I don’t think there is a standard definition of women’s empowerment. I have heard the term used in the context of issues like gender equality, economic independence, education of a girl child, but "empowerment" is expressed as a final state rather than a journey.
Are girls and women really empowered? The whole idea of being an empowered woman implies that you are in control of your life, you do what you want to do, you are not bound by any kind of limitations. You are free to do what a man does, be it earning a livelihood for your family or wearing clothes of your choice.
Despite these notional freedoms, even in the 21st century, there are women who feel they are incapable and remain shackled by society's traditional expectations. They choose to deny themselves the things they wish for. They don't have the strength to fight against the emotional, mental or physical abuse they're dealing with in their everyday lives. Simultaneously, there are many women who embrace the opportunities they have, who feel empowered and who want control of their lives.
The question is, how do you get there? Who empowers a woman?
While I’m out on the streets clicking photographs, I have met women who often hold themselves back from today’s world with self-imposed barriers. Many women today feel they have lost themselves. Maybe they gave too much in a relationship that didn’t work out. Maybe they’ve put too much time into work and not enough time into themselves. Maybe they feel overcome by the challenges of motherhood.
These interactions have made me reflect on myself and my journey. I am 23 and an only child. The idea that we need help to grow or that we can’t make it on our own has never resonated with me. After I lost my mother at the age of 5, I found myself alone and vulnerable in a world full of people. My father was the only person I had but, to my surprise, his love towards me drained away slowly because of reasons unexplained.
I never had the backing of my father when I needed it most, nor did I have any mental or emotional support that a teenager needs – "family" remained just a faraway notion. My father was the world to me but it took time to digest that I was just like any other child for him. Apart from a few people who have stood by me, I’ve had no constant presence to guide me. My heart always ached when I saw other children live happily with their families. My childhood is something I don't want to remember. Later in life, I had no financial support when I wanted to pursue higher studies or when I wanted to buy a camera to follow my passion for photography.
Yet, here I am today, with a camera, working in iProbono as an Advocacy and Visual Assets Officer. And I know that even if I fail, it won’t be the end of the world.
So I know that the 'power' is within each of us. An empowered woman knows who she is and we can only break through these barriers by helping ourselves. There is nothing and no one in this world that can make a woman feel incapable or disempowered.
We don't need anyone to "empower" us. We just need the space, and then the belief that we can find our way.
The article was written by Richa Oberoi, iProbono’s Advocacy and Visual Assets Officer.