INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY
INDIA 2001 WOMENS EMPOWERMENT YEAR
The International Womens Day on March 8 this year is of special importance to India as the Government of India has declared 2001 as Womens Empowerment Year (WEY). The purpose of the declaration is not to celebrate women exclusively in the new millennial year, but to make every effort to restore to woman as Shakti, the Power that she had lost over the years in a world of growing male supremacy. In other words, the year 2001 is to be the precursor to the sustained empowerment of every woman in India at home and in the outside world.
The International Womens Day was given official recognition by the United Nations in 1975. This opened up opportunities for a large number of womens organisations the world over for acting on the economic and social rights of their fraternity.
The principle of gender equality has been basic to Indian thinking for over a century. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw a succession of womens movements around burning social issues from womens education and widow remarriage to the freedom struggle itself. Women from all walks of life participated actively in the freedom struggle by responding to the call of Mahatma Gandhi, a champion of womens rights. The Constitution of India guarantees equality to women empowers the State to adopt measures for affirmative discrimination in favour of women and also imposes a fundamental duty on its citizens to uphold the dignity of women.
The development of women has been the central focus in the planning process since Independence. In 1971, the Government appointed a Committee on the Status of Women in
India (CSWI) to examine all questions relating to the rights and status of women in the context of changing social and economic conditions in the country. In the 1980s women were recongnised as a separate target group and given their rightful place in development planning. Inclusion of a separate chapter, viz., Women and Development in the Sixth Plan Document (1980-85), marked the shift from welfare approach to womens problems to the developmental approach relating to their employment and economic independence, education, access to health and family planning, support services to meet practical gender needs and the creation of an enabling policy for institutional and legal environment. The approach of the Eighth Plan (1992-97) which regards women as equal partners in development processes marks a progress from the goal of development to that of empowerment of women. To bring the women into the mainstream of national development process, the Government has directed all its efforts towards raising their status social, economic, legal and political at par with that of men.
According to the 1991 census, women numbering 407.1 million, represent 48.1 per cent of the countrys population of 846.3 million. To meet the increasing and challenging needs of women there has been a progressive increase in the Plan Outlays over the last four decades. Ever since the Department of Women and Child Welfare was set up in 1985 under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, there has been a growth of many new institutions to interact with and add on the existing network. Amongst these one of the most significant is the setting up of the National Commission for women in 1992.
Several initiatives have been taken by the Government to improve the status of women. These have been supplemented by concerted efforts of the womens movement and the voluntary sector. The progress in the last few decades has been noteworthy in areas relating to womens rights, education, employment and health. Now more women are literate, there is a better understanding among them of rights and responsibilities, greater awareness and gender sensitivity and better access to health services. Income generation has become available to many women. Major programmes implemented and initiatives undertaken by the Government in the area of womens empowerment are:
Support to Training-cum-Employment Programme (STEP)
The scheme renders support to womens empowerment in sectors like agriculture, dairying, small animal husbandry, fisheries, khadi and village industries, handlooms, etc., where women are predominantly engaged in work. The scheme focuses on the poorest, the most unorganised and assetless women.
Under this programme, the Central Social Welfare Board gives financial assistance to voluntary organisations for a variety of income-generating activities, providing work and wages to needy women. Small economic units, handloom and handicrafts units, dairy units and other animal husbandry programmes like piggery, goat-rearing, sheep-breeding and poultry are supported under this programme.
Womens Development Corporation
The Scheme for setting up Womens Development Corporations in States was formulated in 1986-87 with a view to identifying women entrepreneurs, providing them with technical consultancy, facilitating availability of credits, promoting marketing of products, strengthening womens cooperatives, arranging training facilities, etc. The scheme was transferred to the State sector during 1992-93, as per the decision of the National Development Council.
National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development
The National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCID), New Delhi, an autonomous organisation, functions under the aegis of the Department of Women and Child Development. The objectives of the Institute are to develop and promote voluntary action in social development, take a comprehensive view of child development and develop measures for coordination of governmental and voluntary action in social development and evolve a framework and perspective for organising childrens programmes through social and voluntary efforts. The Institute is the apex body for training of functionaries of the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme (ICDS).
Swa-Shakti Project (earlier known as Rural Womens Development and Empowerment Project) was sanctioned on 16 October 1998 as a Centrally-sponsored project for a period of five years. The objectives of the project are:
Welfare and Support Services
Financial assistance is given to voluntary organisations for construction of hostels for working women. Since the inception of the programme in 1972-73, 830 hostels for about 59,000 working women with day-care facilities for children in 293 hostels have been sanctioned. Grant-in-aid is also given to voluntary organisations/institutes to assist/run short-stay homes for women and girls who are in social and moral danger. At present there are 330 short-stay homes sanctioned in different parts of the country.
Advocacy and SensitisationDevelopment indicators stand witness to the gender gaps that exist in various areas of our social and economic life. The constantly declining sex ratio, which now stands at 927 females to 1,000 males, the growing incidence of female foeticide, the prevalence of female infanticide and the high rates of infant and maternal mortality demonstrate that even survival of the girl child/woman is a critical area of concern. The gender-gap in literacy rates of almost 30 per cent in rural areas and 20 per cent in urban areas also represent a daunting challenge. The invisibility and drudgery of womens work, the need for women-friendly technology and the concentration of women in the informal sector are also issues that need to be addressed. Violence against women which prevails irrespective of caste/class parameters requires focused attention.
Distance education Programme
In order to enhance the capacity of field-level functionaries and other development- related practitioners, the Development of Women and Child has initiated a collaborative project with IGNOU and ISRO for starting a certificate in Distance Education mode on Womens Group Mobilisation and Empowerment.
Support through Legislation
The Government has introduced some special legislation for the protection of interests of women. These include Equal Remuneration Act, Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, Criminal Laws and Indian Evidence Act, Maternity Benefit Act, Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, Dowry Prevention Act, etc. A landmark legislation on the pre-natal diagnostic technique to prevent its misuse was passed in April 1994. The 73rd Amendment to the Constitution providing for one third reservation for women in the Panchayats and local urban bodies is the most important landmark in the womens political empowerment efforts.
National Commission for Women
The main area of activities of the Commission constituted on 31 January 1992 includes review of the constitutional and legal safeguards for women, recommending remedial measures, facilitating redressal of grievances, undertaking studies and investigations, participation and advice in the planning process and generally advising the Government on all matters of policy affecting their welfare and development of women in the country.
The Indian Delegation participated in the fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing from 4-15 September 1995. As the co-Chairperson for the finalisation of the Beijing Declaration, India fought for equal inheritance rights for girl children and women and had inter-alia made the commitment of formulation of a National Policy on Women.
In keeping with that assurance the Government in the year of Womens Empower-
ment has the following themes before it to flagmark:
The objective, therefore, of the Government is to initiate and accelerate action to improve access to and control of resources by women so that they can take their rightful place in the mainstream of the nations social, political and economic life. Dealing with these issues from the perspective of large-scale awareness requires the participation of all men and women, social organisations, private sectors, media, etc. The day when woman stands equal with man, it is then and only then that we shall have built a just, equal and prosperous society in the 21st century.