Plans to empower women going astray

Draft policies for the ‘Empowerment of Women’, released by both the state and Centre for comments, are likely to be finalised soon. Both the documents contain a set of wishful ‘motherhood and apple pie’ statements with which none can quarrel, such as, “Focussed attention shall be paid to the nutritional needs of women...”; “Policy shall address higher dropout rates among girls...” etc.
But wouldn’t the same statements have been made 10 or 15 years ago when similar goals would have been set? Should then not have been an initial analysis of what went wrong with the earlier plans, what imp­ediments prevented them from achieving their goals and why the same aims need to be reiterated again? Without such an analysis, where is the guarantee that the fresh policies will not meet the same inglorious fate as the earlier hope-filled visions?

Both policies speak of reducing infant mortality and maternal mortality as priority concerns. But let us look at the recent interventions in this regard. The prime minister announced on December 31, 2016 an ostensibly “new pan-Indian scheme” for universal maternity benefit of Rs 5,000 to pregnant women and lactating mothers  and another Rs 1,000 for institutional deliveries, possibly under the Janani Suraksha Yojana.

Activists of the Right to Food Campaign have trashed this announcement as, far from being a ‘new scheme,’ it is only a delayed implementation of the Rs 6,000 that was already a legal obligation under the National Food Security Act of 2013. So, in effect, the PM’s announcement is reducing the entitlement under the NFSA by Rs 1,000 and is also restricting it to one live birth whereas the NFSA’s provision was for two live births.

Unless we provide full day-care for children between 0 and 6 years, it is not possible to either protect the children or empower women. But the number of oper­ational crèches under the Nati­onal Creche Scheme which was 19,809 in 2013-14, has got reduced to 11,666 in 2016-17 as per the Union Ministry’s website. 

There have been serious reductions in the amounts released to states for the scheme and in the number of beneficiaries. Given such decreases, what is one to make of statements in the central policy, such as, “The provision of support services for women, like child care facilities...will be expanded and improved...”?

The situation is no better in the case of anganwadis too.  In 2004, the Supreme Court reaffirmed in the Right to Food case that ICDS should be universalised. However, after 13 years, anganwadis meet just a little more than 50% of the need, despite the high levels of malnourishment in Karnataka.

The requirement to convert a percentage of anganwadis into day-care centres for 0-6 year-olds is also yet to take off.   In Karnataka, the government is not taking responsibility for acquiring or purchasing land for locating anganwadis where their numbers are deficient.
 
Focussed attention shall be paid to the nutritional needs of women at all stages of the life cycle, says the state policy. If this were true, then why are only two BPL adolescent girls being given supplementary nutrition per anganwadi? What should happen to the rest of them?

The state policy bemoans the fact that privatisation of health care delivery has made it unaffordable.  But the remedies suggested do not say how privatisation itself is to be regulated or addressed.

If the state government really intended to reduce the drop-out rates of girls from schools, why did they cancel “for administrative and technical reasons” more than 33,000 Bhagyalakshmi bonds of BPL girl children, wh­ich would have provided them an incentive to complete compulsory education of eight years?

Social security

Both policies speak of making decent work, occupational safety and social security available to all women. But thousands of applications of women domestic workers asking to be registered and given social security by the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Board in Karnataka have remained unattended.

The government has been going back on its own Cabinet decision to regularise Poura­karmikas, who lift garbage with their bare hands and are denied minimum wages, ESI and PF by mafia-like contractors.

If governments were really interested in uplifting women, they should have paid heed to the demands of 24.58 lakh ang­anwadi workers for regularisati­on of their services, considering that they are helping in reducing malnourishment and infant mortality, which are now Sustainable Development Goals. 

But despite thousands of anganwadi workers sleeping on the road for days together near the Vidhana Soudha as part of their protest, their demand for Rs 10,000 honorarium was not met, which is only a little more than half of what is needed for a decent life, as per the Seventh Pay Commission.

The central draft policy hopes to achieve equal participation of women in the political sphere. If this were really intended, what has deterred the Centre from getting the Bill passed for providing 33% reservation for women in state assemblies and Parliament even three years after holding a clear majority in Parliament?

Let the governments display true political will to empower women instead of framing policies that will remain dusty show-pieces in their cupboards.

(The writer is Executive Trustee of CIVIC, Bangalore)

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