What Government, Society need to do for Women Empowerment ?

Tejinder Singh Bedi
@tsinghbedi

Although we are one of the first nations to grant voting rights to
women at the same time as men, while far more advanced countries like
the USA and the UK took 140 and 100 years, respectively, despite our
all-around efforts to empower women of our country at the same level
as in these and most other countries, we still have a long way to go.

In both their public as well as social lives though the women residing
in Metro or better developed urban towns, women seem to be catching up
fast with their male counterparts in all walks of life the position in
smaller towns and villages has not changed much.

The first index of their participation and engagement in public life
still shows them far behind that in other nations. The women
reservation bill has been pending for long. More than seven decades
after independence the participation of women in our parliament is
still around 11.8 % in the Lok Sabha and 11.1 % in the Rajya Sabha -
on an average just about 11.57 %. Even, a small nation like Pakistan
which attained independence along with us has 70 female
representatives in a total of 340 seats in its lower house and 19 out
of 104 in its upper house registering a percentage of 20.6 % and 18.3
% respectively for an average of say 20 % — almost double ours at
11.57 %. Bangla Desh which got independence in 1971, 24 years after us
has 71 female representatives in its only house of 350 elected
representatives at 20.3% again. This when, both Pakistan and Bangla
Desh have been part of us and our rich cultural heritage for centuries
as a common socio-political federation of States or Riyasats. If we
look at the United Kingdom, which influenced our social, cultural,
political culture for nearly 200 years before we got independence from
them, they have 208 female representatives in their House of Commons
of 650 at 32 % and another 207 in their House of Lords of 805 at 26 %,
expectedly far better than ours.

The similar demographic details of other far more advanced nations
like the next door China, the USA, Japan, Germany & France — (we often
benchmark for various parameters of all around progression), too
indicate that they are all much better placed than us in this
representation. While China has 709 female representatives in its
house of 2924 at a healthy 29.2 %, the USA has 84 females in its lower
house of 432 at 19.4 % besides another 21 in a house 100 in its Senate
at 21 %. Singapore, Germany & France too have much better
representations at 23%, 39 % and 30.7 % in their lower houses and 29.3
% and 39.1 % in the upper houses of the latter two.

Much smaller nations like the Finland, Sweeden, Norway, Cuba, Mexico,
Bolivia and SA top the global lists of having achieved over 40 %
representation for their women population in their various houses of
legislation and governance. While most of the advanced cultures thus
exhibit engagement of women even in the highest levels of governance,
realization of the same in our male-dominated society has been very
slow.

Historically, the Women’s Reservation Bill was first introduced in Lok
Sabha by the then Deve Gowda government in September 1996 but could
not get the House’s approval. It seeks to reserve one-third (or 33
percent) of all seats for women in Lok Sabha and state legislative
assemblies with a third of the total seats reserved for Scheduled
Castes and Scheduled Tribes from these categories. The reserved seats
may be allocated by rotation to different constituencies in the state
or Union Territory. According to the bill, the reservation of seats
for women will cease to exist 15 years after the implementation of the
Act. The Bill was passed in Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010 but has not
been considered to be pushed in the Lok Sabha seriously thereafter
though both the major political parties, the BJP and the Congress,
have by turns been repeatedly pledging support to the same without
result.

All in all both the social and the cultural environment in our country
still does not support encouraging women to take on all the fields as
for men and perceives them mostly and generally fit only in their
roles as mothers, wives, and homemakers.

In addition, we continue to suffer from one of the lowest sex ratios
in South Asia — 940 women for every 1,000 men. Despite the equal right
to franchise, the sex ratio in the voters’ list has been even lower,
in some states even less than 800. Within the registered women
electorate, the average numbers voting as compared to men too has been
lower for the women in most electoral hustings. In rural areas, the
whips of family heads still rule the decisions to partake in the
voting and the election processes. All this despite continuing efforts
by the Election Commission for their aggressive enrolments, separate
queues for the women at the time of voting, all-women polling stations
in some areas, women staff in polling and police stations.

Strangely a lower level of literacy among women is touted as the main
reason for our inability to get more women in the legislative bodies
though the same deficiency does not discourage their male counterparts
to keep coming forward in large numbers for the Lok Sabha and State
legislatures. Also perhaps both the muscle and the money power largely
remains with the male members only in most families.

Our only consolation is the reservation for women in the Panchayati
Raj institutions. From 33 percent in 1993 to 50 percent in 2009, this
has been one really appreciable and progressive step taken by the
Parliament, whereafter a number of states on their own have introduced
50 per cent reservation for women in municipalities and corporations.
There, of course, have been large numbers of instances where husbands
of many women are calling all the shots by proxy though.

We still rank 125 out of 159 countries in the Gender Inequality Index.
The best way to achieve greater gender parity is through the political
empowerment of women. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji’s
nation-wide campaigns, ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ and ‘Sukunya
Samridhi’ are two really laudable initiatives to largely work towards
the objective of reducing gender inequality in the longer run, where
like Swachh Bharat abhiyan we all have to join without any
reservations at all.

Other than governance or representation in the political bodies, the
percentage of women in jobs has also continued to be very low. In the
Corporate Sector, the board level representation remains low as
effective employment and succession policies have never been rightly
addressed.

In addition to these external barriers erected by society; shares one of my
former woman Corporate Colleague; Sonal Katyal with me ‘ Women are
hindered by barriers that exist within themselves. A majority among
them hold themselves back by a feeling of guilt, by not raising their
hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.They continue
to do most of the household work and childcare and compromise their
career aspirations to make room for partners and children who do not
even exist yet. They are told over and over again that they have to
choose because if they try to do too much, they will be harried and
unhappy. Professional ambition is expected of men but is optional for
women and She is very ambitious is not as truthful a compliment as it
sounds in our culture. Every woman has a guilt feeling within herself
of being a bad mother/wife whenever she does an extra hour at an
office or takes an official tour for a couple of days leaving their
kids with relatives or anyone else’.

One hopes while the parliamentarians have a relook at the Women’s;
Reservation Bill today, the hubbies back homes talk about this guilt
and the internal barrier to their wives today on the occasion of
International Women’s day and ask them how and what they can do to
minimize the same. Also, time is to think about, who all are behind
the creation of these internal barriers within all the women wanting a
career and a personal life. Are we their fathers or husbands causing
this? Or the society as a whole, we are all part of?

(*Author Tejinder Singh Bedi is a former technocrat, a people management, CSR Adviser, free-lance writer and a passionate singer)