Millions of Indians are now selecting the men and women who will run the country. Over the next five years, the decisions and opinions of these elected leaders will be instrumental in shaping India’s stand on gender equality — from women’s participation in politics or the economy, to the passing of the women’s reservation Bill or even the manner in which businesses prioritise gender equality.
These are the issues that were debated and discussed during a conference organised by the European Union and UN Women on gender equality and women’s empowerment on March 10. What we heard during the conference applies to India and to most countries in the world.
First, we heard about the need for greater participation of women in the political space. The way political parties and governments develop in India is of critical importance for the empowerment of women. Women need to be given more space at all administrative levels, from the panchayat to Parliament. The issue is, therefore, both about numbers and access to leadership positions. We believe quotas and reservations are necessary temporary measures to fight deep-rooted discrimination or exclusion from leadership positions.
Second, the time has come to make the workspace inclusive for women. Gender equality in the corporate sector is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.
Third, patriarchy and violence against women must be addressed in more effective ways than we have to date. Influencing boys and girls early in their lives is important as attitudes are shaped early.
Finally, we believe we need to attack and address the foundations of discrimination worldwide. For this, we see three core priorities. First, ensure gender equality without violence; second, ensure equality of access to resources; third, promote women’s voice, leadership and participation to influence policies.
India played a critical role in 1995 during the Fourth World Conference on Women that was held in Beijing where world leaders promised equality and gender justice to the world’s women.
India has the capacity to sustain the leadership that it has shown since 1995. With 2015 marking the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Platform for Action, India can play a pivotal role in galvanising commitment for future goals. At this moment, when major international efforts to advance human development are converging, India could help position gender equality at the heart of the global agenda.
João Cravinho is EU ambassador to India and Bhutan and Rebecca Tavares is UN women’s representative to India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka. The views expressed by the authors are personal.