Modi Govt's New Draft National Policy for Women Promises "Re-Scripting" of Empowerment

The draft policy includes more reproductive rights as well as rights for single women and widows.

New Delhi: After a gap of 15 years, the Centre has come up with a draft national policy for women. The draft policy, made public by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) on May 17, is aimed at “re-scripting” women’s empowerment by following a “socially inclusive rights-based approach.”

Releasing the draft policy at the Indian Women’s Press Corps in New Delhi, Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi stated, “Since 2001, when the last National Policy for Empowerment of Women was formulated, the concept of women empowerment has seen changes, from being recipients of welfare benefits to the need to engage them in the development process, welfare with a heavy dose of rights. This draft policy has tried to address this shift. It will define the government’s action on women in the next 15-20 years.”

She said, “Though we formulated it after consulting a lot of women from diverse backgrounds and tried to address issues of single, divorced, widowed women, women who work from home to those who go to office, we invite comments from all stakeholders and the public to make it an even more refined policy.”

The policy is roughly based on the Pam Rajput Committee report set up by the MWCD in 2012 which submitted its recommendations last year, including a suggested national policy for women and an action plan to end violence against women.

Though the country’s overall Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) has decreased to 40% in 2013 from 60% in 2003 (per 1000 births) and the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) from 301 in 2003 to 167 in 2013, maternal and pre-natal mortality will remain a priority area, according to the draft policy. The measures outlined in the policy include “a coordinated referral transport system for safe deliveries and emergency obstetric care to be made available in difficult, remote and isolated areas.” It also mentions implementing “a gender transformative health strategy” which shifts the focus of family planning efforts from female sterilisation to male sterilisation.

The policy also zooms in on prioritising the nutrition of women of all ages and strengthening geriatric services to address women aged above 60, who form 8.4% of the population (as per the 2011 Census).

To enrol more girls in secondary schools and retain current girl students, the draft policy addresses the problem of navigating the distance from home to school by suggesting “innovative transportation models” such as “cluster pooling of mini buses.”

To instil respect for women in men from a young age, the policy talks of engaging men and boys through advocacy, awareness generation programmes and community programmes.

Gandhi said, “The ministry is already beginning to take action on some aspects of the draft policy. In this aspect, it has joined hands with the Ministry of Education to soon introduce a competition for “Gender Champions” among school boys.” Boys from fifth grade onwards will be eligible for the competition. “It will be implemented across the country, (and) will have prizes for those who uphold respect for women,” she added.

The 24-page document also takes note of more women taking recourse to artificial reproductive techniques. It proposes efforts to ensure the rights of surrogate mothers, commissioning mothers along with those of the children born through surrogacy. Speaking about the mechanism to achieve it, Gandhi referred to the Assisted Reproductive Techniques (Regulation) Bill 2014. “The surrogacy bill is under consideration but we do have guidelines on surrogacy right now. Eventually, a law for surrogacy will be in place,” she said.

The draft policy also mentions designing “a comprehensive social protection mechanism” to address the vulnerabilities of widows, single, deserted, separated and divorced women and create opportunities for them. Gandhi mentioned one such measure, “The ministry is building a 1000-room shelter for widows and other vulnerable women in Vrindavan. It should be operational by this October.”

Yet another area of concern the policy focuses on is the trafficking of women. “This is going to remain one of the most focused areas of my ministry this year. Ideally, we should have a Trafficking Commissioner. We are also trying to make the MWCD a nodal monitoring agency along with the Ministry of Home Affairs in this regard,” Gandhi said.

On reinforcing safety measures for women, the draft policy features efforts to develop a compatible and comprehensive database on violence against women, strict monitoring of the response of (law) enforcement agencies to violence against women, time-bound trial of heinous crimes against women, strengthening naari adalats and family courts, etc.  

“We are also bringing in measures like introducing a panic button in cell phones which will be connected to police stations. It should be in place by this January. The ministry is also working on developing a mobile application through which ten people the user chooses will get a shout in need who may reach her sooner than the police,” she said.

The draft policy also focuses on increased participation of women in workforce and politics (through need-based training), narrowing the gender-based wage gap, creating entrepreneurial  opportunities for women (through schemes like E-haats), recognising women’s unpaid work (at home) in terms of economic and societal value, achieving gender equity in agriculture, effective implementation of the legal provisions to ensure rights of women to immovable properties as well as the skill development of women in traditional, new and emerging areas.