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Empowerment of women have been always been an issue around the world. Inequalities and discrimination faced by women because of age-old traditions are still prevalent. Agencies of the United Nations have emphasized about the gender issue in their reports and have been given the utmost priority. It has been held that women now cannot be asked to wait for any more of equality.
With number of women rights activists demanding gender equality, it is seen that the rights of women have been curbed over the centuries and are now in a quest to be seen as equals, a right demanded by the women for what has been in existence for men.
Women empowerment, in the simplest of words is basically the creation of an environment where women can make independent decisions without having any restrictions on their personal development and accepted as equals in society.
Recently, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures showed that women in the state of Nagaland are safest in the country with only 67 cases of crimes against women. Although it is true that Nagas take the safety of women seriously as they highly respect the women and provide the security they need, one must wonder that if such is the case then they must have no issue with the empowerment of women. Surely, they must treat the women as equals and with no gender bias. But then, it is actually quite the opposite.
The fact that Nagaland has no women electorate says a lot. So where does the empowerment issue for Naga women stand in Nagaland?
Being a patriarchal society, age-old customary laws and culture have hindered the empowerment of women in the Naga society. Women do not enjoy equal social and political status as compared to men. Generally, women are not allowed in the traditional village councils, they are not recognized or accepted in the inheritance rights, early forced marriages or employment and the likes. Although 1,110 villages in Nagaland have implemented 1/4th reservation of seats for women in the village development boards, most of it are only in papers as the mindset of women being inferior is still prevalent and taking up the accountability for its implementation is far-fetched.
Being suppressed under such laws, the women's position and power in the society have been imbibed in them for years that even if times have changed, most of them are still chained to those laws. For some of those standing up for their rights, several movements have been launched in Nagaland to defend women's rights, but the customary laws and practices have only been used as an excuse by men to exclude them and violate their rights. It is sad that even after years of discrimination, women's position have not been changed a bit.
Amenla Pongen, a student of St. Edmunds, Shillong says, "Equality of women means nothing if a woman is still discriminated. We have come a long way and this is not the age where women are looked down and still violated of their rights. This is the time and age when a man looks at a woman as his own equal and not somebody who only does his cooking, washing and taking care of the kids and house."
Nagaland has no woman MLA since Independence and it comes as a surprise and shock for people of other states who often ask if Naga women are only interested in being a housewife and just depend and enjoy on the husband's income rather than be a fly-high woman. Women as much as men are interested in politics, but the strong patriarchy mindset dictates the lives of most Naga women and thus infringing them of participating in anything that is of a 'man's' job.