Fashion Industry and Women empowerment scenario in India

Apart from being host to numerous stunning runway shows every season, the realm of fashion has surfaced as something more powerful. Not only is it a display of talent in the industry, it also contributes to worthy causes by giving back to society.

Fashion Industry and Women empowerment scenario in India

“Fashion is an extremely powerful form of art; it shows the world who we are and who we’d like to be. With the kind of impact that the fashion industry has globally, it unites diverse cultures, ethnicities and nations. That influences millions and promotes acceptance of our individual identities and choices, empowering us to express our preferences and beliefs. It has the capacity to affect the society as a whole and is therefore an integral platform to promote social change,” says designer Anita Dongre who has frequently worked towards generating employment opportunities for local artisans and craftsman and given them means for a sustainable livelihood. The textile and clothing industry has generated so much employment that it is the second largest employer in the developing world today. This has resulted in the re-emergence of the significance of handlooms and intricate handcrafted embroideries. The local craftsmanship and traditional textiles is, in fact, where the Indian fashion story marries the cause of social good. “The Indian fashion industry has constantly traced itself back to where it originated. After Independence, we had designers working with the local craftsmen in the textile industry. Fashion in India is predominantly indigenous and organic. The social good aspect of fashion is particularly relevant here because local fashion is purely dependent on art and crafts. In fact, the Indian fashion industry today supports over 50 million textile craftsmen unlike any of the European countries. And I think generating more employment is the best way to fulfil social responsibilities,” asserts designer Ritu Kumar who has championed the cause of reviving traditional Indian crafts through her designs.

Promoting traditional weaves

Various Indian designers inclusive of the likes of Dongre have been longstanding believers in the promotion of traditional weaves and crafts. However, the designer has also taken further social initiatives towards supporting the girl child and women’s empowerment. “Fashion is a language that everyone can understand, it connects people internationally because fashion travels rapidly from one city to another. At present, we are working with the Mijwan Welfare Society and SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) to generate employment for women in these NGOs. Their embroidery and thread work is used for my signature label,” says Dongre. But she is not the only one. UK-based Ayesha Mustafa, founder and director of the sustainable fashion portal Fashion ComPassion, has constantly been working towards providing a platform for socially responsible brands empowering women artisans from war-torn and developing countries.

Powerful tool of women empowerment

“Fashion is such a huge part of our economy and involves more people than we think it does — from producers to designers to retailers and even consumers. That being said, it is a very powerful tool to empower women. There are so many small labels working towards this cause in various developing nations but have no sort of global recognition. Providing that kind of platform is what I have primarily tried to achieve through Fashion ComPassion,” says Mustafa. The retailer is also currently working with a few Indian brands and is quite overwhelmed with the traditional crafts that the country has to offer but surprisingly, expresses disappointment when it comes to the cause of local craftsmen.

“I think India is so rich when it comes to arts and crafts. But the cause of local artisans or the karigarsis not well-promoted. Designers are creating jobs for them but how well-paid are they? And karigarsare the foundation of numerous Indian fashion labels. While generating employment for them is a great initiative, a fair pay and providing health and child care benefits to them is of equal importance,” suggests Mustafa. While it can be well acknowledged that fashion can be a catalyst to greater good, bringing about real change is something that needs to be collectively worked towards.

On the other hand 3 most prominent researchers Anjali Agarwal, Kshitij Jain and Tushar Walwadikar show the another picture of Gender Equality and Women Empowerment.

