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India: Ignoring the Women’s Charter, country’s vanishing women “not even a blip on the horizon” Print E-mail
 Sunday Magazine ~ March 30 2014

The Other Half



Scroll down to also read "Women's Charter for the 16th Lok Sabha Elections - 2014"

No empowerment here. (The Hindu /Paul Noronha)

Where have all the girls gone in a country full of men?

Mumbai’s taxi drivers are repositories of earthy wisdom. They come from all parts of the country. A few are grumpy. Some are silent. But mostly they are loquacious, if you ask them the right question.

In the last couple of days, I have been at the receiving end of some down-to-earth and commonsensical opinions about life, values and politics from such taxi drivers.

The first, a young taxi driver from Vasai, which is on the outskirts of Mumbai, informed me that he was actually a “Hindu Brahmin”, but loved Jesus Christ. Without much prompting, he then proceeded to predict that Narendra Modi would win the elections. Would he vote for Modi, I asked. Not necessarily, he said. Then whom would he want to vote for? Arvind Kejriwal, he said. Why, I asked. Because, he said, he had watched Kejriwal’s TV interviews. He was convinced that this was a good and honest man. More than that, he was educated, qualified, had a good job and yet gave it all up to do something about corruption. These were the kind of people India needed in politics, he asserted. Above all, he said, this was the only man who had the courage to take on the richest and most powerful man in India.

The other was a Tamilian who had lived in Mumbai for 35 years but continued to read a popular Tamil newspaper (that now arrives in the morning because it is printed in Pune). Despite the many years in Mumbai, he had a clear view of Tamil politics. There was no doubt in his mind that “Amma” would sweep the polls in Tamil Nadu. Why, I asked. Because she has looked after the poor, he said. And she does not discriminate between Hindu, Muslim, Dalit and Christian.

More important, he continued, she has addressed the problem of families not wanting to give birth to a girl child. He then proceeded to explain to me in detail the government schemes that encourage families to look after girls. He also gave graphic details of how families kill infant girls. He was clear that this was an evil practice and must be ended. And he gave credit to “Amma” for putting in place monetary incentives to help raise the value of girls.

So, corruption and schemes that help the poor and stop female infanticide were the issues these two men talked about. Corruption features in election talk. And every party ruling a state, or the centre, speaks of its pro-poor schemes. But what about India’s steadily disappearing women?

Results of the Annual Health Survey conducted by the office of the Census of India ­ reportedly the largest sample survey in the world ­ have recently been released. The survey covered 20.94 million people and 4.32 million households in 284 districts in nine states.

While the survey has a lot of interesting information on several aspects of health, including infant and maternal mortality rates, its findings on the sex ratio ­ at birth, in the 0-4 age group and overall ­ are perhaps the most significant.

According to the survey, in 84 of the 284 districts there was a fall in the sex ratio at birth. In some districts like Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand, the sex ratio at birth was as low as 767 girls to every 1,000 boys. That is a worrying sign as it suggests that the law to prevent sex-selection has not succeeded in creating enough of deterrents against the practice of aborting female foetuses.

Equally worrying is the decline in the sex ratio in the 0-4 age group. This was visible in 127 districts and was significant in 46 districts. Rajasthan recorded the lowest levels in this category, while Chhattisgarh recorded the highest. The reason for the decline in this age group is clearly neglect of girls after they are born. Otherwise, there is no reason that more girls should die than boys. Overall, the sex ratio was worse in urban areas than rural, suggesting again that the availability of sex selection technology and higher incomes contributed to this decline. In a state like Jharkhand, for instance, while the sex ratio at birth was 961 in rural areas, it was as low as 903 in urban areas.

In this election season, where rhetoric is king, the reality of India’s disappearing women ­ who everyone seems to want to “empower” ­ is not even a blip on the horizon. Yet, it has been evident for decades that all this talk about “women’s empowerment” has little meaning if we are unable to deal with the despicable attitudes and practices that guarantee that girls will not be born, and if they are, that they will not live to become young women.
 Vol - XLIX No. 11, March 15, 2014

Women’s Charter for the 16th Lok Sabha Elections – 2014

We, the women of India, feel that the outcome of these elections will greatly impact women’s struggles for safety, equality and progress. On behalf of crores of women from diverse sections of society from rural and urban areas, across the length and breadth of our country, we wish to draw public attention to the issues that have affected women in recent times. The concerns highlighted here need to become part of the mainstream political agenda in the forthcoming elections and in future government policy to ensure equality and dignity for the women of this country across social groups.

The undersigned women's organisations have pressed for inclusion of these issues in the political party manifestoes.


Part I - Preamble
As India once again goes into another general election for the 16th Lok Sabha, we, the women of India consider it a crucial battle, coming as it does in the wake of increasing sexual violence, honour crimes, atrocities against dalit, adivasi and minority women, together with rising unemployment, hunger, and relentless price rise. The aggressive pursuit of pro-corporate neoliberal policies by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance II (UPA II), with its huge loot of public resources on the one hand, and inadequate expenditures on economic and social development on the other, has resulted in severe miseries for the people. The Bharatiya Janata Party is seeking to utilise this rising discontent to its political advantage. Backed by a willing corporate media, it is projecting itself as the alternative. However, as we have experienced earlier, its economic policies are no different from that of the Congress. The BJP’s record in the states where it is in government on socio-economic development, equity, social justice and corruption is far from satisfactory. Along with other constituents of the Sangh Parivar, it has launched an extremely vicious and communal electoral campaign in order to polarise the people and consolidate its votes. It is projecting as its Prime Ministerial candidate, the very person who as Chief Minister oversaw the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. The BJP and its parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideology stands for divisiveness, disunity and a highly conservative patriarchal attitude towards women.

