Karol Bagh | GS Foundation Course | 28 March, 8 AM Call Us
This just in:

State PCS

Be Mains Ready

  • 01 Jul 2019 GS Paper 1 Indian Society

    Trace the changes in the women’s movement in India from 19th-century reforms to the present times. (250 words)



    • Briefly explain how the women’s movement started in India.
    • List the important issues covered by the women’s movements in India.
    • State the changes in women’s issues in different centuries.
    • Explain contemporary women’s issues.
    • Conclude by summarising the impact of these movements.
    • Give a way forward about the issues that need to be raised in future.


    • Women’s movements in India have their genesis in deeply rooted backward traditions like sati, child marriage, or the ill-treatment of widows in the 19th century to issues of rape, dowry, domestic violence, unequal pay at work, sexual harassment at work, an unequal division of labour and low representation of women in politics in the more recent times. 
    • The women’s question arose in modern India as part of the early 19th-century middle-class social reform movements. These issues varied across region, religion and class. The issues are constantly evolving and are embedded with the learnings from the issues raised in past. Issues like education and equal voting rights demanded in this movement became the tool for the next generation of women’s movements.
    • From education and awareness emerged the issues of skewed power structures in institutions like law, marriage and workplace. Changes in society due to technological advancement and globalisation have exposed different areas of patriarchy which are being considered by the ongoing women’s movements like pinjra tod and #Me Too.


    Early movements

    Early movements were largely led by men with little say from the women. Some of the issues raised in these movements were:

    • Discrimination based on traditional practices in society on the grounds of humanitarian and natural rights.
      • For eg- the practice of Sati, deplorable treatment of widows raised by reformers like Raja Rammohun Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
    • Demand for education, however within the precincts of home and the curriculum included instruction in religious principles, training in the arts of housekeeping and handicrafts and rearing of children.
      • For eg- Reformers like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Dayanand Saraswati sought for women’s education.
    • Participation of women in the national movement also brought forward issues of equal voting rights, the right to hold public offices etc. The issues were inspired from the ideals of the national movement itself.
      • Eg- In 1931, the Karachi Session of the Indian National Congress issued a declaration on the Fundamental Rights of Citizenship in India whereby it committed itself to women’s equality.
      • Also, the issues of equality, non-discrimination based on sex, employment found their ways in the Constitution of India.

    20th-century Women’s Movements

    Starting from 1970s, these movements were mostly led by middle-class and educated women. The movements largely revolved around the issues of women's control over their own bodies, equal spaces in the social institutions like marriage and family and an acknowledgement for the dignity of their identity. Apart from this, movements like Chipko movement, led by women encompassed wider issues like environmental concerns. 

    • Law became a major site of reform and legislative changes were demanded in-
      • Work opportunities - equal pay for equal work, curbing workplace harassment
      • Political participation - reservation of seats in all levels of governance
      • Health facilities - abortion rights, maternity leaves and creche facilities at the workplace
      • Distribution of resources - inheritance rights
      • Against social evils like dowry, female foeticide, domestic violence
    • Apart from autonomy on body, new sites of debate opened up, such as, the representation of women in popular media.

    Women’s Movements in the 21st century

    The contemporary women's movements have become more inclusive and have gone beyond the binary of man and woman. The movements have transformed into the site of demand for dignity by various gender identities and not just women. For example, the demand for rights by LGBT community.

    • Technological advancement and globalisation have brought new spaces of power struggle and the issues raised are-
      • Expansion in the definition of ‘rape’ and ‘violence’ in the legal context, and including marital rape in the context of rape.
      • Protection against cybercrime
      • Radical changes in the education system, social structures like marriage and parenthood; making them more gender sensitive.
        • Eg: the demand for recognising women as head of families, increase in paternity leaves, sexual autonomy, right to choose one’s life partner etc.
      • A change in the system of governance to include the equitable allocation of resources and planning based on the perspective of gender, eg- gender budgeting.


    Women’s movements in India have affected various segments of society. The major impacts of these movements are reflected in-

    • Various legislations and policies like- Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act, 2013, Maternity Benefit Act etc
    • Formation of institutions like the National Commission for Women.
    • Changes in social perception and gender roles.
      • Eg, the temple entry movement where issues of menstruation and associated idea of pollution have been questioned. Religious practices like Triple Talaq have been opposed. 

    The contemporary movements are not only led by the victims of subordination themselves but also target more on bringing the issues from the fringes to the fore. For eg- discrimination faced by Dalit and Adivasi women, the double burden of home and farmwork faced by rural women due to the feminisation of agriculture etc. 

    In future, the rapid changes in Indian society can give way to movements based on emerging issues like change in existing family structure which is based on male dominance, which can further bring changes in laws and social perception relating to, marriage, divorce, succession and guardianship. 

SMS Alerts
Share Page