Empowerment without the shackles of labels, freed from othering of genders and one that not only critiques situations but equips women to change these situations is the sort of justice and empowerment that the women of the country need and deserve
"Every parent who has a girl at home, asks her where she is going and when she will return. But have you ever asked your sons where they are going, why they are going and who their friends are ? After all, the person committing a crime is also someone's son." In the first Independence day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort after the historic mandate of 2014, the prime minister managed to break a major gender stereotype.
For the millions of people who did not follow debates on social media, this could have been the most undiluted message of gender justice that they could receive. The message that the safety of women is not the onus of the woman alone had been shared by the prime minister himself and at an event that the whole country was a part of.
This is the sort of justice and empowerment of women that the country needs and deserves. This is empowerment without the shackles of labels, freed from othering of genders and one that not only critiques situations but equips women to change these situations.
In the course of the past four years, the government has tried to reinforce this brand of women's empowerment through targeted interventions for women. This empowerment has made space for female leaders to thrive, has acknowledged women achievers, has disrupted status quo for gender justice, has created avenues for social and economic empowerment of women and has tailored policies to address discrimination.
Empowering women means equipping them with the best opportunities which could break old barriers. More than 16 crore women have been connected to the banking system under the Jan Dhan Yojana. This massive financial inclusion of women has been the bedrock on which women have now benefitted from direct cash transfers for multiple schemes, including the flagship Ujjwala Yojana and the Swachh Bharat Mission. Today, it is women who are writing the story of New India where 7.88 crore women have taken loans under MUDRA and have become job creators.
At the launch of the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao programme in Haryana, the prime minister said that as a country we have regressed because we do not even allow girls to be born. Today, 104 districts, including the most affected districts in Haryana, have reported an improved sex ratio. The Sukanya Samridhi scheme targets the perception that girls lead to economic insecurity in the family.
The scheme allows parents to save money at a higher rate of interest for the higher education or wedding of the girl child. Sustainable change towards bringing in gender equality lies in understanding local barriers and working around them rather than importing solutions from outside.
Empowerment of women is not possible without justice for social wrongs and that demands disruptions of the old orders in which women are victims. One of the landmark judgments of 2017 was the Supreme Court's ban on instant triple talaq. This victory truly belongs to the Muslim women of this country and the government has stood with them in their struggle for justice and dignity.
The government brought in the triple talaq legislation to criminalise the act. But, as expected, political considerations made the opposition stall the bill in Parliament.Invoking the ancient Indian culture of respecting Kinnars, the government has brought in the Transgender Person Rights Bill (2016). This bill intends to end the indifference towards the community, challenge dogma and address the discrimination meted out to transpeople in access to education, employment and healthcare
This government is dedicated to taking forward the individual aspirations of women, and making them an intrinsic part of the development story of the country. In fact, no development is possible if women are not equal partners in the process of development. Today, women lead the defence and the foreign affairs ministries, allowing thousands of young girls to believe that their gender can never limit their potential.
Today, women do not have to walk for hours to fetch firewood and suffer with smoke in their lungs and eyes. Today, women are leading the Swachh Bharat Campaign across villages because it was they who had to undergo the indignity of open defecation. Today, women are not only managing their families, but are setting up their own businesses and defining new India's aspirations. Today, women do not have to make an uncomfortable choice between motherhood and economic security because of the Maternity Benefit Act.
In the declining rate of maternal mortality, in the improved sex ratio, in the smoke-free kitchens of women, in the toilets in the schoolyard for girls, in the small shop set up by a woman, we see the new story of women empowerment defining the new India.
Nirmala Sitharaman is the minister of defence , India.The article appeared in Hindustan Times.
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