We, the women of India, feel that the outcome of these elections will greatly impact women’s struggles for safety, equality and progress. On behalf of crores of women from diverse sections of society from rural and urban areas, across the length and breadth of our country, we wish to draw public attention to the issues that have affected women in recent times. The concerns highlighted here need to become part of the mainstream political agenda in the forthcoming elections and in future government policy to ensure equality and dignity for the women of this country across social groups.

Violence against women has increased manifold in the last five years. The crimes against women statistics reveal 68 rapes (3 rapes every hour) and 23 dowry deaths per day (almost 1 every hour). Over 2.5 lakh cases of crimes against women have been recorded every year. The conviction rates on the other hand continue to remain very low - at 24% for rape cases, 32% for dowry deaths and a paltry 21.3% for all crimes against women. This is a severe indictment of the failure of the criminal justice system to address the issue of crimes against women.

Women from Dalit and Adivasi communities face structural violence and rape from those who wield enormous social and economic power. The demand to amend the Prevention of Atrocities Act to make include certain acts like parading, denying entry to public places, etc. was not acceded by the UPA II government despite repeated demands that the caste system prevent dalit women particularly non access of land ,discrimination at all spheres of life. The untouchability still prevents them to have access in the society and all economic development activities of the nation. The attacks against women from the north east are on the rise and have raised the serious issue of racial discrimination and violence.

The spate of crimes in the name of honour continue, the most recent being a gruesome incident of gang rape of a adivasi girl in West Bengal and the beheading of the couple in Rohtak, Haryana. More and more such crimes are being reported from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. The government has failed to take action against khaps and other such extra constitutional bodies who encourage such criminal acts, for fear of losing political support. There has been a singular failure on part of the UPA-II government to enact a special law to deal with crimes of honour, despite recommendations from the Planning Commission’s Working Group on Women’s Empowerment. The Empowered Group of Ministers that was set up to look into the matter has been quietly withdrawn.

The horrific gang rape and murder of a young medical intern in the capital city in December 2012 saw unprecedented outrage and anger flowing into the streets all over the country. It resulted in the preparation of a comprehensive report by the Verma Committee, whose recommendations constituted a big step forward in the struggle for women’s rights. Unfortunately, the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2013 passed by the UPA Government was a piece meal legislation that does not fully address the various dimensions of violence against women. It failed to address the important issues of marital rape exception, does not acknowledge the social, economic and political power of those who rape with impunity women from the most vulnerable sections of our society, does not protect young boys and girls who are in a consensual relationship between the ages of 16 and 18 years from the criminal consequences of statutory rape; does not accept the recognition of command responsibility, excludes Armed Forces Special Powers Act from its purview and retains the death penalty.

The recent demands by young women for personal freedom and choice and an equal right to public spaces and the rising protests against crimes against women have led to a sharp conservative and patriarchal backlash that blames women themselves for the violence against them. Their clothes, their very presence in public spaces, “modern values of freedom”, “free association of young women and men” are conceived as the causes of rising sexual crimes. For the Sangh Parivar, this presents an opportunity to reinforce the myth that “Hindu” women were safe and secure in a “glorious India” of the past. The attacks on young women sitting in a pub in Bangalore or questioning young couples in public spaces and opposing inter community relationships are examples of such moral policing. The Islamist fundamentalist forces are no less conservative, with attempts to impose dress codes, ban the use of mobile phones by young women and prohibit co-education. There are attempts to reinforce control over women in the name of safety through the creation of extra-constitutional bodies and “women’s safety neighbourhood groups”. It is unfortunate that such views are shared by a large number of people, including government officials and members of the judiciary, whose opinions influence policy.

For women, one of the biggest betrayals has been the utter failure of the UPA II to pass the 33% Women’s Reservation Bill, despite its majority in the Parliament. With the exception of the Left parties, not a single opposition party seriously pressed for its passage, and some openly opposed it. Along with the failure to have more women in decision making bodies, it means that women are unable to exercise an effective role in policy making.

Several laws such as the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence, anti-dowry laws etc. have been enacted due to the protracted struggles of the women’s movement have been rendered ineffective due to grossly inadequate provision of finances, personnel and infrastructure. An additional allocation for the Nirbhaya Fund, of 1000 crores this year carries little meaning if the survivors and victims of sexual violence are unable to access the funds for rehabilitation and relief purposes. A similar allocation made grandiosely in the last budget has been spent only partially, and in a non transparent manner.

The 2011 Census figures have brought to the fore the further and steep decline in child sex ratios (CSR) from 927 to 914 between 2001 and 2011 and spread across 27 states and UTs. Recently released data from the 2011 Census shows a sex ratio of 919 for the age group for the age group 1 – 6 years, and even lower at 911 for 7-15 years, showing a gross neglect of the girl child. This is a damning indictment of the policies of the Central and some State governments and an exposure of the utter failure to implement the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act. The government has taken virtually no action against those doctors and medical technologists who are out to make profits, without whose collusion sex selective abortion cannot occur. The PcPNDT Act continues to be violated with impunity. The monitoring and supervisory bodies are dysfunctional.

