Long Road Ahead to Gender Equality: PM


Indo-Asian News Service

December 6, 2007

Report from Indo-Asian News Service

New Delhi, India— Asian women have come a long way in the past few decades but an even longer road lies ahead to gender quality, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Thursday, reiterating the government’s commitment to reserve one-third of seats in the legislatures for women.

"Women in our region have come a long way in our lifetime. But there is still a long road ahead of us in our journey to gender equality in all its many dimensions," he said while inaugurating the second East Asia Gender Equality Ministerial Meeting here.

"I do sincerely believe that the social and economic empowerment of women is the corner stone of any sustainable strategy of poverty eradication," he added.

In this context, he noted that the Indian government "seeks to impart a new sense of urgency to the task of ensuring gender equality in our society, in our polity, in our economic life and, above all, in our families and communities".

According to the prime minister, gender equality was "a very powerful and effective weapon against extremism, fanaticism, fundamentalism and political and social violence.

"In other words, gender equality is a building block of a secular and democratic edifice."

Pointing out that the principles of gender equality and women’s rights were enshrined in the Indian constitution, Manmohan Singh said: "It not only grants equality to women, but also advocates positive discrimination in favour of women, wherever necessary. These are reinforced through passage of new laws from time to time."

Manmohan Singh also paid tribute to former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi for initiating one-third representation for women in local bodies.

"Today, more than a million women work as elected representatives in our local bodies. If more than one million women are getting elected, then a multiple of that number are participating in elections to these bodies.

"The mobilization of such large numbers of women in our public life constitutes a historic measure for gender equality. It has brought about a significant shift in public policy and in social attitude towards women," he contended.

Reiterating the government’s commitment to providing similar representation to women in parliament and the state assemblies, Manmohan Singh said: "We are working for a broad consensus in this important matter.

"We firmly believe that the participation of a critical mass of women in politics at the highest level will bring about a revolutionary change in ensuring good governance. The experience of other countries shows that greater participation of women in processes of governance does contribute to gender equality and women’s empowerment," the prime minister added.

Going beyond political representation, the government had recently taken steps to improve the gender balance in its budgetary policies, he said.

"Our finance ministry now prepares a gender budget that quantifies the government’s financial commitment to the cause of gender empowerment," Manmohan Singh said.

Pointing to the gender budgeting cells in all ministries he said the ministry of women and child development "is constantly interacting with these cells for building capacities and facilitating the integration of gender analysis into government’s policies, plans, programmes and budgets".

The prime minister also pointed out that the government had taken legislative measures to protect women from domestic and social violence.

"We are making our laws and our law and order machinery more gender sensitive. But the real guarantee against violence against women is in our minds and attitudes.

"No law can substitute for a change in our mindsets. It is an inhuman act. No civilized society can allow such a practice. I hope your conference will find new ways in which we can prevent this practice in our societies," he added.





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