ranade criticised child marriages, polygyny, restrictions on remarriage of wid­ows, and non-access to education.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy played an important role in getting the sati system abolished. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Maharishi Karve pleaded for remarriage of widows. Gandhiji took interest in collective mobilisation of women to fight for political freedom as well as for their social and political rights.

Some scholars have examined the role of women in political independence movements at micro level, i.e., on regional basis. For example, Aparna Basu (1984) and Pravin Sheth (1979) studied it in Gujarat, Raghavendra Rao (1983) in Karnataka, and Uma Rao (1984) in Uttar Pradesh. According to Govind Kelkar (1984), women’s role in the freedom movement was that of the ‘helpers’ rather than that of comrades.

Ghanshyam Shah has referred to some scholars who have pointed out women’s role in tribal, peasant and other movements in Bihar and Maharashtra. For example, Manoshi Mitra (1984) and Indra Munshi Saldanha (1986) have analysed women’s militant role in tribal movements when women confronted authorities, wielding traditional weapons and maintaining lines of supplies to the rebels in their hidden places.

Sunil Sen (1984), Peter Custers (1987), etc., have analysed their role in peasants’ movements in Telengana, West Bengal and Maharashtra. Meera Velayudhan (1984) has analysed their role in communist-led move­ment of coir workers in Kerala. Sen has pointed out women’s participation in struggles launched by trade unions in iron ore mines in Madhya Pradesh.

It may be said that women’s participation in movements has been in four major forms:

(i) For social, economic and political rights of specific categories of people like tribals, peasants and industrial workers,

(ii) For improvement in conditions of work and autonomy to women,

(iii) For equal remuneration for work,

(iv) In general social movements on issues affecting men and children like abortions, adoption of children, sexual ex­ploitation, etc.

The liberal egalitarian ideology under the British Raj created condi­tions for a social awakening among Indian women. Several women’s associations came into existence both at regional and national levels. Banga Mahila Samaj and the Ladies Theosophical Society functioned at lo­cal levels to promote modern ideals for women.

The important national organisations were:

Bharat Mahila Parishad (1904),

Bharat Stri Mahamandal (1909),

Women’s Indian Association (1917),

National Council of Women in India (1925) and

All India Women’s Conference (1927) and

Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust.

These organisations took up issues like women’s education, abolition of evil social customs (purdah, child marriage) equality of rights and opportunities and women’s suffer- age. Some women leaders with the support of the Congress party, demanded right of franchise and representation in legislatures.

It could be said that Indian women’s movements worked for two goals: one, liberation or uplift of women, i.e., reforming social practices so as to enable women to play a more important and constructive role in society; and two, equal rights for men and women, i.e., extension of civil rights en­joyed by men in the political, economic and familial spheres to women also.

Jana Everett (1979) calls the former as ‘corporate feminism’ and the latter as ‘liberal feminism’. The strategies used by women’s bodies were: making demands by organising public meetings, presenting views to government officials, forming committees to investigate conditions and holding conferences to mobilise women.

The factors that provided the required incentive to women’s movements were: effect of western education on the male domination on women and on the concept of complementary sex roles, leadership provided by educated elite women, interest of male social reformers in changing social practices sanctioned by religion, changing socio-religious attitudes and philosophies, and decreasing social hostility and opposition of males to women’s associations engaged in self-help activities, and benevolent attitude of political national leaders towards fledgling women’s movements and their enthusiastic support to women campaigns.

The declaring of 1975-85 decade as the International Women’s decade also gave impetus to women’s movements for removing the notion of inferiority of women and giving them a sense of identity. The Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB) established by the Government of India in 1953, also promotes and strengthens voluntary efforts for the welfare of women. The Ministry of Welfare, Government of India, too gives grants to voluntary organisations for activities like construction/expansion of hostels for working women in cities.

We may now conclude our discussion on social movements by stat­ing that social movements in India mainly focused either (a) on achieving system stability by arresting the onslaught of rapid social change and reinforcing the existing values and norms and (b) attempting system change through the destruction and replacement of the old and induction of new structures.

It can be averred that social movements were either change-re­sisting or change-promoting, i.e., those which aimed at the participants’ deprivation and concerned with their welfare and uplift. We concentrated on those reform movements which pursued their goals through institu­tionalised means, without unleashing violence and were initiated by some ideological groups through mobilisation process.

