More of this, world leaders! Recent news out of India shows the call for gender equality and more government accountability in the country’s deeply ingrained violence epidemic is slowly being chipped away by efforts to ensure the law does its part in protecting and advocating for victims.
Ever since 2012 when the Delhi gang rape of a young woman struck a chord around the world, there has been an uptick in the reports of violence, especially toward women and girls. Indian society is still very conservative, and there are many who do not view women as equals, despite the country officially being the world’s largest democracy.
Upon being elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi vowed to take action to tackle the problem. He launched the beti bachao beti padhao (“save girl child, educate girl child”) program to improve the lives of girls at an early stage. And now the Modi government has drafted a new policy to improve the lives of women across a number of socio-economic levels.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development announced the new National Policy for Women, which TheWire.in reports was the first of its kind in 15 years. The Minister for Women and Child Dev’t, Maneka Gandhi, delivered the policy at the Indian Women’s Press Corps in New Delhi in May, touting it as a “re-scripting” of women’s empowerment with a “socially inclusive rights-based approach.”
“Since 2001, when the last National Policy for Empowerment of Women was formulated, the concept of women empowerment has seen changes, from being recipients of welfare benefits to the need to engage them in the development process, welfare with a heavy dose of rights. This draft policy has tried to address this shift. It will define the government’s action on women in the next 15-20 years,” she said.
We’re not sure why this issue has been neglected for 15 years on a government level, but perhaps the secrecy and cultural taboos surrounding gender violence had a huge part to play. In 2012, a MWCD committee dedicated to researching this issue first presenting a report to the government in 2015 which included an action plan to end gender violence and a suggestion for a national policy.
And in a surprising move, the ministry turned to the voices of everyday women to find out the problems they are facing in order to implement solutions that are realistic and reflect the needs of those it aims to help.
“Though we formulated it after consulting a lot of women from diverse backgrounds and tried to address issues of single, divorced, widowed women, women who work from home to those who go to office, we invite comments from all stakeholders and the public to make it an even more refined policy,” said Minister Gandhi.
Some of the issues include education, reproductive healthcare, infant and maternal mortality rate, aged care, safety in transportation, and teaching awareness and advocacy to men and boys. Both infant and maternal mortality rates have decreased significantly since 2003, yet this area will remain a top priority as stated by the Ministry.
In terms of repro rights, there will be a shift in focus from female sterilization to male sterilization in the reform of family planning efforts, and a focus on implementing a law on surrogacy is also paramount as this is a highly controversial clandestine industry in India in some parts. There are currently only guidelines in place regarding surrogacy, not a national law.
The trafficking of young girls will be addressed in a manner that the MWCD hopes will culminate in a specific government position to oversee this particular problem.
“This is going to remain one of the most focused areas of my ministry this year. Ideally, we should have a Trafficking Commissioner. We are also trying to make the MWCD a nodal monitoring agency along with the Ministry of Home Affairs in this regard,” Minister Gandhi said.
Incentivized community programs and workshops will be strategically launched as a way to engage men and boys in the fight for gender equality.
“The ministry… has joined hands with the Ministry of Education to soon introduce a competition for ‘Gender Champions’ among school boys. It will be implemented across the country, (and) will have prizes for those who uphold respect for women,” said the Minister, adding it will be available to boys from fifth grade onward.
Also included in the new policy were plans to create shelters for thousands of widows, single, deserted, separated and divorced women and give them opportunities to get back on their feet. In a culture that holds a lot of taboo around the role and status of women, this may play a role in dismantling the stereotypes around the most vulnerable women in Indian society.
Digital technology will be utilized to enhance safety measures for women in a similar way we are seeing it being used around the world including here in the US.
“We are also bringing in measures like introducing a panic button in cell phones which will be connected to police stations. It should be in place by this January. The ministry is also working on developing a mobile application through which ten people the user chooses will get a shout in need who may reach her sooner than the police,” said Minister Gandhi.
NDTV reported that this new policy is also a part of India’s participation in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals effort, launched in 2015 as a way to engage member states to commit to 17 target objectives in order to alleviate global poverty by 2030. One of the goals is gender equality, and the Indian government is viewing their new national policy for women as part of their ongoing effort to ensure this is a reality.
Before the draft policy was released by the MWCD, Maneka Gandhi attended the 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nation headquarters in March. It was there she told those in attendance that women’s issues in India, especially new issues, are being raised much more easily and more often than before, and they hope to continue this.
“Ensuring gender equality, promoting women’s empowerment and combating discrimination and violence against women are integral to our national pursuit of forging inclusive society and development. We have adopted both enabling legislative and policy framework for advancement of women and undertaken awareness generation and sensitization programs to fight social prejudices and stereotypes,” she said.
Along with solutions to existing problems, the policy hopes to engage more women to participate in the workforce, in politics, and to create more entrepreneurial opportunities for them. They want to see a shift in the way society values women for unpaid labor and those who work in traditional industries like agriculture. We certainly hope the perspective on women will also change along with the societal barriers they face in India today.