What does a nation constitute of? One of its most important components is its human beings and especially its ‘better half’-the women. Our Indian traditions and religious scriptures, since the very Vedic days, keep the women on a very high pedestal. We remember and admire our lady achievers in different walks of life. We appreciate their outstanding performances as ideal mother, wife, daughter etc. and we are all praise for the significant contribution they have made historically in fields as diverse as of warriors and politicians.
All said and done, the reality for general women folk is quite different. Even after 60 years of democratic rule the problem and obstructions they are facing in their day today lives is quite appalling. The gender inequality is so low and glaring that we rank 114th in a list of 134 countries. The female literacy rate is at its lowest. Maternal mortality rate is increasing. The worsening sex ratio in 0-6 age group indicates female Foeticide. Over all also the male-female ratio is shrinking and dipping low. The girl-boy malnutrition level also indicates the neglect of girl child. The girl child enrolment in schools is also low and drop outs of girl students is increasing due to shortage of infrastructure like toilets besides a biased mind set. The parity for women at work is also missing. In numbers also, we can see low female work population rate of 25.7% as compared to 51% for males. The condition of women in unorganised sector is worse. as a labour on roads, construction sites, brick kilns, mines they seem to be just living creatures, for namesake only. Socially also we keep come across increasing cases of eve teasing. Of the very few cases that are reported, the teaser has the confidence that he will manipulate and get scot free that makes the situation more frustrating. The sexual assault cases, particularly of down trodden class females are also increasing day by day. The situation seems really pathetic for the ‘better half’ of our country.
And in spite of all the barriers and hurdles that they face in their daily lives they are struggling and smilingly carrying on with their responsibilities of child rearing and house making along with other chores. Hats off to them. But mere admiration will not be enough. If we are really committed that as a nation we have to rise then in national interest as well as on humanitarian grounds we must make all out efforts that are required to bring a sea change in the environment. No effort, how small or big it may be, should be spared. It is in this context that we should evaluate the relevance and usefulness of the women’s reservation bill (the 108th constitution amendment bill) that seeks to reserve one-third seats in the Lok Sabha and in state assemblies to women, with the reservation applying by rotation to the various constituencies. The bill has come out after a decade it was conceptualised but could see the light of the day only because of historical initiative on the part of United Progressive Alliance supported by BJP and CPI, other regional parties and vigorous campaigning and support of pressure groups and the media.
The political empowerment of women is necesary because they have very low representation in this arena. Of the 545 seats only 59 seats are occupied by women, which is less than 10%. In 2009 general elections, of 8070 candidates fielded, only 556 women candidates contested which is again a meagre 5-6 %.
The result is that neither their views are heard nor their talent is tapped for national causes. The political parties, for the reasons best known to them, have shown apathy to this aspect and could not increase the representation of women in their parties. Therefore, it has to be forced upon through this piece of legislation. However the stipulation of one-third seats for ten years on rotation does not seem enough. If it has to be one-third only the 15 years would be required to cover all constituencies by rotation thus covering the whole country, which will bring awakening and empowerment among all the regions of women across the country.
Further, a word of caution must also be not lost sight of. Mere legislation is not sufficient. It has to be implemented in letter and spirit. The goal is to empower women so that they get rid of social, economical, mind set hurdles in their way of enjoying the fruits of independence and democracy for which an integrated approach consisting of quality education, on vast scale, vocational training, health related infrastructure and facilities, stricter laws affecting the women in spheres like domestic violence, dowry, discrimination on work places etc. would be required and enforced.
The experiences of 40 other countries which have tested this kind of legislation should be looked into to see how far it has really empowered their women folk and what loop holes are to be filled up to ensure real empowerment of women residing in far flung rural and semi-urban areas as well. The spirit of bill would be achieved only if we are able to create such environment in which women feel motivated to choose to pursue politics. They should be encouraged through awakening programmes and addressing to the hurdles faced by them in public life. Moreover the law and order and preventive measures to provide overall general security to women at home, work places and during their movements in society has to be ensured in which the police, the prosecution and the judiciary have key roles to play to create a congenial environment for instilling confidence among women to come forward in public life.
Thus, ahead lies the gigantic task of really empowering the women in each home and corner of the country to enable them to lead a life of free human beings.
In this context a small though historical beginning through women reservation bill has been made.
It is expected that the various clauses of the bill will be debated with seriousness of purpose in the parliament to arrive at a reasonable consensus. Let us all strive for women empowerment in all its perspectives and connotations.