Calling for a change in the mindset of people towards gender equality and women empowerment, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday said he was deeply disturbed by the rising crime graph against women and female foeticide which he described as 'barbaric'.
"The worst manifestation of gender discrimination is female foeticide. How can we call ourselves a civilised society if we can tolerate such a barbaric crime?" Manmohan Singh said in his keynote address at the golden jubilee celebrations of Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi.
"This is not committed by the illiterate and the impoverished and is being committed, very often, in this very city, perhaps in this very neighbourhood."
"It is in the more developed districts and regions of our country that we find a higher incidence of this ghastly crime. This is both shocking and demeaning."
In his hard-hitting speech, the prime minister touched on various problems affecting women and also what needed to be done if women were to be accorded their rightful place in the society.
"We have to ensure equality of pay and provide supporting structures for mothers in work places. We have to make our cities safe for girls and women of all ages. We have to make public places, public transport, our roads and parks, our offices and homes, safe for our women. I am deeply distressed by the rising crime against women."
Underlining the importance of a social reforms movement that was imperative to change society's attitude towards women, Manmohan Singh said the need of the hour was a fundamental change in mindsets.
"Governments cannot change social attitudes. People can and must and we need a massive national movement to lay emphasis on these values and what we need in our country is a fundamental change in mindsets."
"On the one hand, we do see women becoming more empowered and capable. We do see greater participation of women in all walks of life. However, on the other hand, we see rising crimes against women. Our families worry about the lack of security for women," he said.
The prime minister, who was on the governing body of the college during his academic stint in Delhi University as professor at the Delhi School of Economics (1969-71), also lamented the attitude of educated people towards women.
"What is most distressing is the casual approach that so many educated people take to the harassment of women. We worry about the safety of our mothers, our sisters, and our daughters. I hope we can all join hands and work together to make our homes a happier place for the girl child and our women folk. Make our cities a safer and more secure place for girls at college and women at work."
The prime minister also talked about the measures his government has brought in for women including laws that prohibit arrest of women after sunset and before sunrise and allowing women judges to deal with rape cases.
"We have introduced gender budgeting in over 40 ministries to assess the impact of public spending on the welfare of our women," he said.
On his to-do list, Manmohan Singh said his government was aiming to put in place legislation to protect women against domestic violence and from sexual harassment at the workplace, permit flexibility in working hours for women, curb the barbaric practice of Sati and give Hindu women inheritance rights in co-parcenary property.
The prime minister said legislations to reserve seats in Parliament and state legislatures for women would be brought in the next session of Parliament.
"Such reservation at the gram panchayat (village bodies) levels has demonstrated its efficacy in empowering women across the country," he said.