EMPOWER RURAL WOMEN
By Dr Oishee Mukherjee
“Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas” begins with the girl child and women, said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his recent Budget speech. Obviously seeking to send a strong message that the NDA-II Government proposes to put sharp focus on improving their status in India’s largely patriarchal society.
Towards this goal, he amplified that Mahila Shakti Kendras will be set up at village level with an allocation of 500 crores in 14 lakh ICDS Anganwadi Centres. This, according to him shall provide one stop convergent support services for empowering rural women with opportunities for skill development, employment, digital literacy, health and nutrition. However, if these are allowed to be run by civil society organisations, the functioning would be reasonably better and cost effective.
However, it is distressing to note that the allocation for Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) is marginally up by 4.4 per cent, which should have ideally been increased by at least 10 per cent, considering the need to increase the coverage of girls’ education in rural areas and also increase in costs. There is general agreement to widen the coverage of education for which there should have been an increase in allocation.
At the same time, the proposal to launch Skill Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness (SANKALP) at a cost of Rs 4000 crores is definitely encouraging as it aims to impart training to 3.5 crore youth. But it is expected that the details of the programme are enumerated and what skills would be offered to girls for training so that they could earn a living or add to family incomes.
It goes without saying that the social change that we have been witnessing in the country has seen women entering the mainstream of life and activity. More number of girls is getting educated and even going for higher education. Even the opposite sex is opting to become engineers, lawyers, doctors and even entering military service. However, all this is a trend manifest in the metros and big cities where a change has definitely taken place in the last two decades or so.
The condition is, however, quite different in the rural areas, specially in the backward districts of the country. There has not been much difference in the villages where the predominant feeling is that girls are meant to get married after attaining the age of 18 or so (if not earlier). Though some girls go to school, very few finish high school education. The educational levels being quite poor in the rural areas, the parents normally do not give much attention to their education.
The State governments have, no doubt, tried to encourage education of the opposite sex but even then the success rate has not been encouraging. The southern States have shown some remarkable advancement but at the national level, there is much to be desired. The patriarchal society still believes that attention has to be given to boys, whether it comes to education or nutrition. As reports have pointed out that under nutrition of the girl child is much more severe than that of boys, specially of those among the economically weaker sections.
In such a scenario, there is need to consider how girls’ education can be promoted so that they could reach college and university levels. But unfortunately not much has been done either by the Centre or most States in this regard. There is also the question of social security of girls – whether trafficking which has increased or rape cases in the cities. Fortunately, due to efforts by the media, these are now being reported and girls have mustered the courage of coming forward to report these cases to the law enforcement authorities.
In the realm of health, a positive feature has already announced by Prime Minister Modi wherein Rs 6,000 each will be transferred directly to the bank accounts of pregnant women who undergo institutional delivery and vaccinate their children, is in place since Decemebr 2016. But one cannot but give credit to the Finance Minister for enhancing the allocation for the coming fiscal to Rs 184,632 crores from Rs 156,628 at present for various schemes concerning girls and women across different Ministries.
Not just pregnant women but it is necessary to ensure that under nutrition of girls is controlled. The discrimination between boys and girls has to be done away with and all should be treated as equal members of the family in all matters in matters of food and nutrition.
One cannot deny the need to ensure a dignified position for women and girls in society. There has to be a basic change in our thinking and mind sets which, in turn, could help changing the social structure and its predominantly patriarchal nature even today. The potential of the opposite sex has already been established as they are more preferred in jobs and move up the ladder quite quickly due to their dedication and sincerity.
For all this to happen, there is need for awareness generation, specially in the rural areas, to make along with legal rights of women and their right to property has to be taken up by civil society organizations in collaboration with panchayats and municipalities. Simultaneously laws have to be women centric, the latest one being changing the divorce laws of Muslim women, which is now under consideration of the Supreme Court.
As India emerges big and strong, there is need for change, a change that would steadily give the opposite sex their rightful place in society. Though this is easily said than done, there has to be sustained efforts whose leadership has to be given by the educated youth. The caste and class differentiation has to be removed as all of us are born equal and no true religion talks of any caste or class being superior to the other.
In addition, to all this is the need for political will to enforce equality in society. Gender parity has aptly been referred to by Jaitley a number of times in his Budget speech which, no doubt, brings some encouragement and hope of a positive change in thinking. If, however, this spirit is maintained among all political leaders and they seriously think of making this a reality, one can definitely visualise a steady change in the coming years. Importantly, the Budget announcements should not remain on paper and an action taken report be made available to showcase the Government’s sincerity.– INFA
(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)