The #MeToo movement in India has revealed how prevalent sexual harassment is in our society. Even as we come to terms with the magnitude of the problem, (and with the fact that some prominent citizens we looked up to in various fields have a dark side to them), it is important to mull over potential solutions to this problem.
It is high time we got serious about dealing with violence against women. (Source: Reuters)
Many respond with disgust and anger, often calling for harsh deterrents – including capital punishment. While the anger is understandable, such knee-jerk responses can hardly solve the problem. Very often, the debate about sexual harassment or violence against women subsides a few days after a tragic incident is reported. And society goes back to its old ways of discrimination against women, creating an ecosystem favourable to a culture of misogyny and violence. That prominent celebrities, including women, have spoken disparagingly about the #MeToo movement in India is in fact indicative of how deep-rooted our apathy is.
The United Nations states, “Violence against women and girls is rooted in gender-based discrimination and social norms and gender stereotypes that perpetuate such violence.”
During its 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, (March 2013), the UN placed strong emphasis on the prevention of violence against women through promotion of gender equality, women’s empowerment and their enjoyment of human rights. In fact, as it commemorates the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25, it has decided to extend the activities to every month, rather than making it an annual affair. Thus, to sustain the debate over gender discrimination, the UN proposes that every 25th of the month is dedicated to organising activities across the world, with the theme “Orange the World #HearMeToo” (the colour orange being used prominently to gain attraction).
While the attitudes in society certainly need to change, it is important to concomitantly work towards ensuring women are adequately represented in the legislatures. It is only when women are empowered and find a voice in the legislatures can there be gender sensitisation in our policies and society. As one would recall, the Congress led-UPA had introduced a bill in 2008 (108th amendment to the Constitution) to ensure 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and in state legislative assemblies. Sadly, the bill could not be enacted as there was no voting on it in the Lok Sabha.
Despite being ranked a lowly 148th in the world, in terms of representation of women in the executive government, there have been no attempts to ensure there are more women in our legislatures.
As of June 2016, women comprise a mere 11.8 per cent of the Lok Sabha, which is much lower than the global average of 22.8 per cent in the national legislatures.
Given such a bleak reality regarding women’s representation, it is indeed commendable that Naveen Patnaik, the chief minister of Odisha, moved a resolution for 33 per cent reservation in all legislative bodies. Both the BJP and the Congress, while welcoming the resolution and extending support to it, stated that such a bill can only be passed by Parliament.
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik has moved a resolution to pass the women's reservation bill. (Source: India Today)
It is therefore likely that this development will revive the debate about the 108th amendment bill, which is still pending.
Despite stating that the BJP will pass the bill during the elections in 2014, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government has pushed it into oblivion, perhaps because it is embarrassed over its dismal record on gender issues.
Moreover, when the women’s reservation bill was being deliberated on in 2010, several BJP members of Parliament had opposed it, including the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath.
It is therefore a chance for the BJP to make its intentions clear – and if it genuinely desires gender parity, it must facilitate the enactment of the bill. Similarly, the Congress being the principle Opposition party (and having introduced the bill), must put aside its differences and support this progressive initiative by Naveen Patnaik.
Also read: Passing Women's Reservation Bill after two decades of stonewalling is the need of the hour