PRAJNYA TRUST COMMENTS ON THE DRAFT NATIONAL POLICY FOR WOMEN 2016
June 1, 2016
We, at The Prajnya Trust, would like to start by commending the Ministry for Women and Child Development for placing such an early draft of the National Policy for Women 2016 in the public domain for comments and suggestions.
We submit our comments and suggestions herewith. These are organised by section, reflecting the structure of the draft. We have chosen to focus on a few priority areas, reflecting our own work foci. At the end, we add some overall comments and suggestions.
I.1.6 The juxtapositions in this paragraph are misleading. Growing awareness makes increased reporting possible; increased reporting is not a negative, because it indicates awareness. Expansion of work opportunities co-exists with weak bargaining power, but more importantly, the changing nature of the workplace has created new workplace risks for women. These examples should be chosen with more care than as filler text because through them, the Ministry is signalling to society what the government thinks of as desirable and what they think is the root of the problem.
- Governance and Decision-making
IV.i Parity should be the means to achieve equality, so that 50% would be the standard required nomination and representation of women at all levels.
IV.ii and IV.iii will remain on a wish-list without incentives for increasing the numbers of women working in these sectors.
IV.iv The absence of gender disaggregated data is an obstacle in every sphere. Gender-disaggregated data and gender audits deserve to become priorities across all policy areas, not just here.
IV.v It is also important to strength government departments’ compliance with gender equality laws (like having an Internal Complaints Committee for workplace harassment complaints) and to sensitise whole organisations to gender concerns.
IV.vi In addition to strengthening SHGs and other grassroots women’s groups, it is important to build a pipeline that will enable them to enter the mainstream of politics and policy-making. Reservations are a part of that and so are voluntary party quotas. Skill and confidence building is another key ingredient and the National Policy should recognise that. This area also has potential for government-civil society partnerships.
IV.vii Improving the capacity of elected representatives and those rising through the ranks towards nomination gives meaning to equal representation.
What we miss in this section:
- Campaign finance reform so that women are not at a financial disadvantage during elections.
- Misogynistic speech and gender-based violence chargesheets should disqualify a candidate until and unless acquitted by a court.
- Requirement of equal institutional support by political parties to male and female candidates.
Please see our Gender Equality Election Checklist: https://keepingcount.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/prajnya-gender-equality-election-checklist/
- Violence against Women
Section V speaks of a life-cycle approach and then identifies three types of violence for special attention. Focusing attention and resources is a good idea. The draft policy takes due cognizance of cyber-crimes as an area that needs attention.
V.vi There needs also to be an increase in the number of women in police and paramilitary services.
V.vii Decision-making around setting up new institutions and initiatives is neither consultative nor inclusive. As a result the policy (like the government) commits to models and approaches whose short-comings are already evident elsewhere. This would be a good place to commit to an open and consultative approach (like the one for this draft policy) when planning such measures.
On the question of shelters and crisis homes, there are reviews that suggest a great qualitative variation in philosophy and service delivery. To arrive, consultatively, at common norms and best practices, as also to create an “industry” body for self-regulation would be useful.
V.viii To reiterate the point made earlier, a comprehensive gender-disaggregated database is needed, not just one on violence against women. There is some expertise in civil society that the government should tap into while funding and maintaining this database.
V.ix While it is fashionable to speak of engaging boys and men, it is important to consider the extent to which our present violence against women outreach actually engages even women and girls. Public outreach has not been a part of government policy on this (except relating to child sex ratio).
We would also like to point out that the draft National Policy for Women displays the government’s binary thinking on gender.
Gender identity is a spectrum, and gender is what is experienced rather than what is prescribed based on biological details. While a government may quite fairly choose to focus on one section of society, that focus is best made with an inclusive perspective that acknowledges that just talking about women and men or casting them respectively as victim and oppressor is misleading. Thus, when we speak only about violence against women and engaging men and boys, we assume that one group is always the victim and the other either silent witnesses, accomplices or assailants. Our binary, heteronormative thinking creates two air-tight categories and loses sight of the large numbers of men, women and others who fall outside them. Any policy guidelines or projects conceptualised on this simplistic and insensitive view of gender relations are doomed to fail.
Related to this is anxiety about the impact of social change on men and boys. Take the statement in VII.7.7.vii— “Given the number of new laws and policies related to gender-based violence, paternity leave, child support and gender equality broadly, it is crucial to understand the impact of such national-level and policy-level changes on boys and men,” notwithstanding the repetition of “rights-based approach” in the Introduction, you are pitching gender equality as a zero-sum game between two mutually exclusive gender groups. The reality is that gender equality is a win-win solution which can be beneficial to everyone.
V.x This is why the point about gender sensitivity training is so important—not just for men and boys, but for all genders, in mixed and segregated groups.
What we miss in this section:
- The draft report turns a blind eye to sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, in custody and in crisis in general. It may be that perpetrators are state or non-state actors, but ending impunity is the responsibility of the state. “Women in disturbed areas” can count on no support from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, it seems. We would like the policy to recognize the reality of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, custody and crisis situations and to commit the Government of India to ending impunity, no matter who the perpetrator.
- The draft also fails to mention sexual and gender based violence as a backlash to inter-caste and inter-religious relationships (‘honour’ crimes). Not only is such violence prevalent in several parts of the country, the Indian Penal Code has no provision to identify this as a distinct crime. Young people who choose their partners from beyond caste and religious boundaries, their families and sometimes entire communities are targeted by hooligans, and the state must commit to ending such crimes. By ignoring this violence, we implicitly sanction it while mouthing platitudes about social equality.
- Marital rape is a reality for girls and women across the country, and creating awareness about the issue as well as formulating a mechanism to counter it must be on the Government of India’s agenda while formulating a National Policy for Women. At the least, the draft must commit to a consultative process on removing the exception to marital rape in the criminal law.
The draft policy uses the word ‘priority’ to refer to action areas. We suggest the identification of a short list of action priorities instead, which can become the framework and filter for resource allocation and programmes in each of the action areas.
The three action priorities that emerge from the draft policy itself are:
- Gender-disaggregated data collection and resource creation
- Promoting and achieving compliance with existing gender equality laws within public, private and informal sectors
- Creating an enabling environment with focus on infrastructure, credit and training or capacity-building
The omission of displacement is glaring. Refugee and Internally Displaced women face a range of problems peculiar to their dislocation from home. Rehabilitation services apart, their citizenship and legal rights need protection. Their absence from the National Policy for Women cannot be excused.
The setting of timelines need not be left entirely to the Action Plans that new agencies will set up. They might be built into the Action Priorities themselves.
We at Prajnya welcome the inclusive, consultative mode in which the draft National Policy for Women has been placed in the public sphere. It gives all individuals and groups, regardless of location, size and celebrity, an equal chance to weigh in on an issue of concern to them. We hope this inclusivity and consultative practice will be sustained as the Ministry’s preferred way of making policy.