There’s no progress if women lag behind

M Venkaiah Naidu | Updated on January 13, 2018

Nothing’s changed: How long will she keep cleaning up other people’s mess? - Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

The fight to change mindsets must happen every day, and not be a show of tokenism one day in the year

The importance of women’s emancipation cannot be limited to mere tokenism on a single day. Every day should be a women’s day for putting an end to any sort of discrimination and achieving gender-based equality and women’s emancipation.

For this, there is absolute need for change in the mindset of people, particularly men. It is unfortunate that even 69 years after Independence, we are still talking in terms of ending gender discrimination and the abhorrent practice of female foeticide. The recent incident in which 19 aborted female foetuses were found in Sangli district of Maharashtra has shocked the consciences of right-thinking people. Education, empowerment, entitlement and emancipation are required to usher in a society where women are treated as true equals in all spheres of life.

Vedic traditions

Many ignorant people incorrectly attribute various social evils against women in Indian society to Hindu traditions. Right from Vedic times women were respected and venerated. The best example of this is from Hindu mythology where Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth and fortune, Saraswathi, the Goddess of learning, and Durga, the Goddess of power.

As the famous Sanskrit sloka says, where women are honoured and respected, divinity dwells there and all actions are fruitless where women are not honoured. In fact, India is personified as Bharat Mata and rivers have been named Saraswati, Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari and Kaveri.

Somehow in modern times, the respect and veneration accorded to women in ancient times has gone missing and the disturbing trend of treating women as not equals has begun. Women have proved time and again that they are second to none in various fields — from Rani Lakshmibai in warfare to the critical contributions made by ISRO scientists in launching a record 104 satellites in a single mission recently.

Indian women have made stellar contributions in several fields including politics, arts, literature, sports and education, among others. Women are now being inducted into the combat stream of the armed forces and the nation proudly acknowledged the induction of the first three women fighter pilots.

Some household names from the field of sport are Sania Mirza, PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Sakshi Malik, Deepa Karmakar and Mary Kom, while way back in 1984, Bachendri Pal became the first Indian woman to summit Mount Everest. There have been many instances when women conquered new frontiers and broke the glass ceiling.

Meaningful impact

With reference to education, a UN report, based on data from 219 countries, said that for every one additional year of education for women in the reproductive age, child mortality is reduced by 9.5 per cent. An OECD report, based on a study of Fortune 500 companies earlier, says that companies with more women directors had significantly higher financial returns.

Empowering women economically, socially and making them self-reliant and confident has been one of the core agendas of the NDA government. The three flagships schemes — Beti Bachao Beti Padao, Pradhan Mantri UjjwalaYoajana and Sukhanya SamvriddiYojana — not only indicate the immense importance the Government attaches to arresting the alarming decline in the child sex ratio, but also in ensuring the well-being of women by preventing them from falling prey to diseases caused by cooking through firewood. Under the Ujjwala scheme, it aims to provide 5 crore LPG connections by2019. Apart from causing pollution, the smoke from cooking firewood adversely affects the health of women and children. Smoke inhaled by women from unclean fuel is equivalent to burning 400 cigarettes in an hour, according to a WHO report.

Under the Sukanya Samridhi Yojana, which seeks to ensure a secure future for the girl child, over 1 crore accounts have been opened and an amount of ₹11,000 crore has been deposited. The Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Maitritva scheme ensures comprehensive ante-natal care to pregnant women. Another important decision taken by the Government was to enhance maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks under the Maternity Benefit Act.

Gender equality should be the concern of every citizen and not women alone. It should also be the endeavour of one and all to strive for equal work, equal pay, equal property and equal empowerment for women and eliminate every form of bias against them.

While 33 per cent reservation for women in local bodies is being implemented, the time is ripe to extend reservation for women in assemblies and Parliament. Some political parties are opposed to the progressive Women’s Reservation Bill on the specious ground that reserving 33 per cent seats for women in local bodies did not serve its purpose as the husbands of women elected through such seats were ruling by proxy. This may be true in isolated cases but it does not reflect the reality. We need to adopt a more open-minded approach on the issue.

Also, the time has come to put an end to discrimination against women in the name of religion, custom or personal laws as in the case of triple talaq.

The writer is the minister of information and broadcasting, urban development and housing, and urban poverty alleviation

Published on March 08, 2017

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