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February 11, 1998


Issues '98/Mohini Giri

'Parties must show their commitment to women now'

With an election around the corner, it is time for all political parties to show that they are serious about improving the lot of women in the country and giving them a greater role in the legislative bodies.

The time for spewing rhetoric on women's political power is over. It is now time for action, the time for political parties to launch a public campaign to end discrimination against women and girls through a process of education, empowerment, and the provision of legal rights.

The first thing to do is to enact a constitutional amendment bill ensuring 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and state legislatures. All the political leaders claim that they are committed to the bill, but when it comes to passing the law, male politicians shy away from it.

There are 480 million women in the country, 282 million of them voters. But sadly, in the just-dissolved Lok Sabha, there were only 39 women.

In 1996 election, the Congress fielded only 49 women out of a total of 530 candidates while the BJP fielded only 23 women out of 477. The number of women fielded in earlier elections was even lower. It is in fact a vicious circle. Women needed to get into decision-making bodies so that the laws that are passed benefit them, while women are increasingly marginalised because they are not empowered.

The present election will show how many parties that have been demanding women's reservation in Parliament actually give tickets to women. It is said that despite widespread social opinion in favour of their cause, there is no political will to take it up. Therefore, millions of women continue to suffer in the country.

I am sure that women politicians will be able to do better for the women community in Indian because women are more responsible and less corrupt in public life.

There is gender discrimination against women everywhere -- inheritance law, population control, healthcare, literacy, etc. If a girl is born in a family, it is considered a bad omen. Female infanticide is still practised in many parts of the country despite laws banning it. Many parents are unable to marry off their daughters because of dowry.

Political parties should be in the forefront of a public campaign to combat atrocities on women like sati and dowry deaths, and social evils like child marriage. Sadly, 50 years after Independence, atrocities against women are increasing in the country daily. We at the National Commission for Women get hundreds of cases of atrocities and crimes against women every month.

This is the time for parties across the political spectrum to show a hitherto unsuspected gender sensitivity. Be it crime against women, prohibition, education for girls, and most importantly, the 33 per cent reservation for women in legislative bodies.

Women in India are still trapped in caste and religious identities. Even in a literate state like Kerala, atrocities against women is major gender issue for the polls. The rash of sex scandals, rapes and other crimes against women have been the subject of serious public debate across the country.

We need increased participation of women in politics. We need more educational and development programmes for the backward caste, illiterate, landless, assetless, and poor women of the country.

We need gender bias-free laws on inheritance, divorce, maintenance and adoption. We must consider various options to remove gender discrimination in the country. While men pay lip service to the need to uplift women, they simply wriggle out when it comes to giving them tickets.

I feel that marginalisation of women is integrally linked to their marginalisation from politics. The state of women in the country will improve only if we democratise the decision-making bodies.

Mohini Giri, chairperson India's National Commission for Women, spoke to George Iype.

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