The analysis of six types of movements suggests that movements are generally initiated and spread by charismatic leaders or by political parties and religious organisations. In the former case, the ideologies are transmitted downwards while in the latter case, these are transmitted upwards. Once any movement based on certain ideology changes, it is not necessary that it will spread in course of time, it can gain in strength and it can also lose its vitality either because it is considered irrelevant or because it is suppressed by the government.

Women self help group: Self Help Group foundation is sincere effort to enable the poor women to participate in the process of development. Therefore, the role played by Self Help Groups in the field of empowering women particularly in the rural areas is being recognized. It offers not only economic prospects but also a change to learn new skills, make broader social contacts and experience. It creates an environment through positive economic and social policies for full development of women to enable them to realize their full potential. Therefore, the concept of Self Help Group certainly plays vital role in women development. Since the overall empowerment of women is crucially dependent on economic empowerment, these SHGs could generate income and employment to build their empowerment.

Nilakantha Mahila Kosha is the main figure of a women self-help group from Puran Panchayat of Balianta Block. It was created, with the help of a local NGO, after the Super Cyclone, in 1999. This eighteen member group, besides undertaking micro credit enterprise, shares all their problems and try to resolve it collectively. During the critical floods from 2001, the group faced one more challenge. It fortunately could be solved with techniques and information they acquired in the trainings promoted by the Disaster Campaign and Preparedness Programme. It was last year, when one of the villagers got drunk. He did not take proper care and went near the river to see the floodwater. Suddenly, he swayed and fell into the river and began to drown. The self-help group was informed in time and, with the help of the local youths, could save him. Nilakantha Mahila Kosha came to his rescue. The self-help group gave from their savings a financial assistance to the family. The group, after this experience, called a meeting with all the male members of the village to try to close all the liquor shops of the village. Also, the local police and the Panchayat the village level politician helped them in this mission. In addition, the villagers came forward to prepare a contingency plan for the natural disaster faced by them and this women self-help group took the lead in doing so. They organized male groups and started rehabilitation works of the community by repairing roads, monitored relief distribution and management of village affairs.

The Self Help Group system has proven to be very pertinent and effective in offering women the possibility to break gradually away from exploitation and isolation. In India, the creator in this field is Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). Without the Grameen Model, SEWA was started in 1972.

The All India Women’s Conference (AIWC):

AIWC was huge women organization. It was established in 1927 to function as an organization dedicated to the upliftment and betterment of women and children”. The organization continues its task and has since expanded into various social and economic issues concerning women. In the 80th year of service to the nation, over 1,56,000 members in more than 500 branches of AWIC across the country carry on the work zealously with selfless dedication. AIWC is popular in the world over as a best organization working for women’s development and empowerment.

AIWC Was registered in 1930 under Societies Registration Act, XXI of 1860. (No. 558 of 1930) The main objectives of the organization are:

– To work for a society based on the principle of social justice, personal integrity and equal rights and opportunities for all.

– To secure recognition of the inherent right of every human being to work and to achieve the essentials of life, which should not be determined by accident of birth or sex but by planned social distribution.

– To support the claim of every citizen to the right to enjoy basic civil liberties.

– To stand against all separatist tendencies and to promote greater national integration and unity.

– To work actively for the general progress and welfare of women and children and to help women utilize to the fullest, the Fundamental Right conferred on them by the Constitution of India.

– To work for permanent international amity and world peace.

At and international level, AIWC has:

  1. Consultative status with the United Nations (ECOSOC)
  2. Membership of UNICEF Executive committee for 10 years
  3. Membership of CONGO. Elected as Vice-President of CONGO for two terms
  4. A national Focal Point for International Networking for Sustainable Energy (INforSE)
  5. Membership of the World Renewable Energy Network (WREN)
  6. Membership of ENERGIA International Network on Gender and Energy
  7. Global Village Energy Partnership
  8. Membership of World Water Partnership
  9. Affiliated member of the International Alliance for Women (IAW)
  10. Affiliated to the Pan Pacific South-East Asian Women’s Association (PPSEAWA)
  11. Affiliated to NIMROO Education Centre, Japan

Kali For Women: Zubaan:

Kali for Women was significant start-up feminist publisher in India. In 1984, Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon created Kali for Women, India’s first feminist publishing house. Major objectives of this movement were to publish quality work, keep overheads low, and ensure that not only the content, but also the form of what they published met international standards. Within five years of its establishment, Kali had become self-sufficient. Over the years, Kali has emerged as one of the most significant publishing houses within Indian and internationally. Its name stands for quality, editorial attention, excellence of content, and, most importantly, for providing base for women’s voices to be heard. Kali’s goal is to increase the body of knowledge on women in the Third World, to give voice to such knowledge as already exists and to provide a forum for women writers. Apart from publishing English translations of significant fictional writings by women from various Indian languages, Kali also deals with issues of representation of women in the media, their social roles under right wing Hinduism and Islam, as a workforce in agriculture, and as victims and saviours of environmental degradation.

