The issue of gender discrimination spreading across all levels still jars the social fabric we are sewn into. Despite the constant talk of women emancipation and empowerment, women in India are still lagging far behind in the urban as well as rural setup. The need to ‘feminise’ our democracy has never been felt more. This could come best if we have women lawmakers in plenty at all levels of our democratic structure.
This was the thought which came out loud at the recent conference on ‘Role of Women Legislators in Nation Building’ organised by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan. It was attended by women lawmakers from across the country. The conclave comprised of a plenary session, followed by three
sessions focused on women’s contribution to social development, economic development and on better governance and legislation.
Present at the meet was senior Congress leader Sheila Dikshit, who also presided over the session on better governance and legislation. She told Sunday Post: “The Parliament is the highest law-making body and the process of law-making also means equality of law and opportunity for all. I presided over a session better governance and legislation and I think the two go hand in hand. If you have good governance and development in that government as well, then women automatically will benefit from it. But if you do not have good government then everyone will suffer, more so women. When legislation is concerned, among women legislators in the Parliament and our assemblies, the number is far low that what it should be. Despite the fact that we have had a woman as our Prime Minister (Indira Gandhi), Congress President Sonia Gandhi and so many women as chief ministers in India, the kind of confidence that should be shown by men in encouraging women to back leadership roles, is still lacking.”
Speaking on the first day of the conference, both President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari had stressed on the low representation of women in the Parliament. “We have only 12 per cent representation of women in our Parliament and only four per cent in its various committees,” said Ansari.
The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha committees on public accounts and public undertakings have no women representatives. Only four women have found place in the Parliament standing committees, with home having two and railway and finance having one representation each. Women find adequate representation in the committee for empowerment of women. “The leaders should shed their gender biases and women need to show balance,” Ansari further commented.
Reiterating this viewpoint while expressing displeasure over the pending Women’s Reservation Bill, which ensures 33 per cent reservation to women in the Parliament, Mukherjee said, “It is unfortunate that despite the approval of two-third majority, the bill is yet to become a law”. Mukherjee also suggested that the political parties should give more opportunity to their women members to participate in various parliamentary debates.
“Women should be given an opportunity to speak, not just on women issues but also on other important issues,” he added. Globally India ranks 109 of 190 nations enumerated in the women representative ranking in the legislative representation.
Dikshit on the issue of Women’s Reservation Bill said, “I think the government has been reminded enough on the issue in this conference. In the years to come this will become a reality because it had been started by Sonia Gandhi also but unfortunately other parties didn’t play ball.”
Even in the economic sphere, Dikshit added, “There is a subtle discrimination and lack of confidence regarding women in the economic front that will women be able to achieve in this arena? That is what is holding us back starting from gender bias which is equally amongst men and women.”
Speaking on the second day of the conclave, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the roadmap for women parliamentarians, with a focus on the need to move from “women development to women-led development.” He said in his address: “If a survey is done, then I am sure that women will be more successful than men when given an opportunity to work.” Modi also recently proposed in the Parliament that only female parliamentarians should speak in Parliament on 8 March – International Women’s Day. Currently, out of 543 MPs in the Lok Sabha, only 62 are women. However, this is the most on record in the lower house. In the Rajya Sabha, there are 31 women out of 245 MPs.
Praising the role of women in nation building Modi said, “A country is not made strong by its infrastructure. Every citizen of India strengthens the nation and mothers give strength to these citizens. It is the mothers who have been contributing to nation building for years.” He also appealed to female MPs to embrace technology to connect with their respective constituencies. “Women adapt to technology much easier than men. I have received so many enriching thoughts and views through the Narendra Modi app and MyGov.in. All of you can also use technology similarly to stay well-informed about your own areas,” he said. Modi suggested that e-platforms be created for female MPs of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi who also participated at the conference told Sunday Post, “Prime Minister used this very nice line in his speech – who are men to empower women? Because she herself is shakti strot – source of energy. If a woman is the source of energy then who are men to empower her? The mindset we have in our country needs to be changed. When you talk about women development then it has to be women-led development. This is the crux of the matter. Women-led development means there has to be equal participation of women. The participation of women in nation-building basically from labour to information technology department, everywhere a woman needs to be ensured equal opportunity. If you give an opportunity to women they do their work very seriously and give results which no one else can produce like them.”
Lekhi elucidated that the gender dynamics in India needs to be relooked with the need to have larger number of women assuming leadership roles. “Over the years it can be seen that there is a pyramid-like set-up in our country in which women at the bottom of the pyramid are mostly workers and very few make it to the top and acquire leadership roles. They are mostly looked at as workers but not allowed to become leaders. The time has come that women need to be seen as leaders and lead the development process in every sphere of life ranging from economic to social to political development. It is about time to have a just society ensuring equal participation of women at all levels,” she added.
Ranjana Kumari, Director at the Centre for Social Research and a woman activist said, “The most
important role of women in nation-building is in terms of its economy and social development. India is just lagging behind because of its social and gender indicators which includes education and other health for girl child which brings India at the bottom of global mission.
If we just look at the economic growth we are almost at par with China and the United States of America. But if we look at the social indicators, development is not happening at all. Women, who are contributing to the economic development of the country, are not made to be part of boardrooms.
As our country is growing, women are not made to participate in important decision-making in the Parliament as well as in state assemblies. Hence, lack of power from the boardroom to the Parliament is what is really acting as a barrier to women participation in nation-building.”
Stressing on lack of women in the political sphere she added, “Particularly in politics – total Indian political set-up and democracy is as patriarchal and male-controlled as it can be. We need to feminise our democracy. We need to ensure that women are participating and men are not just becoming leaders. Women must get a chance to become their own leaders. In spite of all the statements made by the current government, prime minister in his speech during this conference did not commit to the Women’s Reservation Bill, which is very unfortunate. He used the Bill to attract female electorate. His fancy speeches were just used to attract women. When it came to abiding by his promises, he seems to have forgotten them all”.
Lack of opportunity to women is one of the biggest impediments that results in gender disparity in India. There is a need for change. A change starting right from the mindset of every woman and man in the country. A need to see women assume more important leadership roles. After all, we must remember the adage – “the hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world”.
- Globally India ranks 109 of 190 nations enumerated in the women representative ranking in the legislative representation
- At present out of 543 MPs in the Lok Sabha, only 62 are women. However, this is the most on record in the lower house. In the Rajya Sabha, there are 31 women out of 245 MPs
- In Parliament only female parliamentarians spoke on 8 March to mark the celebration of International Women’s Day
- The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha committees on public accounts and public undertakings have no women representatives
- Only four women have found place in the Parliament standing committees, with home having two and railway and finance having one representation each
"If a woman is the source of energy then who are men to empower her? The mindset we have in our country needs to be changed. When you talk about women development then it has to be women-led development
"Parliament is the highest law-making body and the process of law-making also means equality of law and opportunity for all. Governance and legislation go hand in hand. With good governance and development, women will automatically benefit
Senior Congress Leader
"The role of women in nation-building is in terms of its economy and social development India is lagging behind because of its social and gender indicators which brings India at the bottom of global mission
Director, Centre for Social Research