Gender injustice

Published : Oct 20, 2006 00:00 IST

WOMEN OF THE Thurumber community, a Dalit sub-caste, during a protest in Salem. Activists say that Dalit women are left out in the DAP. - P. GOUTHAM

WOMEN OF THE Thurumber community, a Dalit sub-caste, during a protest in Salem. Activists say that Dalit women are left out in the DAP. - P. GOUTHAM

The overall intent of the government on women's issues as reflected in the draft approach paper raises new concerns.

ONE of the six basic principles of governance spelt out in the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP), which was adopted by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on assuming power in 2004, was a commitment to empower women politically, educationally, economically and legally. Further, the NCMP promised to take the lead in introducing legislation to reserve for women one-third of the seats in the State Assemblies and in the Lok Sabha and address the issues of domestic violence, gender discrimination and discriminatory legislation. While many of these promises have remained on paper, the overall intent of the government on women's issues presented in the draft approach paper (DAP) to the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2007-2012) has instilled new fears among women's organisations.

In the DAP, titled "Towards Faster and More Inclusive Growth: An Approach to the 11th Five-Year Plan", gender discrimination is confined to a few paragraphs under the sub-heading "Gender Balancing" in Chapter 5, "Bridging Divides: Including the Excluded". Even if the restricted nature of the content can be overlooked, the lack of perspective and strategy has disappointed women activists.

The paper states: "The 11th Plan strategy for gender balancing must take care of the special needs of women such as clean cooking fuels, care for pregnant and nursing women, etc... Gender balancing would require appropriate provisions in government policies/schemes across Ministries/departments and sectors." While it says "special measures for gender empowerment and equity should be an essential element of the 11th Plan", the gender component is missing in all the other chapters.

The DAP has taken a cavalier attitude towards patriarchy: in the sense that it restricts itself to suggesting public awareness campaigns that "educate men and women gripped with patriarchal values". Also, the link between patriarchy, caste and religion, all three of which have serious implications for the status of women, has not been taken into account. Neither does it spell out ways in which patriarchy will be challenged. It says that "while women's needs will be specially tackled across all sectors, the Plan will particularly focus on three aspects - violence against women (VAW), economic empowerment and women's health" and will seek to check violence, ranging from domestic violence to foeticide and sexual assault, through effective policies and legislation. It says that "effort will be made to ensure that towns and cities under the NURM [National Urban Renewal Mission] are made women-friendly". Although it is not specified how this is to happen, there appears to be a lack of understanding of the reasons for increasing VAW.

Women's groups see VAW occurring in a socio-economic and political context and as such feel the need to change this particular context. Indira Hirway, Professor of Economics and director of the Ahmedabad-based Centre for Development Alternatives, said: "One important aspect of development that the approach paper has overlooked is the dynamics of exclusion, that is, the processes that have led to the exclusion of the excluded." She said that with the onset of globalisation, there had been a deceleration of employment in general and a decline in the quality and extent of employment of women in particular. A qualitative shift in the nature of women's work, a shift from regular to irregular forms of work, had taken place. The DAP had glossed over these aspects, she said.

Vina Mazumdar, national research professor in social sciences, said it was lamentable that in the 92-page DAP, women's developmental needs had been disposed of in three paragraphs. The term "balancing" too had not been defined, she pointed out.

The paper, she said, admitted that a "nation cannot be healthy unless its women are healthy". But as a remedy it suggests steps to reduce anaemia and malnutrition but only among "adolescent girls" to eliminate "maternal and infant mortality". A huge chunk of women in the reproductive age group has been left out. According to the National Sample Survey 55th Round, July 1999-June 2000, of the around 106 million women in the workforce 40-45 per cent were in the reproductive age group.

In a note submitted to the Planning Commission on behalf of national women's organisations, Sudha Sundararaman, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), said that the neglect of several critical issues was all the more surprising in the context of the observations made in the Mid-Term Appraisal (MTA) of the Tenth Plan. The MTA had underscored issues such as adverse sex ratios, high infant and maternal mortality, wide gaps in the rates of literacy and wages of men and women, feminisation of poverty and the exploitation of women in the unorganised sector and in the export processing or special economic zones.

The note points out that the exclusion of issues such as land reforms and distribution of land to the landless with joint pattas to women is a serious lapse. In fact, the Plan paper has recommended that State governments and municipal bodies undertake a "comprehensive review of such policies (of land use) and amend necessary laws/regulations in line with the requirement of modern city development to formulate their Master Plans and Zonal Plans in a time-frame". The understanding is that there are several constraints on land development in many States, which need to be reconsidered. The most important of these arise from the Urban Land Ceiling Act, which is still in operation in some States. In this context, it should be mentioned that the MTA found glaring inconsistencies in the light of the promises made in the Tenth Plan and the NCMP. It recognised that women were both productive workers contributing to the economy and mothers and home-makers.

C.P. Sujaya, visiting Fellow at the Centre for Women's Development Studies, said: "Women's productive and non-productive roles and functions are both equally important and this should be a non-negotiable premise in the Eleventh Plan."

The approach paper says that the 11th Plan would "address the feminisation of agriculture and menial employment". While expressing anguish over the use of the term menial without stating what it means, women's organisations feel that the issue of unpaid work has been ignored.

The National Alliance of Women's Organisations, or NAWO, which had submitted its recommendations to the Planning Commission after regional and national consultations, expressed regret that its suggestions were not considered in the approach paper. Pam Rajput of NAWO said an inter-sectoral approach, not merely a chapter or two on gender, was needed. She also called for more sex-disaggregated data on women's participation.

While the economist Nirmala Banerjee felt that the approach paper did not explain what it meant by "economic empowerment", Ruth Manorama, a Dalit rights activist, said that Dalit women were left out of the DAP.

Even if the exclusion of certain categories can be ignored for the moment, the overall model of growth, the "trickle down" theory, is causing anxiety among women's groups. The section on resource mobilisation states that one of the strategies would be to ensure a reduction in non-Plan expenditure by cutting back explicit and other subsidies. By not addressing issues of food and employment security, the approach paper ignored the grave implications of the twin issues for women, AIDWA stated in its note.

It is a matter of concern that the approach paper, while claiming to be inclusive, does not consider several MTA recommendations, including the setting up of a Prime Minister's Mission on Women, Children and Development. The MTA had suggested certain targets that could be monitored, such as getting all children in school by 2003, reduction in gender gaps in literacy and wage rates by at least 50 per cent by 2007. Unfortunately, the DAP does not even refer to the MTA in the context of gender issues.

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