Today 26th January 2017, India celebrates its 68th Republic Day, marking the day when the most important document of the country, the Constitution came into being. On this day, symbolizing the power of democracy and celebrating the rights of us citizens as enshrined in the Constitution, let us revisit how women fare in the world’s largest democracy.
As per the Constitution, various rights are espoused for women of the country. Some of these are:
- The state shall not discriminate against any citizen of India on the ground of sex [Article 15(1)].
- The state is empowered to make any special provision for women. In other words, this provision enables the state to make affirmative discrimination in favour of women [Article 15(3)].
- No citizen shall be discriminated against or be ineligible for any employment or office under the state on the ground of sex [Article 16(2)].
- Traffic in human beings and forced labour are prohibited [Article 23(1)].
- The state to secure for men and women equally the right to an adequate means of livelihood [Article 39(a)].
- The state to secure equal pay for equal work for both Indian men and women [Article 39(d)].
- The state is required to ensure that the health and strength of women workers are not abused and that they are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their strength [Article 39(e)].
- The state shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief [Article 42].
- It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women [Article 51-A(e)].
- One-third of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every Panchayat shall be reserved for women [Article 243-D(3)].
- One-third of the total number of offices of chairpersons in the Panchayats at each level shall be reserved for women [Article 243-D(4)].
- One-third of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every Municipality shall be reserved for women [Article 243-T(3)].
- The offices of chairpersons in the Municipalities shall be reserved for women in such manner as the State Legislature may provide [Article 243-T(4)].
Let us look at the last of these, pertaining to political reservation of women. While the global average for Women in Parliament stands at 22.4%, India is at a dysmal 103rd place out of 140 countries with a mere 12% representation. Within Asia, India is at the 13th position out of 18 countries. Women occupy just 66 seats in the 543 member Lok Sabha, which is a mere 12%. The figures for female Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) across all state assemblies in India is even worse, with the national average being a pitiable 9%.
Gender parity across domains is a serious issue worldwide, and the field of politics is no exception. It is a known fact that more number of women are required at all levels of power and decision making, to ensure that all members of society are adequately represented and given a voice. Women are essential for society’s development, and it is pertinent that they are given an equal say in the formulation of laws. Despite having female leaders like Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati, Sushma Swaraj, Jayalalitha, Uma Bharti and many more, there is a dearth of women in local panchayats, state assemblies and the Parliament.
The Constitution of India is a wonderful document, which takes into consideration many aspects of women’s well being, health, security and livelihood. However, unless these rights are practically implemented, it will be a long way for India to be a true democracy.
Centre for Social Research, and its director, Dr Ranjana Kumari, have been working on the cause of political empowerment of women for many years now. In an interview to the Hindu in October 2016 on the issue of triple talaq, Dr Kumari said “If women were better represented in Parliament, these laws would have been repealed long ago.” Recently, Dr Kumari, was part of a women’s delegation which met Smt. Sumitra Mahajan, Speaker of Lok Sabha, to press for quick passing of the Women’s Reservation Bill. Our commitment to #Ab33Nahi50 movement, seeking greater representation of women in politics stems from our belief that having gender equality in politics is the key to any country’s development.
Wishing you all a very Happy Republic Day!
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