Despite a Constitution that mandates equality, women still do not have the right to property on the same terms as men. It varies according to personal and community laws that are patriarchal and deny women equal right to inherited and matrimonial property. Due to women’s struggles, the government was forced to incorporate changes in the Hindu Succession Act in 2005. Even where law has given a right, conventions and practices do not recognise them. Women are still compelled to make relinquishment deeds since there is no bar on doing so.

One of the most striking failures of the UPA government has been its inability to check the unrelenting rise in prices of food and other essential commodities. For seven long years since 2007, India has lived with persistent double-digit food inflation. Prices of potatoes have doubled and even quadrupled over this 5 year period, onion prices have at an average doubled from already high levels, and the increase in rice, wheat and groundnut oil too is between 50 to 100% per cent. LPG and kerosene prices have increased enormously causing huge strains on family budgets. The privatization of public services like health, education, transport, etc. is also increasing family burdens.

The singular pursuit of high economic growth has been accompanied with chronic food deficiency and hunger. As per the 2013 UNDP Human Development Index, India ranks 94th out of 199 countries in the Global Hunger Index. According to the World Food Programme, each minute, five Indians die of hunger which makes 7000 each day and 2.5 million people dying of hunger in India every year. The NSS reports falling average consumption of calories from 2246 per capita per day in rural areas in 1972-73 to 2020 in 2009-10, and from 2107 calories to 1946 in urban areas. The high growth states of BJP-ruled Gujarat and Congress-ruled Maharashtra are amongst the worst where malnutrition is especially pronounced for children and women. Almost half of India’s children under age five years (48 %) are chronically malnourished while seven out of every 10 children age 6-59 months in India are anaemic. 36% of women are undernourished, with a BMI less than 18.5, indicating a high prevalence of nutritional deficiency. Over half of women (55 %) are anaemic.

Food security has been severely impaired by the weakening of the PDS, the continuation of the hopelessly flawed targeted system and the exclusion of large sections of the poor in the name of their being APL. Four years after the expiry of the ‘100 day’ promise, the National Food Security Act was finally passed by both Houses of Parliament, at a time when 70 million tonnes of foodgrains were being held as stock by the government, four times in excess of the buffer norms. Far from being universal, the Act falls guarantees only 5 kg of food grain per month to 67% of Indian households, 75% in rural and 50% in urban areas. This is well below the ICMR’s 14 kg requirement. It does not ensure availability of sugar, pulses, oil and other essential items. This is resulting in irrational exclusions of many people.

UID-enabled Direct Benefit Transfer and Direct cash transfer schemes are being projected as an efficient means of transferring subsidies. In reality, once cash transfers are introduced, the prices of food and other commodities and services will be deregulated and left entirely to the market forces and further push up prices. The UID biometric technology is unproven and the infrastructure costs huge. There is no guarantee that DBT cash will actually be used for buying the commodity for which the cash is given. The implementation of schemes that are based on cash transfers to bank accounts like MNREGA, old age pension, widow pension, etc show that the problems of corruption and undue delays continue. At present the LPG Cash Transfer Scheme has been suspended but has caused great hardship to women while it was being implemented.

Government’s own surveys show that women are increasingly out of work. Even those who are working are doing lowly paid work under highly exploitative and insecure conditions. More and more women are being pushed into unpaid domestic and outside work. Despite several cases of inhuman torture and sexual exploitation there is yet no law to protect domestic workers. Mechanization has led to a huge decline in availability of agricultural workers. Many poor women are being pushed into unsafe and exploitative migration and trafficking.

The Unorganised Sector Workers Act of 2008 cruelly excludes most poor women workers by limiting beneficiaries to the BPL category. There is a need for a single window system which caters to workers from all occupations and industries especially when women are simultaneously in multiple occupations.

The MNREGA has been an important instrument for addressing rural unemployment and distress. It witnessed a high participation of women which rose from 41% in 2006-07 to 52% in 2012-13. But the average days of work per household has fallen from the 54 days per annum peak in 2009-10 to 45 days in 2012-13. The fall is entirely due to the cut in fund allocation by the centre, which has not kept pace with the wages in the programme. High productivity norms, difficult working conditions, long delays in payment and the unequal wages received by women have continued thereby sabotaging a good Act.

The agrarian distress is unabated. It is reflected in the high and continuing rate of farmers’ suicides and distress migration. As per NCRB data, a total of 2,70,940 Indian farmers have committed suicide; the yearly average between 2001 and 2011 is 16,743, or 46 suicides a day. Women are still not recognised or registered as farmers, they are left out of the credit ratings, and excluded from the debt waiver schemes. The recommendations made by the Swaminathan Commission, which included specific measures for women, have been ignored.

Public expenditure for the provision of universal, affordable or free services like food security, health, water & sanitation, child care, etc. has sharply declined even as taxes foregone on account of concessions to the corporate sector and other elites have remained as high as 6-8% percent of GDP. As per the CAG reports, lakhs of crores of rupees have been lost on account of corruption in high places which could have been used for development of the common people.

The open plunder of natural resources by corporates with government facilitation has had adverse implications for women, who have the primary responsibility to collect fodder, fuel, water, minor forest produce, etc. The encroachment and annexation of natural resources and the widespread displacement on account of land acquisition and large projects has meant that these resources have become less accessible and more expensive, increasing women’s work and drudgery. The absence of adequate rehabilitation and resettlement takes a heavy toll off women.

