Gender equality is still a distant dream

Dear Editor,
As we are set to celebrate the “International Women’s Day” on 8 March, with a theme of #Balance forBetter, a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world, a gender equality is still a distant dream in India.
With the exception of a few high achievers, women are still underrepresented in professional and public life. The discrimination against the girl child begins from the birth itself and boys are preferred over girls and despite laws, a female infanticide is a common practice in India. The ordeal that an Indian girl faces at birth is only the beginning of a lifelong struggle to be seen and heard.
Despite the presence of The “Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technologies Act” and various health programmes like “Janani Suraksha Yojana” and “National Rural Health Mission (NHRM)”, our country has a skewed sex ratio. At present it is 943 women per 1000 men.
Crime against women
The crime against women go unabated. The National Crime Records Bureau statistics show an 83 % increase in crimes against women, with as many as 39 cases reported every hour across the country. In the last few years, (32.6%) cases were reported under ‘cruelty by husband or his relatives”. They were followed by ‘assault on woman with intent to outrage her modesty’ (25%), ‘kidnapping and abduction of woman’ (19%) and ‘rape’ (11.5%). The highest number of rapes were reported from Madhya Pradesh (4,882), Uttar Pradesh (4,816) and Maharashtra (4,189). Delhi recorded a 3.03% increase in the number of rapes compared to the number of cases in 2017.
Harassment at workplaces
While the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013is already in place, the recent “Me Too” movement, which received an over whelming response,brought to the fore the harassment faced by women at work places. Section 26 of the Act prescribes penalties for non-compliance and includes a monetary fine of up to Rs. 50,000, amongst other penalties.
The penalty may extend to Rs 25 lakh and imprisonment for every officer of the company who is in default for a term which may extend to three years or with fine in the range of Rs 50,000, and Rs 500,000.
National Sex Offenders Registry
The Centre has also already rolled out a National Sex Offenders Registry (NSOR), under the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), to prepare a comprehensive database of sex offenders including their names, photographs.
Laws for women
As of now there are a host of laws to protect women. Provisions such as: Right to equality under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees women equality before law, Article 39(d), guards the economic rights of women by guaranteeing equal pay for equal work; and Maternity Relief under Article 42, secures just and humane condition of work and maternity relief for women. Acts like the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, under which an offender can be punished with imprisonment as well as fine. Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, provides protection to women against domestic violence. As per the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (Panchayati Raj Institutions) all local elected bodies have to reserve one-third of their seats for women.
Deep-rooted patriarchate society, continues to affect women’s empowerment. Of late the women are holding important jobs with 42 percent of them earning equal to their husbands, but they still remain subservient to the husbands and the recent Family Health Survey reveals that only one fifth of working women have the power to take important decisions in the family.
Working women
While the male literacy rate is 81.3 per cent, the female literacy rate is at 60.6 per cent. Although some women are doing well, women’s participation in the work force is low at 26 per cent compared to other BRICS(an association of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries, due to all kinds of barriers that women face if they want to work.
Menstrual Hygiene
Of late with wide discussion about “menstrual hygiene” some of the schools have began free distribution of sanitary pads to prevent the girls being withdrawn from schools at puberty.
The Central government has several schemes for women upliftment both at State and Central level. They include “Swadhar” (1995), “Swayam Siddha” (2001), “Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women” (STEP-2003), “Sabla Scheme” (2010), “National Mission for Empowerment of Women” (2010) etc. Thus, there is no dearth of laws and schemes for the women empowerment.
Representation in Executive Government
India ranks 148 globally in terms of representation of women in executive government and parliament.The 16th Lok Sabha has 61 women members, the highest in history. Speaker of 16th Lok Sabha is again a woman, Sumitra Mahajan. The present Rajya Sabha has 29 women members. There are 7 women ministers in the 46-member Council of Ministers. Six of the 23 Cabinet ministers are women, claiming almost a 25 per cent share. Nirmala Sitharaman (Defence ) and Sushma Swaraj (External Affairs) are holding the key positions. Swaraj is also the first woman after three decades to be a member of the all powerful Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). However among the Arab States, 9.7 per cent of senior executive posts are held by women, led by Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, at 23.1 per cent and 26.7 per cent, respectively. The developments show that progress in gender equality remains slow in all structures of power and types of decision-making in India.
In the meanwhile the “Women’s Reservation Bill” which proposes to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lok Sabha and in all State Legislative Assemblies for women, is still pending. If passed, this Bill will give a significant boost to the position of women in politics.
Thus road map for women empowerment is there but still we have miles to go. Lets hope that in coming years, women empowerment will prove its worth.
Raju Vernekar,