Women's parliament as real as it gets

Unheard Voices

The rarest of rare issues, that might not have found enough advocates in the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha, were raised with much rigour by over 150 women from different parts of the country, who participated in a mock women’s legislative assembly also called the ‘Women’s Parliament’, in the Constitutional Club of India in Capital on Thursday.

While the organisers termed the event as a ‘Dream Parliament’, the issues raised by the women were certainly not as pleasant as a dream would ideally be. Issues that are perceived to be practiced by the fringe elements of Indian society found mention in the discourses about the state of women in the country.

 These includedpractices like untouchability, witch-hunting, bonded labour and dowry. Among other issues, that frequently find space in public discourse, were honour killing, women’s security, land rights of women and human trafficking.  
“It gives me immense pleasure to see these women debating about issues like MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005), AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), greater political participation by women, rights of tribal women and farmer suicides,” said Sayeda Hameed, member, Planning Commission of India. 
The ‘parliament’ was presided over by renowned social activist Kamla Bhasin, speaker and the moderator during the debates. The session started with 58-year-old Bhasin requesting the ‘members’ to observe a moment’s silence for the 14 women who died undergoing sterilisation surgeries at a government-organised family planning camp in Bilaspur district of Chhattisgarh. What followed next was no less than a moment of empowerment for these women, atleast according to Smita Khanijow, project manager of ActionAid, the NGO responsible for organising the debate along with ‘Beti Zindabad’ campaign partners. 
“The women have come from around 15-20 states of India. All of them face completely different issues and the purpose of such events is to create a network of solidarity among them. They have tried to understand each other’s issues, but most importantly, these women have been telling us how empowered they have been feeling,” Khanijow told Metrolife.
The women debating in the ‘session’, which lasted for over three hours, in fact did look determined, as if their voices were echoing in the corridors of power of the real Parliament itself. 
Rajama, a rights activist from Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district, thundered, “Land distribution in Andhra has taken place many times but how many times has the government allotted land to Dalit women? In our village itself, untouchability is widely practised, temples still don’t allow Dalits to enter its premises.” 
Munnema, who belongs to Yanadi tribe of Andhra Pradesh, spoke about the ever looming threat of bonded labour that her tribe faces. She herself comes from a family which has spent 50 years under bonded labour. 

“What is the use of Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act if it is not upheld properly? It was enacted in 1976 but my people continue to suffer,” Munnema said.

Women from Delhi and other north Indian states laid more focus on the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act and the issue of women’s security in India. 
“What has the government done so far to change the mindset of people who prefer sons instead of girls or of those who consider it a joy to molest and sexually assault women,” said Sulekha of Greater Noida.
“There is a movement in this country to achieve 33 per cent reservation for women. Women comprise 50 per cent of the total population of India. And if 67 years after we received our Independence we have to ask for reservation of 33 per cent then I say it is nothing less than a shame,” said another speaker.

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