India: New laws for women needed

Progressive politicians argue that India urgently needs a few legistations to empower women: “Though India is a signatory of the ILO convention on home-based work, it has not yet backed up its signature through required legislation. There are millions of people mostly women working in unorganised home-based sectors, who are not covered by any legislation”.

The actual distance between Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha may barely be 100 yards, but the Lok Sabha has failed to walk the talk to make 33% reservation for women in Parliament a reality. Despite the Congress being supported by the BJP and the Left on the issue, spin doctors of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) have vetoed further progress on the historic Women Reservation Bill which was passed by Rajya Sabha.

Brinda Karat, senior CPI-M leader and one of the most vocal supporters of the bill, says lack of political will scripts India’s failure to make one third of seats in Parliament reserved for women. “So far as women reservation in Parliament is concerned, we are behind even Pakistan and Afghanistan which provide such rights to women. Even Nepal under the new constitution has proposed one third reservation for women,” she says.

The reservation for women in Parliament may not necessarily end gender bias in India, but globally, there has been a conscious attempt to give more representation to women in the decision-making process. Only recently, Rwanda superseded Sweden to emerge as the nation with the highest women’s parliamentary representation — 56.3 per cent women against Sweden’s 47.3 per cent, according to Sweden-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). The IDEA data has further shown that women constitute merely 19 percent of the members of parliaments around the world, though the recent move of more nations joining the quota bandwagon has confirmed that the number is bound to rise in coming years. What’s more, major political parties in about 50 countries have voluntarily set out provisions for women reservation in their own statues.

Though such moves may bound to empower women, the scenario in India is far more complex. As NC Saxena, member of Sonia Gandhi headed National Advisory Council argues, inheritance laws are quite gender biased. “The issues relating to land rights to women have still remained unresolved. In many states, laws on inheriting properties are gender bias. Further, we need to resolve the issue of women’s rights over forests too,” he says.

In India, tribal women in most cases are more empowered than their counterparts in the general category. Minister of state for rural development Agatha Sangma who incidentally is the youngest minister in 15th Lok Sabha, says that women from North-East India are more empowered. “Because of the matrilineal system prevailing in many parts of North East, some level of empowerment of women is witnessed. But there is a long way to go. Political empowerment will finally act as a catalyst for economic and social empowerment of women”, she says.

The gender bias, however, is not a mere Indian problem. It’s a universal menace which is being addressed by various countries. As Brinda Karat argues, India urgently needs a few legistations to empower women. “Though India is a signatory of the ILO convention on home-based work, it has not yet backed up its signature through required legislation. There are millions of people mostly women working in unorganised home-based sectors, who are not covered by any legislation”, she says.

Has Indian women political leadership ignored other vital gender issues while ardently following Women Reservation Bill?  The answer is a loud “yeah”.

(The Economic Times)

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