Indian women’s bill continues on controversial road

November 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

India is making noises about increasing the role of women in society – and it’s good it’s having this debate because it has a low base to start from. The two main political parties in the state are struggling to get more women involved in an overwhelmingly male parliament.

The Bharatiya Janata Party of 259 members has only 45 women on its list. And only with more women in parliament can there be a fair addressing of gender issues. According to UNICEF,  47% of India’s women aged 20–24 were married before the legal age of 18, with 56% in rural areas. Property laws prevent most women owning or inheriting land, and harassment in the work place remains a major issue.

Having said that, India has in many ways an impressive record in gender relations, largely due to women’s role in the struggle for independence. Political forces are working to gather support for the passing in Parliament of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which would give 33% representation to women in government.  Meira Kumar, the speaker for Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Congress,  has called this week for all parties to come forward and support the bill.  She said that the role of women in society should be increased in all spheres.

How much impact her comments this week will have is as yet unclear, but the campaign for the bill is certainly gathering support. Although, the issue is not a new one. Press reports back in March state that the government was hoping to push through the women’s bill in the next three weeks. The bill was passed in the upper house, but has to face The House of the People and then gain presidential consent before it becomes law .

The photo below, courtesy of The Times of India , who have covered the issue in some detail, shows a woman protesting in favour of the Bill surrounded by policewomen. A bold, brave move.

The Speaker is a woman, and that is a good start after all on the road to empowerment. And of course, President Pratibha Devisingh Patil is the first woman to hold that position, and that sends a very clear message to the country and the international community.

It’s worth remembering that although this bill has proved highly contentious, it still only secures a third of female representation in government. Imagine the controversy if it was proposing a 50% representation across the whole of government.

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