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Gender Equality and Empowerment
Adverse Sex Ratio
Among the many forms of gender inequality, perhaps the most insidious is the one related to the sex ratio. India ranks high among countries having an adverse sex ratio, with fewer women than men. The 2011 Census revealed a small improvement in the overall sex ratio, from 932.91 females for every 1000 males (in 2001) to 940.27, but a steep fall in ratio for the 0-6 age group, from 927.31 to 914.23. Now the World Bank’s ‘World Development Report 2012’ has come up with more shaming numbers. After China, India has the highest number of “missing girls” at birth, that is, the numbers that should have been born in keeping with the average world sex ratio at birth. It is small consolation that in India, the number of girls missing at age zero has come down marginally since 1990. The report, titled ‘Gender Equality and Development,’ notes that were it not for these two countries, an additional 1.2 million girls would have been born in the world (1 million in China alone). In both countries, the son preference — a clear cultural preference for boys — combining with the easy availability of technology to discover the sex of the foetus has resulted in sex-selective abortions, a phenomenon Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen terms “natal inequality.” The high numbers in India show that attempts to tackle female foeticide through a ban on sex-determination tests, imposed under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, have been largely ineffective.
China and India also account for the highest excess female mortality after birth, that is, the numbers of girls and women who die prematurely. The disproportionate mortality of girls during infancy and early childhood is the result of discrimination and a lack of access to water, sanitation, and health facilities. In India and some other countries, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the cause of excess deaths of women in the reproductive age. The World Bank report makes the telling point that “despite stellar economic growth in recent years, maternal mortality [in India] is almost six times the rate in Sri Lanka.” On the other hand, in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 1.1 million missing women — a majority of them in the reproductive age group — the report notes the “dramatic” impact of HIV/AIDS on the increase from about 639,000 in 1990. From these and other numbers presented by the report, it is clear that, while more women are getting educated and entering the labour force, the gender gap stubbornly persists in vital domains. These gaps cannot be addressed unless it is first realised that gender inequality is not a women’s issue — and that it affects the well being of both men and women.
Women’s Reservation Bill 2010
It was a momentous development when the Women’s Reservation Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha on the 9th of March, 2010. For more than ten years now, the Bill has led to heated debates in the Parliament, with supporters saying that it will pave the way for an active participation of women in politics, and detractors saying that it will benefit only a narrow spectrum of privileged women. Let us take a look at what the Bill has to offer, and what the controversy is all about.
What does the Women’s Reservation Bill provide?
- The Women’s Reservation Bill is a proposed legislation to reserve 33.3 per cent of seats in Parliament and State legislatures for women. This would mean reserving 181 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha and 1,370 out of a total of 4,109 seats in the 28 State Assemblies for women. In case of seats reserved for SC-ST candidates, 33.3 percent would have to be reserved for women. The reservation of seats is proposed to be on rotation basis, which means that the 33.3 % seats reserved in one election would cease to be reserved in the next election. In its place, another set of seats totaling 33.3 % would get reserved. The provision for reservation is proposed to be in place for 15 years.
- The Bill is an extension of the 33.3 % reservation of seats for women in the Panchayats to the State Legislatures and the Pm-ti1Gllent. Reservation for women in Panchayats has resulted in probably one of the largest mobilization of women in public life in the world.
How did the Bill originate?
- The proposed legislation was first introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996 by the United Front government as the 81 st Constitutional Amendment Bill. In 1998 it was re-introduced in the 12th Lok Sabha as the 84th Constitutional Amendment Bill by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. It was reintroduced again in 1999, 2002, 2003. In 2004 it was included in the Common Minimum Program of the UPA government. All these years the Bill could not be passed because of lack of political consensus. It was again tabled in the Rajya Sabha in 2008, and has now been passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010.
What is the objective of the Bill?
- The Bill is aimed at fostering gender equality in Parliament, which in turn would lead to the empowerment of women as a whole. It is expected that increased political participation will help Indian women fight against the age old discrimination and deprivation they have been subjected to, and the inequality they suffer from. The Bill, it is felt, would create a level playing field for the women to enhance their presence and status in politics initially and in society eventually.
What are the apprehensions regarding the Bill?
- Some political parties are apprehensive that the reservation for women would rob the chances of many of their male leaders to fight elections. Coupled with the reservation that already exists for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, a further reservation for women would be discriminatory for other sections of people. Others say that the reservation would benefit only elite women, causing further discrimination and under representation to the poor and backward classes. They are opposed to the bill in its present form and want a quota within quota for women from backward classes. It is also felt that rotation of seats being reserved may reduce the commitment of the elected MPs to their constituencies as their chances of getting reelected would be very little.
What is the status of the Bill now?
- The Bill, which is also the Constitution (108thAmendment) Bill, was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 9th March 2010. It will now be tabled in Lok Sabha. Once approved by both houses, it will be sent for Presidential consent and then become a law, giving 33% reservation to women in Parliament and State Assemblies. The reservation will remain in place for 15 years and then be extended, if necessary.
Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010
- Provides for mandatory setting up of an internal committee by a company or any other institute to probe a written complaint by an aggrieved person or settle the matter through conciliation
- It fixes the responsibility on the employer as well as the District Magistrate or Additional District Magistrate or the Collector or Deputy Collector of every district in the State as a District Officer and lays down a statutory redressal mechanism.
- In the case of false or malicious complaint, the bill provides for action against the complainant in accordance with service rules and in any other manner in case no service rules exist.
Make cities safer for women
- Delhi is one of the most unsafe city for women in the world, with a rape being reported every 29 minutes
- Interestingly, most of these crimes happen in the most public of places. Public places are unsafe: women feel most unsafe when travelling in a bus, walking on street or in a market place
- Gender issue needs to be comprehensively addressed in city planning and governance
- Seoul is one of the most women-friendly cities in the world. It has taken the following measures
- Certify and assess women-friendly workplaces; women’s safety audit of public areas such as parks and streets to map the unsafe ones; gender governance strategies; safe parking locations for women.
Institutional mechanisms to deal
- Pre-conception and pre-natal diagnostic techniques act