The Centre for Women’s Development Studies:

The Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS) was established on 19th April 1980, in the middle of the International Women’s Decade, by a group of men and women, who were involved in the preparation of the first ever comprehensive government report on the ‘Status of Women in India’ entitled ‘Towards Equality’ and who were later associated with the Women’s Studies Programme of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR). The Advisory Committee on Women’s Studies of the ICSSR suggested the need for an autonomous institute to build on the knowledge already generated, but with a wider mandate and resources to expand its activities in research and action. The recommendation was accepted by the ICSSR, and communicated to the Women’s Bureau of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Government of India. After few months, under the leadership of late Prof. J.P. Naik, the CWDS was registered under the Societies’ Registration Act, 1860 in New Delhi and started functioning since May 1980, with a small financial grant from the Vikram Sarabhai Foundation, under the Chairpersonship of Dr. Phulrenu Guha and Dr. Vina Mazumdar as the Director.

These organizations took up issues such as women’s education, abolition of evil social customs (purdah, child marriage) equality of rights and opportunities and women’s suffrage. Some women leaders with the support of the Congress party, demanded right of franchise and representation in legislatures.

It can be believed that Indian women’s movements are operated for some major objectives namely, liberation or uplift of women, i.e., reforming social practices so as to enable women to play a more important and constructive role in society; and equal rights for men and women, i.e., extension of civil rights enjoyed by men in the political, economic and familial spheres to women also.

Globalizing Women’s Movements:

With the process of globalization of the economy and massive growth of international trade associations and governmental organizations, women have found it increasingly useful to organize across national boundaries. The United Nations has vital role in making women’s movements international and in defining women’s rights as human rights. Women have used the opportunities provided by the four U.N. World Conferences on Women (in 1975, 1980, 1985, and 1995), the official ones and the alternative NGO forums, as arenas in which they could set goals, plan, network, and inspire one another to continue their work (West 1999). They have seized upon the various U.N. accords, especially CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), as bases for demanding national changes.

Women have established regional networks, such as Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) to implement U.N. policies and other regional human rights charters, including the African Charter for Human and People’s Rights. In these efforts the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, directed by Charlotte Bunch, acted as a coordination centre for international women’s human rights campaigns. These have focused on sex trafficking, issues of health and reproductive rights, female circumcision and female genital mutilation, and violence against women. Regional meetings, such as the biannual Encuentros held in various Latin American cities to define the issues of Latin American women’s movements, have been a source of inspiration and strength for many feminist leaders (Sternbach et al. 1992).

In 1984, meeting in India of women from different regions of the South led to the formation of Development Alternatives for Women for a New Era (DAWN) to focus on sustainable development to address the worsening of women’s living standards as they relate to international lending policies (Stienstra 2000). The first WAAD Conference, held in Nigeria in 1992, brought together Women in Africa, and the African Movement. Conference coordinator Obioma Nnaemeka (1998) affirmed, “Our faith in possibilities will clear our vision, deepen mutual respect, and give us hope as we follow each other walking side-by-side.” Such efforts to the success of grass-roots women’s movements, is harder to sustain in more distant and bureaucratic international women’s movement organizations; but it is vital.

To summarize, Women’s movements are planned efforts made by women’s associations to bring about impartiality and freedom for women. The status of women has been the main concern of many reform movements before and after independence. It is well known that The Indian society is innumerable society with caste, religion, ethnicity and gender as some of the important dimensions influencing politics and the development of the society. It is argued by many scholars that gender has been a key issue in the history of the nation since the beginning of British colonial rule over India. Gender, and the term “women” has been used to both front and confront issues of equality in the society. The colonial rulers used gender, and they considered as vicious and barbaric patriarchal practices towards women, as a justification for the rule forced on India. The gender issue has been the basis of women’s movements in India mobilizing against violence and discrimination, and for improved living conditions and their human rights, amongst other Leaders of the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj were concerned with issues like sati, remarriage, divorce, female education, purdah system, polygamy, and dowry. Some researchers have scrutinized the role of women in political independence movements at micro level. After independence, an energetic although uneven women’s movement has taken shape in India. Women from diverse castes, classes and communities have participated in the movement along with activists drawn from a variety of political trends, parties and groups belonging to various philosophies making the movement highly heterogeneous. It is reviewed that Women’s movement in India especially after post-Independence formed a new type of challenging movement of social problems and struggle for the social equality.


