Problems and Policy Measures on gender Inequality in India

1. Introduction

According to 1991 census, women as a separate group constitute 48.1 per cent of the entire population. Inspite of great achievements made by women in the field of education, politics, and management etc., the fact remains that the women's condition is a grim reality. Violence against women in the form of rape, molestation, Sati burning and son on are quite common in a society like ours.

The principles of gender equality and equity and protection of women's rights have been one of the prime concerns in Indian thinking right from the 19th century. In the Constitution of India, Article 14 confesses equal rights and opportunities on men and women in the political, economic and social spheres.

Article 15 prohibits discrimi­nation against any citizen on the ground of sex, religion, race, caste etc. and Article 15 (3) empowers the State to make affirmative discrimination in favour of women. Article 42 directs the State to make provisions for ensuring just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief.

Article 51(A) (e) imposes a fundamental duty on every citizen to renounce the practices derogatory to the dignity of women. Article 16 provides for equality of opportunities in the matter of public appointments for all citizens.

2. Welfare Programmes and Policies for Women by Government

Of late, women all over the world have been agitating and struggling for their rights and privileges and initiating women liberation movements to achieve their rightful place in their respective societies. The United Nations had declared 1975 as International Women Year and the era 1975-85 as the International Women Decades.

March 8, is observed as Women's Day in our country every year. The South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) at its convention at Islamabad in 1989 had agreed upon observing 1990s as the year of the girl child.

3. Policies and Programmes: A Review

(i) Hostels for Working Women

With the change in the economic structure, more and more women are moving from their homes in search of employment. One of the major problems for them is lack of suitable accommodation in a healthy and wholesome

(ii) Women's Training Centres/Institutes for the Re­habilitation of Women in Distress.

Adversities of life arising out of economic, social, psychological and environmental situation affect women the most. Young and old widows, unmarried mothers and victims of kidnapping are some of the vulnerable groups affected. With the objective to rehabilitate such women and their dependent children, a scheme was launched in 1977 to provide vocational training-cum-employment and resi­dential care so that these women could become economically independent.

(iii) Short-stay Homes for Women and Girls

The Department gives grants-in-aid to voluntary organization to establish and run Short-stay Homes, to protect and rehabilitate those women who are facing social and moral danger because of family problems, mental strain, social ostracism, exploitation or any other causes.

(iv) Family Life Institute

The Association for Social Health in India runs the Family Life Institute in Delhi. The major functions of this institute are counselling services and family life education for the maladjusted spouses, parents, unmarried youth etc.

(v) Education Work for prevention of Atrocities against Women

Assistance under this Scheme is given to organization working with women for their social upliftment and bet­terment and for carrying out education work for the prevention of atrocities against women through propaganda, publicity and research work.

(vi) Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women (STEP)

A new omnibus scheme to render support to women's employment in various sectors such as agriculture, dairying animal husbandry, fisheries, Khadi and Village Industries, handlooms, handicrafts and sericulture where women are preponderantly engaged in work was formulated at the beginning of the Seventh Plan.

(vii) Commission of SATI (Prevention) Act, 1987

The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 was passed by Parliament in December 1987 to provide for the more effective prevention of the commission of Sati and its glorification. (The Act came into existence when the story of immolation by Roop Kanwar, the 18 year old girl in 1987 not only shocked India but the entire world).

(viii) Other Acts and Amendments of the Government for the Empowerment of Women

(a) Equal Remuneration Act 1976 was passed which provides for (1) the payment of equal remuneration to men and women workers; (2) prevention of discrimination on the ground of sex against women in the matter of employment thereto.

(b) Hindu Marriage Act 1955 and the Special Marriage Act, 1955 had been amended by the Marriage Laws Amendment Act, 1976 to provide for the right of a girl to repudiate before attaining majority, her marriage as a child whether the marriage has been consummated or not.

(c) The Dowry Prohibition Act was made more strin­gent.

(d) The Child Marriage Restraint Amendment Act. 1978 rise the age of marriage for girls from 15 to 18 years and for boys from 18 to 21 years.

(e) The Factories (Amendment) Act, 1976, provides for establishment of a Creche where 30 women are employed as against one for every 50 hitherto.

(d) The Maternity Benefits Act 1961 was amended in April 1976 to cover women who do not fall within the purview of the Employee's State Insurance Act, 1948.

(ix) National Expert Committee on Women Prisoners

An Expert Committee was set up at the National level in May 1986 to enquire into treatment of women offenders at various stages of the criminal proceedings, facilities available for women in custody or prison and their eventual rehabilitation.

(x) National Commission on Self Employed Women

This was set up under the Department of Women and Child Development on January 5, 1987 for an all around development of the present status and welfare of women.

(xi) Women's Development Corporations

A scheme to set up women's development corporations in all the States and Union Territories was formulated during 1986-87, with the objective of providing better employment avenues for women so that they can become economically independent and self-reliant.

