Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi says her ministry is working on four core areas of “safety, education, employment and confidence building,” which are critical for the 58 crore women population in India which includes over 41 crore in rural areas.
She also lays out the detailed roadmap for her ministry including setting up of one stop rape crises centres, hostels for working women among others. Upasna Pandey reports.
As the Union environment minister in the earlier National Democratic Alliance government, she pushed going green to the top of the national agenda. Now, in her new stint as Union minister for women and child development, Maneka Gandhi wants to make women empowerment just as important for the Narendra Modi-led government.
She wants the ministry to be “as important, relevant and fierce as the environment ministry was”.
Speaking with Rediff.com’s Upasna Pandey, Maneka Gandhi spoke of her focus and priorities for women, insisting that “everything needs to be done and I don’t have the luxury of prioritising on what needs to be done first. It is the job of the ministry to ensure we have action, gender stabilisation, justice and bring about empowerment for women.”
Maneka says one of the top action items for her has been to begin work on a new national policy for women empowerment as the last one was adopted in 2001. The ministry is working on four core areas of “safety, education, employment and confidence building,” which are critical for the 58 crore women population in India which includes over 41 crore in rural areas.
“We are focusing on the National Commission for Women through reforms to enable it to act as a body which works just like the National Human Rights Commission,” she says, adding, “giving more teeth to NCW would mean allowing provisions for investigating tools, power to summon in cases and to recommend punishment”.
“Right now women have no proper platforms for justice and we want to ensure that changes. Work is on to establish one stop rape crisis centres, covering every district in the country, which would essentially ensure a rape victim does not need to do all the work herself to get justice, and it is done for her. There would be legal, medical and police aid available at these centres.”
Another area of safety is the plan for setting up working women's hostels across all districts in the country to facilitate improved working conditions for women apart from establishing an all India distress helpline for women.
“We are also focusing on creating better and safer toilets for women across the country. To do this, we are also looking at creating community centres which can be used by anganwadis apart from having a caste neutral and safe toilet facility, these can be easily used by all women in a village,” she adds.
She says there would also be focus on matrimonial sites where cases of frauds and stalking are being reported. “We want to explore scope for police verification of people who use the matrimonial sites so that chances of being duped go down.”
Maneka Gandhi shares her plans for raising education and empowerment level through skill development, an area where women are noticeably low in presence in India.
“We plan to create women ITIs at state-level to begin with and there are technical education experts we are talking to for establishing the roadmap on this. Also, we are in touch with international agencies such as UNICEF which are willing to provide faculties for training women.”
Another area which is being explored is to build synergy between skill training of women by National Commission for Women and promoting entrepreneurship through loans from Bhartiya Mahila Bank, which has been functional for the last 8 months, says the minister.
In the confidence building aspect, Maneka feels a lot needs to be done. “There were two annual awards which were given in Delhi to recognise women, we have replaced this with 690 awards which would be given annually on May 8 to recogise women for their achievements, courage, entrepreneurship and other criterions. There would be nice plaque and a cash prize of Rs 25,000 each for these awardees.”
The awardees would also be required to address at least four meetings to ensure women in their districts are motivated and become part of the overall confidence building efforts.
There is a sharp focus on the reforms and utilisation of around 14 lakh Anganwadi women employees, who can play a critical role in women empowerment in the country, says the minister.
“We want to make these women IT savvy to raise their efficiency, and even increase their work hours up to 9 hours so that working women can be provided child crèches at Anganwadis for longer period during the day.” A blueprint on this is likely to come up in consultation with states, she adds.
For a ministry that seeks to address more than half the Indian population, Maneka Gandhi has a simple mantra, go beyond tokenism. “Things need to be done and done properly, we don’t believe in token gesture as was happening earlier.”
While her earlier assignment was about changing laws, this one is about changing mindsets of a vast majority of Indians. No stranger to challenges, Maneka Gandhi looks set for a steep climb ahead.
Image: Maneka Gandhi