The Government has been swift to safeguard corporate interests with concessionary loans, but has denied women’s self help groups lower rates of interest as part of priority sector lending. The Micro Finance Institutions (Development And Regulation) Bill, 2011 came in the wake of demands to effectively regulate and control the highly unfair and exploitative practices of microfinance lenders which drove some borrowers to suicide. However, UPA’s draft Bill was totally inadequate and pro-MFI with no interest caps or ban on for-profit MFIs and was rightly rejected by the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

Secularism has been under siege. The communal forces, led by the Sangh Parivar, have been unleashing communal violence against minorities in states like Uttar Pradesh. Caste and community identity are being used to polarise society. But the government has refused to intervene and take stringent action to safeguard those affected by communal violence. Regional and ethnic chauvinism is raising its ugly head in many states. It is a matter of deep concern that the mainstream political parties are not just unwilling to stand up boldly against divisive hate politics but are actually using it for narrow political gain.

Successive governments have failed to address the needs of minorities. The UPA government failed to act in a substantive manner on the plight of the Muslim minorities highlighted by the Sachar Committee report. It has ignored the claims of Dalit Christians to reservation under the SC category, as recommended by the Justice Ranganath Misra committee. It has betrayed the cause of social justice by hastily passing a Bill in the Rajya Sabha that keeps 47 Institutes of excellence outside the purview of reservations for SCs and STs.

It is time for women to stand up to protect the secular pluralists heritage of our country, push for alternative policies that will effectively deal with the agrarian crisis and the recession, for a government that is conscious of the need to protect the rights of the economically and socially oppressed sections and will work for their upliftment, a Government that will recognize the rights of women and will work towards gender equality and justice.

On behalf of the undersigned women’s organisations, we call upon all political parties national, and regional, to include our following demands in their election manifesto for the 16th Lok Sabha elections. We will conduct a widespread campaign amongst the electorate on the basis of this Women’s Charter.

Part II: Charter of Demands
Political Reservation
· Enact the 33% Women’s Reservation Bill to reserve one – third seats in Parliament and State Assemblies for women.

· Legislation for at least 50% reservation for women in all decision-making bodies;

· Enact the Constitution (One Hundred and Tenth Amendment) Bill, 2009 after necessary amendments to enhance reservation for women from one-third to one-half of the total seats in the Panchayats and Municipalities; provide similar reservation for the offices of Chairpersons.

Food Security and Price Rise:
· Remove the cap on ‘Priority’ households in the National Food Security Act and universalise the PDS to exclude only tax payers. Ensure a minimum entitlement of 35kgs or 7 kgs per person, whichever is higher, of foodgrains per household. Special drives to ensure ration cards to all, especially single women, unorganized sector workers, disabled, migrants and street dwellers.

· Strengthen the PDS and provide pulses, sugar, tea, edible oil, salt, milk and vegetables at controlled prices through ration shops. Take strict action against hoarders and blackmarketeers under the Essential Commodities Act. Ban futures trading in essential commodities.

· Remove the cap on number of domestic LPG cylinders available at administered prices. Ensure a minimum quota of at least 5 litres of kerosene per person at controlled prices through the PDS shops. Provide subsidized LPG for cooking Mid Day Meals and ICDS Centres.

· Reduce the prices of petrol and diesel by cutting excise and customs duties.

· No to cash transfers and linkage of Aadhar for availing of essential commodities especially food and fuel through the PDS.

· Universalise the ICDS. Ensure hot cooked meals in ICDS, MDMS and other nutrition programs.

· Control the price of all essential drugs.

· Stop the export and auction of foodstocks and instead provide them to the states.

· Extend procurement of all food crops at remunerative prices in all areas of the country.

Employment and Wages:
· Remove the 100 workdays cap in the MNREGS. Revise work norms and ensure payment of minimum wages to women. Ensure implementation of crèches at worksites.

· Enact an Urban Employment Guarantee Act

· Regularise ICDS, ASHA, Mid Day Meal and other scheme workers with minimum wages pensions and social security benefits. .

· Implement the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act of 2008 by universalizing its provisions for all workers irrespective of all occupations and industry. Provide adequate budgetary support to implement various social security schemes in a single window system.

· Implement a special protective legislation for agricultural workers for minimum and equal wages, maternity benefit and pensions and other social security for them.

· Recognise working women in the organized and unorganized sector as independent economic units.

· Ensure equal and index linked minimum wages of at least Rs 10000 per month.

· Implement a universal and mandatory child care schemeSet up Committees and ensure implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act. Amend the Act to expand the definition of workplaces to including homes and farms and remove the penalty clause.

· Ban FDI and control the entry of big business houses in retail trade.

· Include women’s Self Help Groups as part of priority sector credit sector and provide them with loans at 4%. Ensure adequate training and marketing support for their products. Pass a law to stringently regulate MFIs.

Social Development:
· A minimum universal non-contributory publicly funded pension for Rs 2000 per month for all women above the age of 55 years, all widows and all disabled women irrespective of age.

· Increase public spending on Education to 6% and on Health to 5% of the GDP.

· Regulate and bring social control on private educational and health services. Promote public funding of education and health systems.

· Universal and free public health care for all. Control prices of essential drugs and provide them free of cost in public facilities.

· Regulate and monitor clinical trials.

· Enact a Central law to provide free and compulsory education in the age group 0-18years, with special emphasis on the girl child.

· Universalise ICDS and extend it to all habitations. Increase expenditure on supplementary nutrition schemes including Mid Day Meals.

