Gender Equality In India: Women Need To Be Counted In And The Issue Needs To Be Seen Through The Right Lens!
Lucknow, August 4 (TNA) It certainly could not have been put together more coherently and more emphatically. Unaccounted, invisible women can never be part of any government policies. In order that India’s gender equality graph grows it is important that women are “Counted In”, and that gender issues are viewed through the right lens and that there is a strong and committed political will which is critical to carry out reforms and provide solutions. If all these are there one can be sure that right and effective pro-women policies will be framed on gender equality.
These thoughts and emotions were expressed by Sarojni Ganju Thakur (independent gender advisor, former additional chief secretary, the government of Himachal Pradesh), she was speaking on the topic Gender Equality and Justice second day of the one week long (Aug 1 to Aug 8) India Rural Colloquy, organized by Transforming Rural India Foundation (TRIF) on Zoom. TRIF supports NGOs working at the grassroots; it works with governments, develops and delivers solutions for rural India.
The bureaucrat-turned-women-activist, said that though a lot has changed in India in the last 70 years after Independence, it is sad that very little has been done on gender equality and the most glaring example of this is our declining sex ratio. She added that gender equality is needed everywhere right from public transport, parks, malls. “We should not be gender blind and keep working on our safe cities program,” said Thakur.
Gender budgeting is vital for empowering women at all levels, she said She suggested that for better results it would be wise to start with a few sectors first. Putting in place Accountability for gender equality policies will help in ensuring their implementation.
Political will is critical to the framing of gender equality policies
Thakur was critical of perpetuated images of what is ‘normal for women. Like for instance, she said that the government’s “Ujjwala’ scheme where a free gas cylinder and cooking stove was provided by the government to the woman of poor families it was presumed that the cooking is being done only by women.
She also spoke her mind on “Unpaid care’ and said that it folds women and stops them from doing productive work, which would make them economically independent. She said that it must be the sacred duty of self-help groups to work on enhancing gender relationships.
Suneeta Dhar (Independent Gender Advisor, former CEO Jagori), also a panelist at these conversations used her vast experience in the development sector to illustrate her conversation with examples. She chose the Landmark conference on gender equality in Beijing to illustrate her viewpoint on gender equality.
The twenty-third special session of the General Assembly on "Women 2000: Gender equality, development, and peace for the twenty-first century" took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 5 June to 9 June 2000 and adopted a Political Declaration and outcome document entitled "further actions and initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action".
She said women who represent the Indian women at such conferences maybe just a few in number but they carry the power and voices of all women in the country. Change in the legal system is vital for a gender equality mindset but resources for gender equality are totally missing, it was pointed out.
Dhar, while appreciating the outcome of this conference spoke of some critical issues that were not addressed in this forum. She listed women with disabilities, transgender, issues of climate change. Violence against women were some of the issues which were not focused on at the meet.
She was highly critical of the fact that there were not enough resources to take gender issues forward. “There is commitment but there are no resources available to fulfil these commitments. Even our national budget for women is "very low,” bemoaned this women activist.
She appealed to all those who support gender equality to ensure that the government and other donor agencies walk the talk as far as resources are concerned. Dhar said that lots have to be done and so it is important that those in synch with these thoughts form alliances, collect gender data, trace out and support the right leaders.
As someone who has worked on the grassroots level, Dhar was very critical of' unpaid care' which is not acknowledged or appreciated and this is true of also domestic help which is hugely ‘devalued’. She also spoke of the increase in domestic violence and crime against women during the during Covid 19.
“Home is no longer safe, we must address ‘fear of violence’ that restricts choices for women and forces them to introduce self-censorship to escape being blamed and shamed,” she said adding that changes in public spaces and making them safe for women is very important
Another vital point that she impressed upon was "Investment in Prevention,” as this will be a confidence booster for women. She emphasized that it is important to have a re-look at the laws pertaining to women and must ensure we “track access to justice” continuously, She also asked for stringent laws to protect witnesses as this will help in securing justice for the victim.
In order to do all this she stressed that it is very important that resources are procured and it is equally important to ensure that they are properly utilized in the interest of gender equality. Sanjay Srivastava (Professor of Sociology, Institute of Economic growth), the lone male speaker in the group, hit the nail on the head when he said that gender must be looked like a relationship and not in isolation He said that the “invisible women” must first, be given a face and then through data, we must identify their needs and accordingly, design policies for them.
“Women must assert themselves, reclaim their spaces from men keeping in mind that those enjoying power for so long will not give in easily,” he said. Asserting that Gender is a very complex term he said that a total gender shift is required in order that we raise the bar for gender equality.
We in India require a total Gender shift
Public spaces must belong to all, irrespective of their gender
He said that plans for smart cities must be designed in a way that they include all genders. Prof Srivastava said Infrastructure must be women-friendly CCTV cameras must not be used for surveillance but for protection.
Panelists discussed challenges, solutions and visualized Rural India ten years hence in the context of gender equality. It was a brilliant and meaningful interaction. They all agreed that in order to bring about changes it is first of all important that “women must be counted in”, they should not remain just invisible identities..
The session was aptly moderated by Madhu Krishna (deputy director Gates Foundation, moderator of the session. “Absolutely nothing is possible without first setting gender equality in place and the sooner it is realized and work on it begins the better for humanity at large,” she said.
Krishna used stats to illustrate her point and to justify the urgency to start work in this sector. Listing the gender disparity she said sadly India figures are very low on the gender equality parameter list. Sadly India ranks very low on the gender equality list, she noted while suggesting that gender equality should be at the center of all infrastructural planning.
She said gender equality is the ground on which we must rest our foot first if we want to progress but here we have to cut through not one but multiple barriers which stand in way of gender equality. Krishna said the pandemic has brought more sharply all into focus all the inequalities. She said there are not one but multi barriers in way of women.
These ‘conversations’ matter not just to rural India but pertain to the entire country and if these suggestions are implemented through government policies they will certainly herald in commendable changes in India's Rural Landscape.