Contemporary Women’s Movement in India

The history of women's movements in India is explained in this post, as well as the current challenges that feminists have mobilised to confront.


  1. Introduction
  2. Some key terms
  3. Defining women’s movement
    1.  Characteristics of feminist movements/women’s movements
    2.  Three different streams of feminist orientation
    3. Background of the movement
  4. Contemporary women’s movement in India 
    1. Contributions of CSWI 
  5. Themes of the Movements
  6. Towards Gender Interests
    1. Women and land rights
  7. Summary


From 1975 to the present, the modern women's movement in India played a significant role in defining feminist politics by bringing gender issues into the public eye of development planning. Through social reform movements, nationalism, and freedom struggles, the movement advanced. The efforts to change the lives of women in India were advanced through the creation of various women's organisations and groups, as well as through their agitations, campaigns, and networks.

Learning outcome

  • To understand the contemporary women’s movements in India that brought gender issues into the forefront. 
  • To critically track the contribution of such movements in the lives of women.

Some key terms


A movement is an organised group of supporters who are working toward a common political goal of change through concerted action.


Feminism can be seen as an ideology, an analytical framework, and a strategic framework. 
As an ideology, feminism today stands not only for gender equality, but for the transformation of all social relations of power that oppress, exploit, or marginalize any set of people, on the basis of their gender, age, sexual orientation, ability, race, religion, nationality, location, class, caste, or ethnicity. 
As an analytical framework, it has created a range of analytical tools and methods for unpacking the hidden and normalized power imbalances between men and women in various social institutions and structures 
As a social change strategy, feminism prioritizes the empowerment of women, the transformation of gender power relations, and the advancement of gender equality within all change interventions.

Defining women’s movement 

The study of women's movements, according to Lee Ann Banaszak, concentrates on many stages of a movement:
  1. The micro level explores individual activists and their interactions 
  2. The meso level examines groups and institutions, whether organized or spontaneous and their interactions and 
  3. The macro level looks at the eclectic mix of challengers as a coherent whole often to examine time trends or look comparatively across movements. The term feminist movement also uses for women’s movement.

Characteristics of feminist movements/women’s movements

  • Their agenda is built from a gendered analysis of the problem or situation they are confronting or seeking to change; 
  • Women form a critical mass of the movement’s membership or constituency; women are the subjects, not objects or targets, of the movement; 
  • They advocate feminist values and ideology. 
  • They have systematically built and centered women’s leadership in the movement. 
  • The movement’s political goals are gendered. 
  • They use gendered strategies and methods. Strategies that build on women’s own mobilizing and negotiating capacities, and involve women at every stage of the process; and 
  • They create more feminist organizations

Three different streams of feminist orientation

  • The liberal system focus on reforms in policy which is affecting women 
  • The leftist streams focusing on the oppression of women within holistic analysis of the general structure of oppression and acts for specific movements for social change for the revolutionary transformation of the society 
  • The radical feminists concentrate on defining the development of feminity and masculinity in society as fundamental polarity.

Background of the movement 

There are local and worldwide perspectives on the women's movement. When we analyse transnational movements, the international conferences conducted in Mexico City (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985), and Beijing (1985) were crucial in examining evolving relationships between women's organisations (1995). A two-tier structure of conferences is comprised of the United Nations conference and nongovernmental conferences held by women's organisations. Two broad phases of international feminism can be identified. The first phase, which lasted from 1975 to 1985, concentrated on the definition of feminism and the connection between the local and the global. The second phase, which began with conferences in Nairobi in 1985 and Beijing in 1995, was centred on the expansion of networks connecting women's movement at the local and international levels.

The movement, so to speak, addressed various challenges in various nations. When we examine the south, it focused on local issues like access to clean drinking water, cooking over an open fire, or job prospects, whereas the north interfered on a global scale like women's wide transnational identities and interests. Women's movements emerge in the third world alongside national movements or opposition to tyranny.

Contemporary women’s movement in India

The nationalist movement of the early to mid-20th century, the civil liberties movements of the 1970s, and the fights at the grassroots level are what gave rise to the Indian movement. The social reform movements pushed for raising the age of consent for marriage for girls, outlawing sati, allowing widows to remarry, educating women, and initiating nationalist movements to give a first chance for organising women for a cause. The UN year of women's declaration in 1975, followed by the publication of the status of women's committee report, which provided numerous indicators of the situation of women in India, served as the catalyst for the current activities. It exposed the truth about how hardship, illiteracy, illness, and discrimination affect women's life, which sparked protests and movements to address the issue.

