Stop the selfies: PM Modi, walk the talk on women empowerment | india | Hindustan Times
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Stop the selfies: PM Modi, walk the talk on women empowerment

India’s goal should not be to have a day when women parliamentarians speak but to have so many female MPs that women can speak every day. The proof of Modi’s commitment to women’s empowerment is in the pudding of greater substantive effort, not selfies.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2016 12:00 IST
Dhrubo Jyoti
Ranjeet Ranjan, Congress party MP from Supaul, Bihar and wife of Pappu Yadav arrives at Parliament House on her Harley Davidson bike on the occasion of International Women's Day in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Ranjeet Ranjan, Congress party MP from Supaul, Bihar and wife of Pappu Yadav arrives at Parliament House on her Harley Davidson bike on the occasion of International Women's Day in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Sonu Meht/ Hindustan Times)

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao. Selfie with daughter. A day when only female parliamentarians speak.

Since coming to power two years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has unveiled a string of schemes for the upliftment of women – he has spoken publicly about the importance of the girl child, the need to stop female foeticide and boost women’s education.

In an address to a convention of female legislators last week, he repeated many of these themes, asking the women to use technology and become more effective.

A few days before, speaking in the Lok Sabha, Modi had suggested Parliament mark Women’s Day by letting only female legislators speak.

With just 12% of the Lok Sabha’s 543 elected members being women, this is just an exercise in making headlines.

A far more substantive measure would be to increase the number of female parliamentarians – and there’s a ready way to do that.

The women’s reservation bill that has been stuck in Parliament for decades, came close to fruition in 2010, when the bill passed Rajya Sabha.

With a commanding majority in the Lok Sabha, Modi can easily make 33% reservation for women in Parliament a reality – but it appears he isn’t interested in substantive steps.

In both elections last years – Bihar and Delhi – the BJP gave around 10% of its tickets to female candidates, underlining the fundamental barriers that women face while entering politics when not related to a male leader. In both elections, Modi played a crucial campaign role and could have changed the statistics if he so wished.

Outside the sphere of political decision making, little has happened. The funds for the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao scheme has been increased to Rs 100 crore now from Rs 75 crore but the mandate of the project remains unclear.

One of PM Modi’s flagship schemes, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao was supposed to boost female education and initiate a nationwide campaign against female foeticide. But apart from high-voltage campaigns, it appears to have achieved little else.

It is unclear how much a measly allocation of Rs 75-100 crore can achieve on a national scale. Even the West Bengal’s Kanyashree scheme that supports female school students, works off a Rs 1,000 crore corpus.

One of Modi’s other ideas, Selfie with Daughter, drew social media scorn for being obviously publicity driven. Modi asked fathers to take a selfie with their daughter and post it on Twitter and Facebook.

Such exercises that short-change the origins of female foeticide and the web of reasons that disenfranchise women and stop them from going to school, won’t improve things.

Two out of three adolescent girls in India drop out of school and child sex ratio is at an alarming 914 girls per 1,000 boys. Selfies aren’t going to improve that.

What will help is concerted effort to expand and bolster health and education services across the country, with constant and massive financial allocation for these critical sectors. The Prime Minister hasn’t shown much interest in these.

Women’s empowerment in India isn’t an isolated issue: it is intimately connected with issues of caste, class, religion and ability.

So when Union ministers insult a Dalit mother whose son killed himself after alleged caste discrimination, or when BJP leaders ask Hindu women to have at least five children, or demonise Muslim women, they’re misogynist and Modi would do well to shush them.

Many of these tasks are difficult but commitment to women’s development is a long-haul promise, not something that can always be marketed for social media likes.

Women’s Day will be far better celebrated with less casteism, less barriers for poor women to become decision makers, more women in panchayats and Parliament and greater health, education access.

India’s goal should not be to have a day when women parliamentarians speak but to have so many female MPs that women can speak every day. The proof of Modi’s commitment to women’s empowerment is in the pudding of greater substantive effort, not selfies.

The views expressed by the writer are personal.