· Universalise all health, welfare and educational schemes without any conditionalities. Remove the two child norm. Give priority to single women, SC, ST, minority women headed households and disabled women.

· Implement special packages for the rehabilitation of women and children in households affected by suicides of farmers, handloom workers, agricultural workers, etc.,

· Implement the recommendations of the Sachar Committee and the Rangnath Mishra Committee for reservations for Muslims in educational institutions and jobs.

Land, Water, Natural Resources
· Distribute surplus ceiling land to landless households with joint pattas to women.

· Ensure land for house sites for all homeless, with priority to single women in rural and urban areas in the joint names of women and men.

· Prevent the diversion, acquisition, encroachment and takeover of common lands like pastures, community forests, scrublands, etc and ensure user rights for women over them, especially for those from SC, ST, migrant and nomadic communities.

· Treat women as Project Affected Persons in all relief and rehabilitation measures, minimize displacement, no displacement without prior informed consent; and ensure alternative means of employment and livelihood for women displaced due to infrastructure, urbanization and industrial projects.

· Stop privatization of water resources and drinking water schemes in rural and urban areas. Give priority to water for agricultural and drinking water purposes.

Resource Mobilisation and Budgetary Allocations:
· Increase substantially public expenditure on economic and social development programmes for the people, maintain integrity and ensure full utilization of allocated resources, stop budget cuts on pro-people works.

· Provide central budgetary support for the effective implementation of the PWDV Act, anti-Sexual Harassment Act, Prevention of Atrocities Act and for schemes to support survivors of crimes against women, particularly sexual assault, acid attack, honour crimes and sectarian violence.

· Discard privatization and the failed PPP model which subsidizes the corporate sector, worsens service delivery and raises costs/user charges/fees for the consumers

· Stop proliferation of liquor vends as a source of revenue mobilization.

· Ensure that all Ministries and Departments effectively allocate at least one third allocations for women. Ensure a minimum of 30% allocations for women within schemes for SC, ST, Denotified Tribes, Minorities and other socially deprived groups. Ensure that allocations for sub-plans for dalits and tribals are not diverted.

· Stop giving tax concessions to the rich and corporate sector. Raise taxes on the wealthy and the corporate sector and unearth black money in order to increase the expenditures on public infrastructure, health, education, welfare schemes, etc.

· Make available data of beneficiaries of different welfare schemes disaggregated on the basis of sex, caste and community groups in order to enable a proper assessment of their outcomes on different social groups of women.

Protection of Civil Rights
· Enact a comprehensive law against communal violence. Ensure speedy justice and adequate compensation to the victims of communal violence, particularly rape survivors and children.

· Amend the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to include obstructing the use of common resources such as wells, ground, social and economic boycotting, prevention of participation in elections, etc. Fill up the backlog in all SC, ST and other reserved posts in a time bound manner. Give reservations to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians.

· Provide for the reparation and compensation of families of wrongfully confined minority and tribal youth.

· Take stringent action against army, para-military and security personnel indulging in human rights violations in disturbed areas. Repeal the AFSPA.

· Enact an anti-racist law to ensure greater security of people from the North-East.

Violence against Women and Legal Issues:

· Implement all the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee Report. Include sexual violence against women from SC, ST and minority communities as aggravated sexual assault. Make marital rape an offence. Safeguard S498A of the Indian Penal Code.

· Fast track all cases of violence against women within a legally bound period of time.

· Stringent implementation of the PcPNDT Act. Safeguard women’s right to safe abortion.

· Protect young couples in a relationship and their right to choose a partner. Enact a comprehensive stand alone law to deal with crimes in the name of “Honour” and khap panchayats.

· Amend the criminal law so that the statutory rape provision does not apply in consensual sexual relations between young couples when the girl is 16 years or more and the age difference is 3 years or less.

· Enact a comprehensive law to prevent trafficking of women and children for labour and sexual exploitation. Oppose the proposal to delink prostitution and trafficking.

· Enact a law for equal rights in marital and inherited property for all women. Strengthen laws relating to maintenance for women and children. All family laws should give equal rights to women in marital and inherited property.

· Ensure equal rights and equal laws for women from all communities. Make registration of marriages compulsory.

· Introduce and enforce a stringent liquor policy to control production and sale of liquor. Delegate powers to women gram sabhas and ward sabhas to permit opening liquor vends in the area.

· Re-orient the educational syllabus to inculcate values of gender equality and conduct multi-level campaigns against regressive anti-women practices such as dowry, which hunting, etc.

· Repeal Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and decriminalise same sex adult consensual relationships.

· Enact a comprehensive law against superstitions and irrational practices.

· Institute and implement a Code of Conduct for the prevention of anti-women derogatory statements by persons in public office.

· Draft and implement a gender-sensitive Media Code.

· Strengthen the autonomous functioning of the National and State Commissions for Women, the selection and composition of the members must be made through an institutionalized, independent and transparent process and Members should be not be political appointees but should be experienced professionals and women’s rights activists.

· Promote and financially support Women’s Studies Centres in all Universities.

· Ensure minimum 10% of Plan fund for gender budget. Gender auditing should be strengthened.