  • The participation of women in National Movement legitimised the Indian National Congress. The British understood that the method of Satyagraha had a special appeal for women.
  • The participation of women in the freedom movement also influenced the movement for Women’s rights. It legitimised their claim to a place in the governance of India.
  • However, there were regional differences in the number of women who joined the national movement and synthesized women’s interest with nationalist issues.
  • The best organised, the most independent and fielded the largest demonstrations were Bombay women. They articulated a clearly feminist nationalism.
  • Bengal women were known for their militancy. Marching alongside men in the Congress parade and later joining revolutionary activities, they were subjects of folksongs and legends. These women espoused a feminist ideology but put aside in favour of a larger struggle.
  • However, in Madras fewer women joined the movement. In North India, Nehru and Zutshi families provided strong women leaders.. They put nationalist agenda first and believed that it was not possible to raise women’s consciousness about both politics and women’s rights at the same time.
  • The revolutionary women presented a different aspect in Indian National movement. They described themselves as sacrificing all the things a women wants like marriage, children etc. No one including the revolutionary women considered revolutionaries as representatives of Indian womanhood.
  • Rural women unless they were widows protested with their families.
  • From Swadeshi movement onwards women’s role in National movement can be seen conspicuously. Under Gandhian leadership their role become more conspicuous in non-cooperation movement, civil disobedience movement and Quit India movement.
  • From Non Cooperation movement they got associated with specific programme that as dharna on liquor shop. Sarojini naidu, Urmila devi etc. played an important role during non-cooperation movement.
  • From 1920’s onwards, the male leaders in the movement cemented a relationship with peasants, workers and women’s association with the intention of gaining mass support from the people.
  • During 1933 all revolutionary women like Urmila devi, Santhi Das and Protibha devi (Nari sayagraha samiti) etc. were all in jail.
  • During Quit India movement they got involved in underground movement. Example Aruna asaf ali and Usha Mehta (she started congress radio)




  • Only women from upper and middle class Hindu women participated and their participation was never large.
  • Only few Muslim women followed Gandhi. Rest found it difficult to accept Hindu ideas or were ignore by congress leaders.



  • Women’s education
  • Child Marriage
  • Devadasi system
  • Purdah
  • Dowry
  • Polyandry
  • Polygamy
  • Female infanticide



  • An Irish – Margaret Couisins was the first to raise issue of women’s suffrage. She send a memorandum to Viceroy through a delegation under Anie Besant in 1917.
  • Sarojni Naidu raised this issue at special session of Indian national Congress at Bombay (August 1918)
  • Act of 1919 did not recognise women suffrage but a provision in this act added women to the list of registered voters in provincial legislative councils.
  • BOMBAY AND MADRAS were the first to extend franchise to women in 1921
  • MUTHULAKSHMI REDDY was the first women legislator appointed to MADRAS legislative council in 1927.
  • Sarojini Naidu represented Indian women organisation in SECOND ROUND TABLE CONFERENCE IN 1931




  • Bharat Stri Mahamandal —1910—Allahabad —-founded by Sarladevi
  • Lady Hardinge Medical College —1916
  • National Council Of Indian Women —1925—By Mehribai Tata
  • All India Women’s Conference –at poona—1926-27—-By Margaret Couisins
  • Women’s Indian Association –1915 –by Dorothy Jina Rja Dasa—-Anie Besant was its first President
  • Desh Sevika Sangh —1930— a women wing of RSS






  • Ten women took part in INC session in1889
  • Kadambini Ganguly —–First Indian Women Graduate. She was a medical student who failed in her final exam but was given diploma of graduation in Medicine by the Principal to continue private practice. Other graduate of this college was Chandramukhi.
  • Annie Besant—launched home rule, became president of INC in 1917.
  • Gandhiji played an important role in integrating women in National movement
  1. He used sacred legends from Ramayana like branded British as Ravan who abducted Sita
  2. He made an appeal that rule of Rama would be founded when women like Sita joined nationalistic movement.



  • Rashtriya stree Sangh –founded by Sarjoni Naidu with goal of swaraj
  • Indian National Congress set a women’s department in 1940 —Sucheta Mazumdar Kriplani was chosen to organise this department
  • Women also played role in INA movement-Dr. Lakshmi Swaminathan was Head of Department of Women’s Affairs under provisional INA government . She took charge of Rani of Jhansi regiment.




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