(xii) Policies of the Government

The major policy initiatives undertaken by the govern­ment in the recent past for welfare of women include internal restructuring of Indira Mahila Yojana (IMY), Balika Samridhi Yojana (BSY), Rural Women's Development and Empowerment Project (RWDEP), setting up of the National Commission for Women (NCW), National Commission for Children (NCC), National Creche Fund (NCF), adoption of National Nutrition Policy (NNP) and Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK).

(a) Indira Mahila Yojana (IMY)

It aims at empowering women and was launched during 1995-96 in 200 blocks based on the findings of the Joint Study Team of the Planning Commission. The recast IMY with the awareness generation and training component has recently been approved to overcome the existing weak­nesses, as a mid-term correction. The Mahila Samridhi Yojana (MSY) has been merged with IMY.

(b) Balika Samridhi Yojana (BSY)

It was launched in 1997 with the specific aim to change the community's attitude towards the girl child. It has been further re-casted in June, 1999. Earlier the mother of a girl child born on after 15 August, 1997 in a family below, poverty line in rural and urban areas was given a grant of Rs. 300. In the recast scheme, the post-delivery grant

of Rs. 500/- per child is deposited in an interest bearing account in the name of the new born child.

(c) Rural Women's Development and Empowerment Project (RWDEP)

It was sanctioned in Octobar 1988 as a centrally sponsored project and is aimed to create  an environment for empowerment of woman in six states viz., Bihar, Haryana, Karnataka, Gujarata,Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh at an estimated cost of Rs. 186.21crore. In addition an amount of Rs. 5 crore will be provided over the project period but outside the project outlay  for facilitating in setting up of Revolving Fund to giving interest beaming loans to beneficiary groups primarily during formative stage.

(d) National Commission for Women.

The demand for a National Commission for women had been made m 1976, when the first apprehensive report on the status of women in India was released. National Front Government introduced the National Commission on Women Bill on the last day of the budget-session of Parliament in 1990. It was set up in 1992 and gained credentials of many success stones in he areas of offering pre-litigated councelling to aggrieved men, attending to/ investigating into the individual complaints received from all over the country, looking into the special problems of services, women/child, sex workers, women in custody/jail, women in mental asylums Women with disabilities, de­serted women etc.

(e) Rashtriya Mahila Kosh

It is an innovative venture to facilitate credit, support/ micro-financing to poor and asset less omen struggling in the informal sector, works through the medium of NGOs as its channelizing agencies for identification of borrowers, delivery of credit support and also recovery. RMK was set up in 1993 and since then it has failed the initiative of having a national level mechanism to meet the credit requirements of poor and assetless women in informal sector.

(f) Integrated Child Development Services Scheme (ICDS)

It aims to provide integrated package of health, nutrition and educational services to children upto 6 years of age, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

(g) Department of Women and Child Development

This being the National Machinery for Empowering Women in the country is made responsible for mainstreaming women into national development by raising their overall status on par with that of men. It is charged with the nodal responsibility to implement and co-ordinate programmes of women's welfare and development.

(h) Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB)

It was set up in 1953 with the objective of promoting social welfare activities and implementing welfare programmes for women, children and the handicapped through voluntary organizations. Presently more than 18,000 NGOs are receiving financial assistance and guidance from the Board.

(i) Food and Nutrition Board (FNB)

It was transferred to Department of Women and Child Development on April 1, 1993 in pursuance with National Nutritional Policy. The regular programmes of FNB include organization of nutrition demonstration programmes, inte­grated nutrition education camps, orientation training courses, two week training courses in home scale preser­vation of fruits and vegetables, mass awareness campaigns, development of educational/training material, monitoring the supplementary feeding at Aanganwadis, quality control of food etc.

Objective

Empowering women as the agents of social change and development.

Strategies

I. To create an enabling environment for women to exercise their rights, both within and outside home, as equal partners along with men through early finalization and adoption of "National Policy for Empowernment of Women".

II. To expedite action to legislate reservation of not less than one-third seats for women in Parliament and in the State Legislative Assemblies and thus ensure adequate representation of women in decision-making.

III. To adopt an integrated approach towards empowering women through effective convergence of existing ser­vices, resources, infrastructure and manpower in both women specific and women related sectors.

IV. To adopt a special strategy of "Women's Component Plan" to ensure that not less than 30 per cent of funds/ benefits flow to women from other development sectors.

V. To organize women into self help groups and thus mark the beginning of a major process of improving women.

VI. To accord high priority to reproductive child health care.

VII. To universalize the on-going supplementary feeding programmes-Special Nutritional Programme (SNP) and Mid-Day Meals (MDM).

VII. To ensure easy and equal access to education for women and girls through the commitments of the Special Action Plan of 1998.

VIII. To initiate steps to eliminate gender bias in all educational programmes.

IX. To institute plans for free education for girls up to college level, including professional courses,

X. To equip women with necessary skills in the modern upcoming trades which could keep them gainfully engaged besides making them economically indepen­dent and self-reliant.

XI. To increase access to credit through setting up of a 'Development Bank for Women Entrepreneurs' in small and tiny sectors.