Vimal Thorat (AIDMAM)  Jagmati Sangwan (AIDWA) Ms.Annie Raja  (NFIW) Indu Agnihotri (CWDS)

Dr. Mohini Giri (GOS) Jyotsna Chatterjee ( JWP ) Azra Abidi  (MWF) Leila Passah (YWCA) Veena Kohli  (AIWC)

Lynette Dumble & Jocelynne Scutt: Crass electronic gadgets fuel thirst for Congo’s Coltan deposits Print E-mail

   Saturday March 29 2014

Electronic gadgets cost more than money ....
By Lynette J. Dumble and Jocelynne A. Scutt

Self-confessed electronics fan Adam Turner, [The Age, March 22], deemed wearable gadgets as yet to meet his desires. Such technology fails to tick his boxes relating to simplicity, elegance, and value for money. Others would agree, though for some the reasons are distinctly unrelated to user-friendliness, cosmetic appearance, and price.

The central critique of newly emerging technical gadgets is unconnected to a mentality innately fearing and/or loathing technology per se.  Rather, the basis is humanitarian. It focuses on the source of the ingredient, Columbite-tantalite, essential for the manufacture of hi-tech appliances, including laptop computers, mobile phones and paging systems, digital and video cameras, game consoles and applications, and military missiles and drones.  

The Congo is home to 80 percent of the world's Columbite-tantalite. Known as Coltan, this black tar-like mineral produces a heat resistant powder uniquely capturing and retaining a high level of electric charge. These properties, together with a conductive ability in extreme temperatures, also make Coltan ideal for smart bomb guidance controls. Security analysts refer to it as a strategic mineral.

Yet in Central Africa, Coltan is known as a conflict mineral. According to a 2001 UN Report on the Illegal Exploitation of the Congo’s  Natural Resources, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and their proxy militias are the primary exploiters of the Congo’s Coltan.  

Mining is masterminded by rebels and foreign forces, then sold to foreign corporations. Although UN Reports on the Congo have not directly blamed multi-national corporations for the conflict in the country, they have stated that these companies serve as "the engine of the conflict in the DRC."

Mining facilities are described as 19th century. Miners are men and women refugees displaced during the Congo’s war which began back in 1998; prisoners as a result of the conflict; and children. They toil from dawn until dusk under the supervision of soldiers, without protective clothing, and in narrow tunnels with virtually no ventilation. Children are seen as a valuable resource since they can squeeze into the small Coltan-rich cavities within the makeshift mines located within the Eastern Congo’s riverbeds".

Adult miners are paid between $10 and $50 per week, considerably more than the country’s average monthly wage of $10 per month. Child miners, destined to remain illiterate in the absence of any schooling, receive just $1.50 per week.

Mining processes have turned the forests and fields into swamps, with lethal landslides a common occurrence. The toxic impact of Coltan, together with mining intrusions into animal habitat has reduced elephant numbers by 80 percent, and gorilla numbers by 90 percent. By and large, miners fail to fulfil the national life expectancy of 47 years due to malnutrition, Coltan toxicity, contagious diseases, and the extremely gruelling labour. Women miners face physical and emotional violence from both military overseers and co-workers. Estimates have two children paying with their lives for each kilogram of Coltan harvested.

Once the Coltan is processed, chiefly by corporations in the US, and others in Germany, China and Belgium, it is  sold  to companies such as Nokia, Motorola, Compaq, Alcatel, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lucent, Ericsson and Sony for the manufacture of electronic devices.

The market does not stop there. Coltan-dependent drone manufacturing companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, AeroVironment, and Textron in the US, Northrop Grumman in Australia, Prox Dynamics in Norway, Denel Dynamics in South Africa, and Israel’s Aerospace Industries report annual multi-billion dollar profits.   

While blood hi-tech has proceeded unabated, the world has lost its conscience when it comes to accepting responsibility for capitalising on a market largely financing a war witnessing the slaughter of an estimated six million of the Congo’s 70 million people, and the brutal rape and torture of in excess of 200,000 females - age being no protection against this atrocity.

Instead, as new technologies have emerged and new electronic devices are manufactured, the demand for the Congo’s Coltan has grown even larger. Right now there is no known substitute for Coltan, but the time is nigh for individuals to question whether we wish to remain complicit with the gross crimes against humanity in the Congo. For starters, who truthfully needs a new mobile phone each year, or a replacement iPad whenever a new colour range appears on the scene, or an expensive electronic gadget that will serve multiple futile functions while attached to the wrist?

Dr Lynette Dumble is the founder and director of The Global Sisterhood Network, and Dr Jocelynne Scutt a barrister and human rights lawyer.

India: In Haryana unwed women disallowed right to vote & women denied significant political roles Print E-mail

 Wednesday March 26 2014


Voters only after marriage

 Unmarried women in Haryana denied the right to vote

Girls in the hinterland are conditioned to put up with a lot, including the denial of the right to vote. In Haryana, which boasts of unprecedented economic growth, social backwardness has become more pronounced due to pervasive gender inequality. In Jind district alone, out of 6.41 lakh women only 3.83 lakh are enrolled as voters. The number can go up substantially if parents get their unmarried daughters enrolled as voters. Unmarried women are treated like goods left in the custody of parents till their rightful owner - the husband - arrives to claim them. Therefore, all forms of social rights are postponed or denied till they acquire marital status.

Women do not have the freedom to move around freely on bikes as their male counterparts do, dress up as they wish, or even talk to members of the opposite sex. Marrying a man of their liking may be a far-fetched dream. For many seeing a polling booth before marriage is also a distant reality. They are not enrolled as voters because they have to migrate to another place after marriage. The fact is eligible adults cannot be enrolled as voters at more than one place.

