New Delhi: Ensuring women’s safety in public places will go a long way in giving them equal space in the decision making process, say women MPs cutting across party lines as Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for moving beyond “women development” towards “women-led development”.
The women legislators also felt that reservation for women in assemblies can facilitate the process, as the bill for giving 33% reservation to women remains pending.
The prime minister, at the recently concluded National Conference of Women Legislators, said the country must think beyond “women development” and move towards “women-led development” and asked woman lawmakers to interact with panchayat and municipal representatives in their area as a step towards their “empowerment”.
At the same conference, President Pranab Mukherjee said it was “unfortunate” that the bill to ensure 33% representation of women in Parliament could not be passed.
Known to be an eloquent speaker and a lawyer, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Meenakshi Lekhi said women are already empowered, and what they need are opportunities.
“I have been saying for years, we women are already empowered, we need opportunity. Work needs to be done on giving security and respect to women, we will manage the rest,” Lekhi said. “If you can ensure women safety, there is nothing that is unachievable.”
The MP’s comments came as the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics show rise in cases of violence against women over the years, with 3,37,922 cases of crime against women in 2014.
On similar lines, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader and Rajya Sabha member T.N. Seema felt drawing more women in public space is one way of ensuring safe public space for them, linking it to the need for passage of the bill for women reservation in assemblies and parliament.
“Women need to be part of the implementation and decision-making process, the problem is how to make it work. When we talk about this, the bill for reservation for women in parliament becomes important. The experience of having more women in local bodies proves that,” Seema said.
Seema, who holds a doctorate in Malayalam literature, agreed that ensuring safe atmosphere for women is important to ensure higher women’s participation in public life, and added that to create a safe atmosphere more women should come out in the public space.
“We cannot wait for a safe atmosphere to be created… Safety of women is also connected to the participation of women in public life. When there are more women in public sphere, safe atmosphere will be created for women,” she said.
Congress MP from the upper house Vijaylaxmi Sadho said not enough is being done for ensuring a safe atmosphere for women. “If there is atmosphere of safety, women will come out and have bigger role. But not much is being done for it,” Sadho said.
“What are you doing to make women feel safe? Even I feel unsafe if I have to leave Delhi airport at 11 p.m., and my driver is not there,” the MP confessed.
She questioned the utilisation of the Nirbhaya Fund, a Rs.10 billion corpus announced by the government in 2013 which was set up to support initiatives by the government and NGOs working towards protecting the dignity and ensuring safety of women in India.
“There is money lying in the Nirbhaya fund, what is happening to that? There were no provisions for women in the budget either,” she said.
Sadho also felt that passage of women’s reservation bill in this regard can make a difference.
“Passing the women’s bill will make a difference. I even suggested this to the (Lok Sabha) Speaker (Sumitra Mahajan), I told her you represent women, you must ensure the bill is passed in Lok Sabha,” Sadho said.
A constitutional amendment bill to provide one-third reservation to women in state assemblies and the Lok Sabha was passed by the Rajya Sabha in March 2010 amid protests by some regional parties and collective support of the Congress, BJP and Left parties, remains pending.
Lekhi, however, has a different perspective on granting reservation to women, which she emphasised was her personal opinion and not that of her party.
“Reservation for women is a must, but my personal opinion is that reservation should not be in terms of reservation of a constituency. We need election laws amended so that all parties need to give 33 percent reservation to women within the party,” Lekhi said.
“Law should be such that a party will not be given election symbol till they implement this… This way parties will have to look out for strong women candidates and groom them, it will not remain something for the politically privileged,” she added.