The women's movement was an attempt by the public to take an equal role in the political and development processes. The report of the Committee on Status of Women in India (CSWI) contributed to the discussion of these issues and draws attention to the great variety of gender roles that are culturally mandated in India's multiethnic culture. The committee brought out issues with "development" or "modernization" models that not only downplayed actual inequalities based on caste, class, and ethnic heritage, but also exaggerated the impact of social attitudes, religion, and culture on gender norms. It also raised concerns about the "invisibility of women" in fields where they play a significant role. Concerns about real-world concerns and the goals of the majority of women were highlighted by the CSWI. The CSWI stated that the issue of the sex ratio's continued reduction, the widening gender gap in life expectancy, mortality, and economic involvement, or the rising migration rate, which demonstrated the state's failure to implement policies that truly promoted national development.

Contributions of CSWI

In this scenario the contribution of CSWI was remarkable
  • it helped to note the clear linkages between existing and growing socio-economic disparities and women’s status in education, the economy, society and the polity 
  • Helped to demand equality 
  • Formed a starting point for women’s studies
The Progressive Organization of Women (POW), which was founded in Hyderabad and included women from Maoist movements, as well as Purogami Stree Sanghatana (PSS) in Pune and Stree Mukti Sanghatana in Maharashtra, are examples of these "new" women's organisations. The Maharashtra state took the lead in the women's movements by 1975. Background: From 1971 to 1973, rural women actively participated in the anti-famine movement. This was followed by socialist and communist women leading the anti-price struggle among metropolitan women. Tribal and dalit movements as well as various women's organisations developed. The National Council of Women in India (NCWI), the All India Women's Conferences, and the Women's India Association were established as three significant all-Indian women's organisations in 1927. (AIWC). After 1977, the women's movement erupted onto the Indian political stage with the imposition of the state of emergency by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The colonial era and the fight for independence in India marked the beginning of the women's movement.

We can identify the women's movement in modern India by looking at statistics like
  1. the crisis of state and government in the 70s going to the emergency 
  2. the post- emergency upsurge in favour of civil rights 
  3. the growing of women’s organizations in the early 1980s and the arrival of women’s issues on the agenda 
  4. the mid-1980s marked by a fundamentalist advance and the 1990s when the crisis has deepened with regard to state, government and society
In India, the women's movement concentrated on issues such as land rights, management of natural resources, management of gender interests, fundamentalism, economic development, and violence. The movements arose in response to the view that attempted to destroy women's rights to equality, freedom, and individual dignity by viewing them as consumers or reproductive beings rather than producers. Cities with hegemonic fields and homogeneous political cultures, such as Calcutta, and those with heterogeneous political cultures and dispersed distributions of power, such as Bombay, witnessed a variety of women's groups and organisations. In Maharashtra, in particular, struggles against land alienation and agitation for famine relief and starvation were witnessed in 1972–1973. These movements were organised by the tribal group Shramik Sanghatana. It should be noted that in 1988, the Regulations for the Use of Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act was first introduced in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Additionally, the first state to establish a State Commission for Women and develop a State Policy for Women was Maharashtra. The women's movement underwent a significant metamorphosis in the 1980s, and organisations that had previously concentrated on just one or two topics began to address a variety of issues. The main women's movements can be examined from many thrust areas for a better understanding.