But in case of shifting to a new residence either in the same Assembly constituency or in a different one after marriage, a simple form needs to be filled, Form 8A or Form 6 respectively, with proof of new residence. This can be done online or can be sent by post or delivered by hand at the office of the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO). The Election Commission has simplified the procedures, even making these facilities available online, but it has failed to publicise them to the benefit of people. It should involve district and block-level officials and even schools to help people make use of these simple tools. Technology can enable girls to enrol online as voters, help them exercise their right to vote and make democracy a little more healthy.
 Wednesday March 26 2014

Women yet to overcome political bias

By Deepender Deswal/ribune News Service

Most women in male-dominated rural areas of Haryana are yet to take active part in politics. (Manoj Dhaka)

Hisar: Women in Haryana are coming out of their shell. Yet politics, where lies power and authority, still remains primarily a “male territory.”

Political parties have again disappointed state’s women as none has given adequate representation to them in ticket distribution for parliamentary elections.

The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), Congress as well as Aam Admi Party (AAP) have fielded one woman each. The BJP and Haryana Janhit Congress (BJP-HJC) coalition, BSP as well as the Left (CPM and CPI) haven’t fielded a woman. The abysmal state of ticket allocation is in sharp contrast to the demand of 33% reservation to women in Parliament and state assemblies. This gloomy scenario reflects the patriarchal mentality of the Haryanavi society. For example, older women still prefer to follow their men when it comes to deciding whom to vote. The younger generation is only in a transition phase.

“So far, social groups such as khap panchayats have an overriding authority on women. They come up with bizarre ideas such as lowering the marriageable age of girls, banning them from carrying mobile phones and wearing jeans as a solution to the growing number of rape cases. But has any politicians ever dared to question the rationale of such ideas?” said a girl student of the Haryana Agriculture University. She said issues such as honour killings, sexual and domestic violence and freedom to choose life partners could not be resolved until there is a significant representation of women in politics.

Sunita Duggal, BJP leader who was a contender for ticket from Sirsa seat, said: “Though women have achieved heights in various fields, especially sports and academics, political empowerment is more important”. She said the number of women politicians was almost negligible. “Political parties as well as women are responsible for this scenario,” she said.

Krishna Punia, discus thrower from Hisar who joined the Congress and unsuccessfully contest assembly election from Sadalpur in Rajasthan recently, said Haryana women have proved their capabilities. “They can be equally successful in politics. But, politics is a different field. Women politicians cannot go beyond a point in their activism”.

Jagmati Sangwan, vice president of Janwadi Mahila Samiti, said Haryana’s women achievers have elevated their social status which is a big leap towards emancipation of women from age-old social taboos prevalent in the society. But it’s incomplete without political empowerment. “Political parties must take initiative. Women in responsible positions and active in social fields have a bigger role to play,” she said.
Voters in Haryana
Male: 84,42,220
Female: 71,52,207
India: Women’s security dependent on ending patriarchal view that they are children of a lesser god Print E-mail

 Tuesday March 25, 2014

The statistics of gender bias

By Satyabrata Pal
 The World Bank estimated that over the last two decades, around 2.5 lakh girls were killed in India each year, because of their gender. (S. R. Raghunathan)

The extent of violence against the girl as foetus and infant shows how deep the bias against women is and why they will be secure only if India introspects and changes

Over the next few weeks, there will be many tussles between our mostly male politicians over India’s security. But almost no one will ask if a country can be secure when half its citizens live in deepening insecurity, threatened not by terrorists or enemy soldiers but by the society into which they are born. We seem to forget that India’s security must encompass the security of 48 per cent of its citizens ­ women ­ and urgently address the endemic threats they face, ranging from entrenched discrimination to violence.

This starts with the mass murder of female foetuses. In its 2012 report on “Gender Equality and Development,” the World Bank estimated that over the last two decades, around 2.5 lakh girls were killed in India each year because of their sex.

When infant and child mortality are driven by biology, fewer girls die than boys, but the third National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) found that the postneonatal mortality rate for Indian girls is 21/1000, compared with 15 for boys. For the age group 1-4 years, “the child mortality rate for girls, at 23/1000, is 61 per cent higher than for boys, at 14.” The World Bank report estimated that, as a result, India lost another 2.5 lakh girls in 2008.

These figures put us to shame as a society. This systematic massacre could not happen unless society accepted it and governments turned a blind eye to it. Sections 312 to 317 of the Indian Penal Code list the punishments for causing miscarriage, injuring unborn children, preventing a child from being born or causing it to die after birth, and abandoning a child under 12 years. Over the last 20 years, how many prosecutions have there been under these provisions of the law? There should have been 10 million.

Entrenched bias
The extent of the violence against the girl as foetus and infant shows how deep the bias in India is against women and why women will be secure only if we as a nation introspect and change. Not only is this not happening, but the 2011 census shows that the sex ratio in the age-group 0-6 had fallen in 27 States and Union Territories from 2001.

Millions of girls who are allowed to live are fed and educated less than their brothers. The United Nation’s Human Development Report 2013 estimates that 42.5 per cent of our children suffer from malnutrition (as against 3.8 per cent in China). There is also great irony in this because NFHS-3 established that when mothers were undernourished, 54 per cent of their children were stunted and 25 per cent wasted. The more educated they were, the lower the chance of their children being either stunted or wasted. By starving millions of girls so that their brothers can eat marginally better, and by taking them out of school, we have condemned each new generation – boys and girls – to a fresh cycle of malnutrition.

