Can Modi show he cares about women?

Nishtha Gautam
Nishtha GautamJun 13, 2015 | 20:08

Can Modi show he cares about women?

A lot has been discussed about PM Modi's first year in office. Report cards, grades, polls and other rituals of assessing performance have been dominating the public discourse. While actions and policies on economy, security, external affairs, Make in India are being deliberated upon extensively, there is little attention on how the government has fared on its traditional battleground: gender equity.



Modi's speech on Independence Day was historical in highlighting an incumbent government's commitment to women safety and empowerment. Unfortunately, a conspicuously masculine new national executive body of the BJP constituted by Amit Shah comes up as an unmistakable irony. While one year is not enough to mitigate centuries of exploitation and disenfranchisement, the PM must realise the issue needs to be tackled on a war footing and not delegated to the ministry of woman and child welfare. A gender-sensitive approach needs to be adopted by all the ministries internally as well as at the level of policymaking.

Some ministries particularly have their tasks cut out for them. To begin with, the ministry of commerce and industry under Nirmala Sitharaman can put its weight behind eradicating human trafficking. As per a 2007 report from the ministry of women & child development, the presence of female "sex workers" in India is over three million. Out of these, 35.47 per cent of them enter the trade before the age of 18. The magnitude of the problem of sex trafficking and prostitution is increasing and worsening in India. The number of girls and women being pulled into prostitution is on the rise while their age at entry is decreasing. Natural calamities like the recent Nepal earthquake are a boon to the hawkish traffickers. With the destruction of livelihood and habitation, women's vulnerabilities increase manifold.


With the Companies Act, 2013 mandating corporate social responsibility (CSR) for big corporate houses, a lot can be achieved in this field. It is noteworthy however, that while issues like education, public health, AIDS etc have been covered in the Schedule VII of the Act as potential areas for CSR, there is no mention of human trafficking. By specifying human trafficking as a key area, systematic efforts can be made to combat the menace. Other ministries like rural development, panchayati raj, urban development, and housing and urban poverty alleviation can come together for a comprehensive solution beginning with minimising vulnerabilities of potential victims. Another ministry that needs gender-balanced policies is defence. Parrikar's recent dismissal of the idea of inducting women in combat roles is not in keeping with the modern outlook our prime minister espouses. The armed forces need dedicated soldiers - men or women. Cultural taboos restricting women's greater participation in the services need to be discarded as a policy prerogative.

The government must look at deliverables like entry for women as fighter pilots, minor design changes in warships for welcoming women in the Navy, uniform commission and promotion policy for achieving a gender-balanced environment in the armed forces.



The HRD ministry along with the ministries of women and child development, skill development & entrepreneurship, youth affairs and sports, must pay special attention to providing women access to necessary means for their financial empowerment. Gender-based synergy in these ministries will lead to improved performance and eliminate duplication of schemes. The government may not need cost-cutting measures then. Maneka Gandhi's dissent on federal spending in the social sector is crucial. In the capacity of a cabinet minister, she has drawn her government's attention to the dangers of shortfalls in social welfare schemes. One cannot help making this into a textbook example while demanding for women's increased participation in governance. Gandhi's refusal to toe the line, and thus highlighting her commitment to the job at hand, is a magnified reflection of the actions of our women representatives at panchayats. Several studies show that women sarpanches fare remarkably well in the field of social development.


This brings us to the Women's Reservation Bill. The bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha during the UPA government. Soon afterwards, Modi became PM and it was expected that the long-pending bill would be passed. Why it is stuck? Responding to my question during a TV debate, Amit Shah assured of an early resolution on the bill. He shared the opinions of voices of dissent on the matter. How the present government turns naysayers into allies over this issue to get the bill passed remains to be seen. A majority government comes with many privileges so why not use them to address pressing societal concerns?

Patriarchy has long been reigning in India. It is high time that women empowerment became a policy matter. Social attitudes will fall in line once the government makes its own intent clear through action. Zero tolerance for gender-related violence, discrimination and harassment as a national policy will percolate into the society at large. Let this government set an example and then we can celebrate.

Last updated: August 05, 2015 | 13:50
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