Themes of the Movements 

  1. Violence: The modern women's movement concentrated on the problem of violence in the early 1970s. The fundamental social structures of the family, the community, and the definition of gender roles were all under threat from violence. The main movement took place in response to political violence, dowry, sex selection, population control, and rape.
  2.  Rape: The Mathura case sparked a national movement that questioned the judiciary's and public officials' accountability for upholding constitutional protections. The Evidence Act, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Indian Penal Code, and the Amendment of Civil Rights Act all underwent substantial amendments as a result of this case. The movement was there to call for new legislation to stop the trend of child rape and to protest against it.
  3. Against dowry: The headline "The horrors against women" and the catchphrase "Brides are not for burning" garnered attention on a national and worldwide scale. This protest sparked the movement against "Domestic Violence," which helped to alter Section 498 A of the Criminal Code to cover both mental and physical cruelty. Attention was drawn to the contributions made by the Dahej Virodhi Chetna Manch (DVCM) and other organisations' efforts. It strengthened Parliament's decision to evaluate the operation of the Dowry Prohibition Act, which included the representation of top national women's organisations.
  4. Sex selection: In response to the practises of sex selection and female feticide, a meeting was held in New Delhi in July 1982, and it took a three-point stance, which included (a) requesting that the government limit the use of amniocentesis to only teaching and research purposes; (b) requesting that the Indian Medical Council take severe action against any members engaging in unethical practises; and (c) urging women's organisations to be vigilant against the The Forum Against Sex Determination and Sex-Pre Selection (FASDSP) was established in Bombay in 1985 as a result of numerous initiatives. Private legislation submitted in the State Assembly was adopted by the Maharashtra Government in 1988 and compelled the Central Government to adopt the legislation in July 1994. 4.5 Population policy: It was opposed to the introduction of many contraceptives that had long-term negative consequences on women's health and to the targeting of women for population control.
  5. Religious and fundamentalist movements: The unrest began in early 1983 when Sikh women demanded equal rights to their father's property under the 1956 Hindu Succession Act. The Muslim Women's (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act of 1986, a secular law applicable to all communities, protected the rights of divorced Muslim women to file for maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code. There are groups with strong religious roots, such as the Hindu Mahila Sammelan and Durga Vahini. 4.6 Emphasizing women's economic issues The initiatives were started to draw attention to the marginalisation of low-wage workers. In response, the Indian Council of Social Sciences Research's women's studies programme began doing research. The Indian Association of Women's Studies focused on economic topics throughout its national conferences. This causes a significant shift in the way women are organised at the grassroots level as the main change agents. Major input came from the ICSSR's Advisory Committee on Women's Studies, which advocated the unique employment, health, and education policies. It resulted in one of the first joint statements by women's organisations in 1980, the Memorandum Indian Women in Eighties: Development Imperatives, which addressed the issue of women's invisibility and called for the recognition of women as individuals with equal rights outside of the home and family. The most notable change at this time was the inclusion of a chapter on women and development in the sixth five-year plan for the years 1980–1985. Antipoverty programmes were then directed to women who were given joint titles with their husbands, and priority was given to families with female heads of household. The mid-1980s spread of women's empowerment as a political and transformative idea for struggle that challenged the patriarchy, class, race, and ethnicity and saw social construction of gender as a fundamental category for social change and development was continued in India by focusing on economic aspects referred on the basis of the "empowerment" of women. Later, it was utilised in the third world to advocate for gender equality and the rights of women. Planning for the policy in India that targets women's empowerment comes from two sources: self-help Political empowerment results from women's group tactics and objections to their participation in local government. However, one must objectively assess whether empowerment has actually occurred in their family, culture, and community. Empowerment is once more replaced with the terms right-based approach or approach focused on results.

Towards Gender Interests

Many of the conversations about women's movements have been framed by the development of gender interests. You can think of gender interests as both practical and strategic.
Practical gender interests arise from women’s position in the sexual division of labour and tend to involve struggles not for liberation but for the ability to fulfill their roles as wives and mothers. These interests which stem from women’s lived experiences are inductively derived. Strategic gender interests, on the other hand are derived deductively seek to change the rules under which women live and can be arrived at only after practical interests have been taken into account.”(R. Ray and A. C. Korteweg, 1999)
Analysis reveals that in the developing world, practical gender interests are what motivate women's movements. In India, Chipko movement can be seen as a transition from practical to strategic interest, claims Bina Agarwal. 

Women and land rights

Land rights protests also drew attention. This was in response to how much property-access decision-making authority they have. The initial struggle was headed by Jayaprakash Narayan's ChhatraYuva Sangarsh Vahini in Bodh Gaya, Bihar. In the 1980s, women's group affiliation changed. Feminists brought autonomous women's organisations and Marxist groupings. During this time, women's organisations became autonomous and independent. Shareropper's movement in Andhra Pradesh, landless labourers in Telangana's Karimnagar area, and ChhatraYuva Sangarsh Vahini in Bihar are prominent movements. Grassroots and non-party women's movements existed. Women protested land and forest rights against environmental destruction. National Commission on Self-Employed report Shramshakti Activists and other women's organisations emphasised the significance of self-employed and home-based women. SEWA-Self Employment Women's Association coordinates women at the grassroots level and engages in income-generating activities. The Chipko Movement, an environmental movement, linked violence against nature as violence against women. Ecofeminism results. Vandana Shiva's contribution to this intellectual movement was to enhance the lives of Indian women and the environment. The 73rd and 74th Amendments provided 33% reservation in rural and urban municipal governments.


The contemporary women's movement gave women a public voice and brought up important topics. The campaign gathered together groups and organisations to fight against difficulties women face across India. Future challenges of the women's movement may include imparting skills, offering training opportunities, giving them a venue to participate in various development projects, and sensitising them about their rights. It helped focus schemes and progress on gender.


  1. Akerkar, S. (1995, April 29). Theory and Practice of Women's Movement in India: A Discourse Analysis. Economic and Political Weekly, 30 (17), pp. WS2- WS23.
  2. Banaszak, L. A. (2006). Women’s Movements and Women in Movements: Influencing American Democracy from the outside.
  3. Basu, A. (2000). Globalization of the Local/Localization of the Global Mapping Transnational Women's Movements. Meridians, 1 (1), 68-84.
  4. Batliwala, S. (2012). Changing their world: Concepts and practices of women's movement. The Association for Women’s Rights in Development. Mexico City: The Association for Women’s Rights in Development.
  5. atliwala, S. (2007). Taking the Power out of Empowerment: An Experiential Account. Development in Practice, 17 (4/5), 557-565.


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