(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 05, 2009
WOMEN’S CHARTER FOR THE 15TH LOK SABHA ELECTIONS – 2009
TOWARDS A GOVT THAT WILL SAFEGUARD WOMEN’S INTERESTS
The women’s charter for the 15th lok sabha elections – 2009
was released by eleven women’s organisations - All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), National Federation Of Indian Women (NFIW), Joint Women’s Programme (JWP) Guild Of Service (GOS), Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) , Muslim Women’s Forum (MWF), Council Of Catholic Women Of India (CCWI), All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM), Nirmala Niketan Caritas India And Centre For Women’s Development Studies (CWDS). The following is the text of the charter
We, the women of India consider the forthcoming elections to the 15th Lok Sabha (2009) a crucial battle, the outcome of which will greatly impact on women’s struggles for 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 draw public attention to the issues that have affected women in recent times. We appeal to all political parties and forces to ensure that the concerns highlighted here become part of the mainstream political agenda in the forthcoming elections and in government policy.
In 2004, women, along with other citizens, voted to dislodge communal forces from power given their bitter experience with the communal and divisive agenda of communal forces which had inflicted violence, including sexual violence on women in Gujarat. That these forces continue to be powerful and pose a threat to peace, harmony and security of women is obvious from the more recent Kandhamal incidents.
The CMP adopted by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government installed with critical support from the Left parties promised to secure equal rights for women in all spheres. But were the assurances fulfilled?
For women, the biggest betrayal has been the utter failure of successive governments, including the UPA, to pass the 33 per cent Women’s Reservation Bill, once again in the name of consensus.
To add salt to our wounds the government hurriedly announced a Mission for Women’s Empowerment on the last day of the last parliament session. This type of tokenism is unacceptable.
Due to women’s struggles, the government was forced to incorporate changes in the Hindu Succession Act, and bring in a Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. But there was no subsequent support with central budgetary allocation for its effective implementation. Violence against women has increased in the last five years. The crimes against women statistics reveal ( NCRB data) 57 rapes per day (two rapes every hour) and increase in dowry deaths from 7026 cases in 2004 to 8093 in 2007(22 per day – almost one every hour).
The government was unable to bring in a comprehensive bill to address rape and sexual assault, and a bill for protection against sexual harassment of women at the work place. Instead of strengthening the legal procedures in favour of women, it has actually amended the Cr PC to dilute provisions that provide for arrest of the accused. The gross violation of the PcPNDT Act continues with impunity, depressing the sex ratios further. The government failed to ensure the efficacy of the monitoring and supervisory bodies.
On the economic front, women have been impoverished by the pro neo liberal policies adopted by successive governments.
The government has been swift to safeguard corporate interests with concessions on loan rates, but has provided no guarantee for safeguarding jobs in the export sector, where women are severely affected. The claims of self help groups to lower rate of interest as priority sector groups have been denied.
Recently recession has affected families adversely through massive job losses. The situation is more desperate for huge sections of the unorganised workers, a large number of whom are women.
The biggest failure has been on price-rise. The relentless increase in the prices of essential commodities has devastated the budgets of the mass of people. Even today the consumer price index is high. The price of wheat, sugar, onions, edible oil and particularly rice remains out of reach of the common people.
Women and child malnutrition levels in India have increased. The record is even worse than in sub Saharan Africa. 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.
The latest scheme announced for unorganised sector workers has cruelly excluded a sizeable section of poor women by limiting beneficiaries to the BPL category. Despite the restrictions imposed by the presence of the Left, the neo liberal policies that were pursued have increased social inequalities and have intensified the gap between the rich and poor, between men and women.
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.
The NREGA which was an important instrument for addressing rural unemployment and distress witnessed a high participation of women. But the scenario of high productivity norms, difficult working conditions and the unequal wages received by women continued despite intervention, thereby sabotaging a good Act.
The agrarian crisis has intensified in the last few years. Farmer suicides between May 2004 and December 2007 numbered 59,943, of whom a sizeable number were women. As they are 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.
Secularism has been under siege. The communal forces, led by the Sangh parivar, have been unleashing communal violence against minorities in states like Orissa, and Karnataka with impunity. Assaults on women’s rights have been on the increase, as evidenced in the recent blatant attacks on women in Mangalore.
But the government has refused to intervene and take stringent action to safeguard those affected by communal violence. The dangerous combination of communalism and terrorism that came to the fore after the Malegaon and Nanded blasts required a major offensive against these forces by the government, but this initiative was missing.
