When it comes to proposing legislation on women’s empowerment, no one could be more politically correct than our elected representatives. So every now and again, we see that some political worthy speaks eloquently on the need to push through the Women’s Reservation Bill. Do they have any intention of actually getting it through? Of course not. Why, even President Abdul Kalam recently spoke of the need to get the Bill off the ground. No doubt, he meant well but he does not reckon with the reluctance of the male political establishment to part with one inch of power.
The Women’s Bill is of a piece with several other legislations aimed at giving women protection and a level playing field. Take, for example, the proposed Bill against sexual harassment. About 400 women’s organisations, in a joint move, have sent back the draft Bill to the ministries concerned saying that it is incomplete and several definitions and objectives in it lend themselves to misinterpretation. Though peer review of the provisions of a Bill is an integral part of the process before it is placed before Parliament, one wonders if sending out a half-baked Bill suggests that those who drafted the Bill took liberties with its accuracy and workability. The National Commission for Women’s website says that there are seven women-related Bills and 16 amendments awaiting clearance. Most schemes aimed at women’s empowerment or that of the girl child seem to fall by the wayside for lack of political will. Many may argue that this is the fate of several social development legislations. But when it comes to those for women, it points to unpardonable political apathy. The UP government’s Rs 600 crore Kanya Vidya Dhan programme failed because policymakers didn’t factor in the most obvious element: educational institutes.
The Prime Minister recently spoke of fast-tracking schemes for growth. Wherever women have got a leg up, they have proved a vital catalyst for the development of society as a whole. The Panchayati Raj experiment demonstrates this, though it is not without its faults. The government must realise that delaying tactics will not pay in the long-run. India cannot sustain its impressive growth momentum if half its population is deprived of many of its legitimate rights.