1. Gender Disparity - Media Exposure

Not only are fewer women than men literate but fewer are also regularly exposed to media 
Media exposure leads increases awareness and generates curiosity
Percentage of men and women age 15-19 regularly exposed to print media, TV, radio, or cinema
Men 88%
Women 71% 
Gender Disparity 19%

2. Employment

Among the population age 15-49 
Men are 2 times as likely to be employed 
Men are 2.7 times as likely to be employed for cash
Among the employed,
64% of women vs. 91% of men earn cash
Female share of population employed for cash in non-agricultural occupations is 22%

3. Occupation Disparity

59% women are occupied in agriculture as opposed to 33% men

4. Financial Empowerment
  • NFHS-3 asked married employed women and men who controlled their own earnings and who controlled the spouse’s earnings 
  • Does employment empower women financially?
  • 20% of employed married women said they earned at least as much as their husband
  • 24% of men with an employed wife said that their wife earned at least as much as them

5. Control over Women’s Earnings
  • Women’s report about their own earnings
  • Men’s report about their wife’s earnings
  • Mainly husband
  • Husband & wife jointly
  • Mainly wife

6. Reluctance to Participate in Spending

7. Access to any other financial resources

Household Decision Making, 63% of the women are not empowered to run their own households.

8. Limited Freedom of Movement
Gender norms that promote men’s control over women

Survey results

The majority of women have little freedom of movement. Only one-third go alone to all three destinations: the market, health facility and outside the village or community.

i. Wife beating

A husband’s right to have sex with his wife irrespective of his wife’s wishes
“I feel wife beating is justified”
54% of the women feel that wife beating is justified!
20% of the men feel that they have the right to reprimand their wives.

ii. Measure for Women Empowerment
  • Stopping Female Foeticide– Rampant in Metros
  • Stop by penalizing the Medical clinics and Couples -
  • Under Indian Penal code equivalent to Murder
  • Regulatory bodies to ensure private and government clinics adhere to the rules and restrictions
iii. Improving Female Literacy
  • Increase Literacy among women 
  • Will increase the awareness towards their benefits & rights
  • Increase Literacy through special campaign for promoting Girl child and women education
  • A scheme in Uttar Pradesh gives a prize amount to parents for every girl who complete higher secondary education

iv. Effective Political Participation
  • Effective political participation –
  • increasing political awareness and participation in active politics
  • Constitutional amendments to ensure participation in municipalities and panchayats
  • Political parties should promote women

v. Self Help Groups & Microfinance
  • Self Help Groups - A vital organ
  • Banks and NGO can give also loans at very nominal interest rate
  • It will empower women at macro level
  • Microfinance and Microcredit's will lead to a healthier, happier and prosperous India
  • Promoting about 20-25 women to form Self Help Group and start a business.
vi. Free Industrial & Vocational Training
  • Free Industrial and Vocational Training to make women employable.
  • Exclusive ITIs for women.
  • Short term training sessions should be organized by the government to develop work related skills.
vii. Dilution of strict pro-women laws

The Logic is more the tougher law is ,more difficult to implement, lesser the conviction rate
Highly impracticable law of women harassment in workforce areas which may deter the companies to employ women in order to avoid lawsuits. Therefore the dilution is necessary in order to avoid misuse.

viii. Tax Benefits

As Government is already giving tax benefits to women employees. Government should give tax benefits to service sector which employ large amount of women employees, Sector Specific Tax benefits

ix. Regulation of film and fashion industry
  • Regulation of film and fashion industry which are promoting women as products
  • Cosmetic and beauty industry to be kept under check
  • Consumerism– Detrimental to women at times
x. Decriminalizing Prostitution and stopping sexual abuse
  • Curb exploitation of sex workers by police & media
  • Incorporate living rights and subsistence for sex workers and legalize the business to ensure non-exploitation
10. Additional Role of Government
  • Government should formulate the policy which should motivate women entrepreneurs, women self help groups, women bureaucrats.
  • Increase the number of women officers in armed forces and in police. It will help in breaking the social taboo.

Final thoughts : 

Change the attitude that men are superior to women, Respect women as you would respect your parents, Compete with women, don’t exploit! Women /girls are in fashion industry are not character less, they also have the right to live normal lives.

Reference : 
1. The Hindu News paper (24 August-2014)
2. Women Empowerment by Anjali Agarwal , Kshitij Jain ,Tushar Walwadikar
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About Neha Nair

Despite being raised Hindu where parents enrolled in a Catholic school and proceeded to enroll in university to study medicine but become model cum entrepreneur.
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