Gandhi’s Contribution to the Emancipation of Women

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Gandhi’s Contribution to the Emancipation of Women

defrag by Aloo J. Dastur

On Womankind

I have always had a passion to serve the womankind. Eversince my arrival in India, the women have recognized in me their friend and servant. Women have come to look upon me as one of themselves. I hold radical views about the emancipation of women from their fetters which they mistake for adornment … My experience has confirmed me in the view that the real advancement of women can come only by and through their own efforts.

The part the women of India played in the struggle for freedom will be written in letters of gold.

To call a woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then indeed woman is less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be.

If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. 

Woman — The Companion of Man

Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in very minutest detail in the activities of man and she has an equal right of freedom and liberty with him. She is entitled to a supreme place in her own sphere of activity as a man is in his. This ought to be the natural condition of things and not as a result only of learning to read and write. By sheer force of a vicious custom, even the most ignorant and worthless men have been enjoying a superiority over women which they do not deserve and ought not to have. Many of our movements stop halfway because of the condition of our women. Much of our work does not yield appropriate results; our lot is like that of the pennywise & pound foolish trader who does not employ enough capital in his business.

Speeches & Writings of Gandhi, p. 424

Woman — The Incarnation of Ahimsa

Woman is the incarnation of AhimsaAhimsa  means infinite love, which again means infinite capacity for suffering. Who but woman, the mother of man, shows this capacity in the largest measure? She shows it as she carries the infant and feeds it during nine months and derives joy in the suffering. involved. What can beat the suffering caused by the pangs of labour? But she forgets it in the joy of creation. Who again suffers daily so that her babe may wax from day to day? Let her transfer that love to the whole of humanity, let her forget she ever was or can be the object of a man’s lust. And she will occupy her proud position by the side of man as his mother, maker & silent leader. It is given to her to teach the art of peace to the warring world thirsting for that nectar. She can become the leader in Satyagraha which does not require the learning that books give, but does require the stout heart that comes from suffering & faith.

Harijan, Feb 24, 1940.

Woman has been suppressed under custom and law for which man was responsible and in the shaping of which she had no hand. In a plan of life based on non-violence, woman has as much right to shape her own destiny as man has to shape his. But as every right in a non-violent society proceeds from the previous performance of a duty, it follows that rules of social conduct must be framed by mutual cooperation & consultation. They can never be imposed from the outside. Men have not realized this truth in its fulness in their behavior towards women. They have considered themselves to be lords and masters of women instead fo considering them as their friends & coworkers.

Constructive Programme, p. 17


Legislation is being promoted to raise the age of consent. But it is not legislation that will cure a popular evil, it is enlightened public opinion that can do it. […] This custom of child-marriage is both a moral as well as a physical evil. For it undermines our morals and induces physical degeneration. By countenancing such customs we recede from Good as well as swaraj. A man who has no thought of the tender age of a girl has none of God. And undergrown men have no capacity for fighting battles of freedom or having gained it.

Young India, Aug 26, 1926.

The Dowry System

There is a hateful system of dowry.Whereby it becomes most difficult for young women to get suitable matches. The grown-up girls — some of you are grown-up — are expected to resist all such temptations. If you will resist these evil customs, some of you will have to begin by remaining maidens either for life, or at least for a number of years. Then, when it is time for you to marry, and you feel that you must have a partner in life, you will be in search of one. […] If I had a girl under my charge, I would rather keep her a maiden all her life than give her away to one who expected a single pie for taking her for his wife.

Young India, Feb 14, 1929.

Widow Remarriage

The widows should have the same freedom that men have. If widowhood is to remain pure men will have to attain greater purity. After all widows can remarry only when they are men ready to marry them. It may however be laid down as a general rule that where a widow cannot restrain herself she should have the freedom to remarry without incurring any odium. Is it not better that she marries openly than that she should sin secretly? In case of child-widows there can be no question of opinion. They should be remarried by the parents.

Young India, Sept 23, 1926.

No outside imposition can cure Hindu society of the enforced widowhood of girls who do not even know what marriage is. The reform can come first by the force of enlightened public opinion among the Hindus, secondly by parents recognizing the duty of marrying their girl widows. This they can do, where the girls’ consent is lacking,  by educating their minds to the correctness of their marrying. Naturally this refers to girls underage. Where the so-called widows have grown to maturity and they do not desire to marry, nothing is necessary save to tell them that they are free to marry precisely as if they were maidens unmarried. It is difficult to break the chains of prisoners who hug s them mistaking them as ornaments, as girls and even grown-up women do regard their silver or golden chains and rings as ornaments.

Harijan, Mar 20, 1937.

Economic Independence of Women

Q. Some people oppose a modification of laws relating to the right of married woman to own property on the ground that economic independence of woman would lead to the spread of immorality among women and disruption of domestic life. What is your attitude on the question.

A. I would answer the question by counter question: Has not independence of man and his holding property lead to the spread of immorality in young men? If you answer ‘yes’ then let it be so also with women. And when women have the rights of ownership and the rest like men, it would be found that the enjoyment of such rights is not responsible for their vices or their virtues. Morality, which depends upon the helplessness of a man or woman, has not much to recommend it. Morality is rooted in the purity of our hearts.

Harijan, July 8, 1940.

Today few women take part in politics and most of these do not do independent thinking. They are content to carry out their parents’ or their husbands’ behests. Realizing their dependence, they cry out for women’s rights. Instead of doing this, however ,women workers should enroll as women voters, impart or have imparted to them practical education, teach them to think independently, release them from the chains of caste that bind them so as to bring about a change in them which will compel men to realize woman’s strength and capacity for sacrifice and give her places of honor. If they will do this, they will purify the present unclean atmosphere.

Harijan, April 21, 1946.

I shall work for an India, in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country in whose making they have an effective voice; an India in which there shall be no high class & low class of people; an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony. There can be no room in such an India for the curse of untouchability or the curse of the intoxicating drinks and drugs. Women will enjoy the same rights as men.

Young India, Sept 10, 1931.

further reading:
Gandhi on Womens Emancipation
Breaking the Shackles: Gandhi’s Views on Women