It doesn’t fit the Bill | india | Hindustan Times
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It doesn’t fit the Bill

In such a scheme of things, marking out specific ‘women’s constituencies’ as a way forward to encourage gender equality looks lopsided.

india Updated: May 07, 2008 22:18 IST

More than anything else, the annual noise made about the Women’s Reservation Bill is a tiring affair. Everyone makes the ‘right noises’, knowing well that it is a token gesture that allows them to be politically correct without having to do the hard work of pushing for real gender equality. This time around, we witnessed an additional component to the whole affair: low drama pretending to be parliamentary strategy. As the shenanigans were played out in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that led to the Bill being introduced, we wonder whether such behaviour, which included ludicrous moments like the formation of a ‘protective ring’ and someone being ‘manhandled’, was worth pushing for something that is a red herring.

This newspaper has always championed actions that have contributed to the betterment of the lives of women in this country. Policies that aim to correct the prevailing gender disparity are welcome. But the Women’s Reservation Bill is not one of them. You don’t have to be a number-cruncher to know that India’s unempowered women need all the help and opportunities they can get. According to 2000 estimates, the female literacy rate is as low as 39.42 per cent, compared to 63.86 per cent for men. This is hardly surprising considering that the number of girls attending schools decreases with age while the corresponding figure for boys remains stable. In healthcare, the numbers tell an even more dismal story. The maternal mortality rate is 4.6 per cent per 1,000 live births and a scary 60 per cent of pregnant women in this country suffer from anaemic conditions. These are not figures that sit well with a nation galloping along a great economic trajectory. More importantly, these are the real issues that need to be tackled head-on with a war-like purpose.

In such a scheme of things, marking out specific ‘women’s constituencies’ as a way forward to encourage gender equality looks lopsided. It would make better sense even if each political party were to set aside a certain proportion of deserving women from its fold, empowering them with representational power — rather than having a woman candidate contest against another woman candidate simply to project a skewed version of gender equality. There are real obstacles — and real solutions — facing India’s women. This government’s approach is like trying to fix the roof when the foundation is tottering.