The treatment of little girls moulds the psyche of their brothers, who internalise the view that their needs ­ as males ­ have preference over those of their sisters. What we have come to thereby is the socialisation of violence against women.

There are no estimates of the extent of physical violence against the girl child but it would be reasonable to assume that it is extensive.

In 2007, the Ministry of Women and Child Development published a “National Study on Child Abuse,” which reported that 53 per cent of the children interviewed had suffered one or more forms of sexual abuse. It would be dangerous to extrapolate from this limited study that over half our children suffer sexual abuse, but it is clearly far more widespread than we admit. What should be of the gravest concern was that in most cases the children reported that the attack was by someone they knew, often a close relative.

Data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) confirms that this pattern continues as the girl becomes a woman. Since the NCRB can only collate cases registered, its data represent just the tip of the crime iceberg. But it reports that in 2012 there were 24,923 cases of rape registered. In 98 per cent of the cases, the victims knew the offenders. This is a logical outcome of a nurturing process in which boys grow up believing, from what they see in their families, that women exist only to satisfy the needs of men.

Society still resists change. NFHS-3 found that the median age for marriage for girls is still just over 16, and commented that this “is an indicator of the low status of is related to lower empowerment and increased risk of adverse reproductive and health consequences.” There is enough data to show how adverse these are.

Women, particularly poor women, are most insecure in childbirth when they fulfil the role society has set for them. According to the Millennium Development Goals, maternal mortality in India which was 301 per lakh of live births in 2001 should be down to 75 by 2015. This will not happen. We are perhaps down to a maternal mortality rate of 200 now. At 27 million live births in India each year, at least 54,000 women die in the process.

We also perhaps do not realise how other problems have a compounding effect. We are, for instance, the world leaders in open defecation. That is being perpetuated in most States where, despite a requirement that all houses built under the Indira Awas Yojana must have a toilet, very few do. Open defecation is also an open invitation to rape. Complaints to the NHRC show how many women are abducted or raped when they go out into the fields at night. In many States, teenage village girls either refuse to go to school or are taken out by their parents because the building has no toilet and their right to education suffers.

It is sad but to be expected that women have also been indoctrinated to believe that their security depends on good behaviour, as mandated by men. NHFS-3 found that 40 per cent of married women have been subjected to spousal violence. But it also found that 54 per cent of the women it surveyed agreed that wife-beating was acceptable if the wife went out without telling her husband, argued with him, refused sex, neglected the children, did not cook properly, was suspected of being unfaithful or showed disrespect toward her in-laws. On this, NFHS-3 said: “Violence is more likely to be justified if the described behaviour violates what is perceived as acceptable behaviour for women in their gendered roles as wives, mothers and daughters-in-law.”

Obvious acts of violence

And then there are the more obvious acts of criminal violence against women. There is the enormous problem of trafficking; the special insecurities of women in conflict zones. Adivasi and Dalit women are branded as witches. There are the continuing tragedies of forced marriages, of girls being killed for marrying boys of their choice or for not bringing in enough dowry, the needless hysterectomies under the Rashtriya Swasth Bima Yojana.

Within society as between states, security depends on power. The weakest are the most insecure. Women in India are insecure and remain at risk because in this patriarchal society they are children of a lesser god. For women to be secure, the country must change ­ there should be more women in Parliament and in positions of political and executive authority. Every election brings with it hope of renewal, but India will not be transformed, it cannot be secure, developed or respected if the democracy in which it takes pride does not bring about urgent and fundamental change in the lives of its women.

(Satyabrata Pal was a Member of the National Human Rights Commission.)

Malaysia: Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez & guests pay tribute to Myanmar women refugees Print E-mail

 Kuala Lumpur ~ Friday March 14, 2014

Support for Myanmar women refugees

 Three Myanmar women showing their handicraft.

INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day is celebrated in more than 175 countries worldwide on March 8. The day is heralded as an opportunity to honour women from the past, present and future.

In conjunction with this day, virtual shopping mall Lazada Malaysia and Tanma Federation paid tribute to Myanmar refugee women with an evening of celebration, empowerment and fundraising at Palate Palette Bar and Restaurant.

The event’s tagline was “Together We are Stronger Women”.
  About 100 invited guests, refugees and VIPs attended the event, including human rights activist and Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez and UNHCR representatives.

The evening also featured cultural performances by the refugee women and a video presentation of several community projects.

“We are pleased to honour the Myanmar refugee women with a donation to benefit the centres and school,” said Lazada Malaysia chief executive officer Igor Pezzilli.

“In doing so, we hope to inspire the community to tackle the evolving challenges and support the needs of these women.

“As an equal-opportunity employer, Lazada Malaysia encourages an entrepreneurial spirit among women and respects the dreams, hopes and will of these women,” he added.

Lazada regional business development manager Ann Khoo said, “I have battled with Tourette’s syndrome and can relate to the Myanmar women’s struggle for equal opportunity and financial independence.

“We are incredibly thankful for this contribution as it is a recognition of our efforts. The challenge for us now is to see how we can best raise awareness within our own influence to ensure that Tanma Federation grows from strength to strength,” Fernandez said.

The donation will allow Tanma Federation to move forward with plans for existing and new projects that will raise public awareness on the situation of Myanmar refugee women in Malaysia.

More than 40,000 ethnic Myanmar women are currently seeking refuge in Malaysia

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