INDIA. Mumbai: As we are set to celebrate “International Women’s Day” on Monday, with a theme #IWD ChooseToChallenge # to call out gender bias and inequality, gender equality still appears to be a distant dream in our country.
International Women’s Day (IWD), which marks a call for accelerating women’s equality. The seeds of IWD were planted in 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay, and the right to vote. The first IWD was held on March 19 in 1911. The inaugural event, which included rallies and organized meetings, was a big success in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. In 1913, IWD was moved to March 8th and has been held on this day ever since. It is a recognized annual event by the United Nations (UN). Under its aegis, worldwide activities are planned to help drive forward #womensequality#.
Growing crime rate
However given the growing crime against women, achieving gender equality seems difficult. In 2020, the National Commission for Women received nearly 23,722 complaints of crimes against women. They were the highest in the last six years. Nearly one-fourth (5294) of the total complaints were of domestic violence. 7,708 complaints were related to the right to live with dignity, the clause which takes into account the emotional abuse of women. The
Dowry harassment complaints were third highest(3784). The molestation complaints stood at 1,679. The complaints about police apathy towards women-1276, the complaints of rape and attempt to rape-1,234, the complaints of indecent representation and harassment through cybercrime- 704, and the complaints of sexual harassment were 376 in descending order.
The saga of violence continues
Just A few days back on February 25, 2021, a 23-year-old Ayesha Banu Makrani (23) ended her life by jumping into the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, when the demands for dowry from her in-laws became unbearable to her. Subsequently, her husband Aarif Khan was nabbed from Pali in Rajasthan.
The four accused involved in the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern in Delhi in December 2012, were executed on March 20, 2020, at the Tihar Prison complex in New Delhi. Yet the incident of a gang-rape of a 19-year-old Dalit woman occurred on September 14, 2020, in Hathras in Uttar Pradesh. The incident became a political ground with the Yogi Adityanath Government claiming it as an attempt to generate caste-based riots. On December 19, 2020, CBI filed a charge sheet in a special court in Hathras, invoking gangrape and murder charges along with charges under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, against the four accused. CBI also mentioned lapses on part of UP Police that include delay in recording the victim’s statement in writing and her subsequent medical examination. Such incidents continue to occur and women are not “Nirbhay” (fearless) despite many laws passed to protect them.
The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 was enacted to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in India. The act bans prenatal sex determination. However Pre-Natal tests go on clandestinely. The number of convictions has been around 500 in the last 26 years.
Despite, PCPNDT Act and programs like “Janani Suraksha Yojana”, National Rural Health Mission (NHRM), and the “Beti Bachao Beti Padhav”(Save girl child) campaign, the country has a skewed sex ratio and a high maternal mortality rate. By and large, there are 943 women per 1000 men, and women make up 49% of the country’s population. They constitute 27% of the workforce compared to other BRICS countries. In 1901, India had the highest sex ratio of 972. Today the literacy rate of India is 74.04%. While the male literacy rate is 82.14%, the female literacy rate is 65.46%.
“Women’s Reservation Bill”
The “Women’s Reservation Bill”, which seeks to reserve 33% seats for women in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies, has not been passed in the Lok Sabha, even after 25 years, after it was mooted in 1996. It was passed in Rajya Sabha on March 09, 2010, and subsequently got lapsed. The Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 16, 2018, urging him to ensure the passage of the bill in the Monsoon session of the Parliament in that year. But the bill is still pending in Lok Sabha despite its reintroduction.
After many years, the number of women MPs has increased up to 78 (nearly 14%) compared to 62 women MPs in earlier Lok Sabha. A little solace also came when the special board found 422 women officers fit for Permanent Commission in the army in December last.
Laws for the women empowerment
There are a host of laws for women’s welfare. Right to equality under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees women equality before the law, Article 39(d), guards their economic rights by guaranteeing equal pay for equal work. Article 42, secures the humane condition of work and maternity relief. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, seeks to ensure their safety at work. Under Panchayati Raj Institutions 73rd and 74th amendment act, 1/3rd of the seats are reserved for women. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, prohibits acceptance of a dowry and the guilty can be punished with imprisonment as well as a fine. Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, seeks to protect womens against domestic violence and recommends punishment of fine and imprisonment.
Schemes for the women upliftment
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), and “National Mission for Empowerment of Women” (2010).
Plight of widows
The condition of most of the aged widows is the worst. They are either abandoned by families or sent to “Shelter Homes”, to live a life of penury. A small pension of Rs 350 per month (which was Rs 200 earlier) is granted to them under the “Indira Gandhi National Pension Scheme”. In some of the states, they are considered a bad omen and are excluded from being “inauspicious”.
The patriarchate society
The deep-rooted patriarchate society continues to affect women’s empowerment. Now the women hold important positions with 42 percent of them earning equal to their husbands, but still, they remain subservient to their husbands. As such there should be a change in the mindset of the men. Let’s hope that there will be a change in this situation with the theme #IWD ChooseToChallenge # this year.