'India has highest no. of women in political offices'

India has highest number of women in political offices if female panches, sarpanches counted, says Smriti Irani

Irani stated that the issue of women's emancipation need not be addressed by women alone and that men, too, need to contribute to it

Union minister Smriti Irani. Credit: PTI File Photo

India has the highest number of women in political offices across the world if one looks at their participation in the three-tier governance structure of the country, which includes female panches and sarpanches, Union minister Smriti Irani said on Thursday.

She was speaking at a session on 'Empowering Women in Building Resilient India' hosted by PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Reacting to a global index according to which India ranks 148th in a list of 193 countries based on the percentage of elected women representatives in the national Parliament, Irani, the Minister of Women and Child Development, asked, "Do we look at political empowerment of women only from the prism of perspective of how many women right now operate or serve in Parliament?"

"Are we to not recognise the potential and the contribution of the women who are part of panchayats zila parishads councils in urban areas in India, are we to dissuade them, and not celebrate their contribution, just because they do not figure in a global index," she added. 

Irani said if you look at women's political participation in our systems and the three-tier governance structure of our country, "you will see that today we have the largest amount of women in political offices across any nation in the world".

"So, I think that one needs to recognise the deep -eated bias in the reflection of an indice, which doesn't recognise female panches or sarpanches of our country, aren't their political battle tough enough for them to get that respect," she said.

The Union minister said that if an indice represents all spectrums of our political diversity and then if India doesn't rank well enough, "I'd be extremely concerned". 

"But for me, as long as women in rural India, who partake in panchayat elections are not recognised globally, then that indice does injustice to the potential of Indian women," she said.

Talking about female foeticide, she said there is a presumption that female foeticide is a phenomena that can be seen in rural areas or urban slums.

"You would be shocked just two to three years ago, the highest amount of female foeticide was seen in South Bombay, where the most so called financially celebrated citizens of our country live. So, I think that if you like to enhance women's opportunities in the urban or rural setup, what are we as a government doing?" she said.

On the government's Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme to tackle such issues, Irani said for many it is just a slogan but it has been internalised in the system. 

"Can you imagine that it has been internalised so that today, when it comes to issues of females foeticide, there is a community participation in ensuring that no doctor should be allowed to sonographically determine the sex of a child," the minister said. 

"There is a social consciousness that a doctor who does so should be penalised. There is more and more reporting of such instances. There are now family conversations around the pregnancy of a woman, that there shouldn't be an insistence. Am I saying that we are achieving a utopian state? No, I am not having any such misgiving. But at least I know that the community and the government together are making that change," she added. 

Irani stated that the issue of women's emancipation need not be addressed by women alone and that men, too, need to contribute to it. She added that the country would witness a holistic growth and behavioural changes when men stand with women.

She informed that the government seeks industry support to ensure that the Legislative Acts passed with regards to women are, at least, followed by the members of the industry. 

It needs to be practised in letter, where for equal work there should be equal pay, she said. Further to this, the minister also added that women in India need to be given the joy of equal participation based on their competence.

She said that some two to three years ago the highest amount of female fortitude was seen in the progressive and empowered South Mumbai area, but that has all changed now.

Irani said that on the issue of menstrual hygiene, for the first time it was ensured that there was an administrative protocol for disposal of menstrual products.

Also, for the first time through the Swamitva Yojana, the government used drone technology to ascertain digital land records, she said.

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