Acts of terror in any form inflicted in the name of religion – be it Islamist or Hindutva fundamentalism-create a general sense of insecurity, and heighten divisions between communities. They act as a counterforce to people’s free and democratic participation.
While condemning the regional chauvinism unleashed in states like Maharashtra, it is a matter of deep concern that the mainstream political parties are unwilling to stand up boldly against divisive hate politics.
Above all, the most crucial issue of national sovereignty has been compromised by the stance adopted towards US imperialism. Aligning with the imperialist forces is not in the national interests- only an independent foreign policy can serve the country and safeguard its self reliance.
It is time for women to push for alternative policies that will effectively deal with the agrarian crisis and the recession, a polity that will protect the secular multicultural heritage of our country, for a government which is conscious of the need to protect the rights of the economically and socially oppressed sections and that will work for their upliftment, a government that will recognise 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 15th Lok Sabha elections. We will conduct a widespread campaign amongst the electorate on the basis of the women’s charter.
THE WOMEN’S CHARTER
Universalise and strengthen the Public Distribution System to make it equitable and just. Restore allocation of food grains to all states.
Ensure access to health and education and social welfare schemes to all who require it, without BPL categorisation.
Extend ICDS to all habitations. Regularise anganwadi employees with minimum wages. Increase funds for supplementary nutrition including Mid Day Meals. Ensure just wages for ASHA and mid day meal workers, moving towards minimum wages.
Implement special packages for the rehabilitation of women headed families in distress situations, including in suicide affected households. Debt write offs to reach women farmers also, including those indebted to private money lenders. Loans at cheaper rates for women farmers should be ensured.
Extend the NREGA to all urban areas. Remove the upper limit of 100 days.
Distribute land to landless households, and house sites to the homeless in joint names of women and men. Women’s right to inherit agricultural property should be ensured as a legal right.
Re examine the SEZ Act to protect the interests of farmers, farm labourers, and other sections vulnerable to displacement. In all relief and rehabilitation measures, women’s needs should be given special consideration.
Enact comprehensive legislation to regulate working conditions and provide maternity benefits, public child care and social security to agricultural workers, and workers in the unorganised sector, including domestic workers.
Treat Self Help Groups as a priority for the credit sector and provide them with loans at 4 per cent. Ensure adequate training and marketing support for their products.
Increase public spending on Education to 6 per cent and on Health to 5 per cent of the GDP. Regulate and bring social control on private educational and health services. Enact a central law to provide free and compulsory education to all children in the age group 0-14 years, with special emphasis on the girl child.
Increase allocation for social welfare schemes. Ensure that pension schemes for widows and the aged are extended to all eligible beneficiaries. Include special allocations for physically challenged women as a special category in all women related schemes, and also for female headed families and single women in all government schemes. Ensure gender sensitive implementation of Senior Citizen’s Act.
Provide central budgetary support for the effective implementation of the PWDV Act.
Introduce a liquor policy and prevent proliferation of liquor vends as a source of revenue mobilisation.
Rigorously implement the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Fill the entire backlog of SC and ST reserved posts in a time bound manner. Give reservations to dalit Muslims, and dalit Christians.
Ensure that all ministries and departments effectively implement a gender budgeting policy with one third allocations of resources for women. Ensure allocation of 15 per cent of budgetary support in all government schemes to minorities in minority dominated areas, taking care to include women beneficiaries.
Enact legislation to stringently punish those guilty of communal violence. Implement the findings of the Sri Krishna Commission report. Compensate the victims of communal riots in the country. Assure protection and rehabilitation to women and children affected by violence in conflict zones.
Pass the 33 per cent Women’s Reservation Bill
Enact a law to penalise sexual harassment at the Workplace.
Enact a comprehensive law to deal with sexual assault. Repeal S 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Enact a law to deal with child sexual abuse.
Bring in a separate law to address honour killings, and acid attacks. Introduce special measures to provide financial support to victims of acid attacks.
Make registration of marriages compulsory.
Enact a law for joint matrimonial property rights for women.
Enact a law against the trafficking of women and children.
Ensure strict implementation of the PcPNDT Act, with rigorous monitoring and stringent legal action against offenders.
Reverse the dilution in existing laws on crimes against women made through recent amendments in the CrPC.
Enact a law to prevent the entry of criminals into the legislature.
Promote and financially support Women’s Studies centres in all universities.
Draft and implement a gender-sensitive media code.
Strengthen the autonomous functioning of institutions like the NCW.