Tamil Nadu Perspective: Draft National Policy for Women



Swarna Rajagopalan and Ragamalika Karthikeyan

One of the shortcomings of the Draft National Policy for Women 2016 is that it does not reflect regional concerns. Perhaps the expectation is that each state will come up with its own Policy guidelines but given the weakness of State Commissions for Women, there is no institutional advocate in most states that could push for such a document, leave alone engineer the consultations and debates that should precede the drafting of this document. Moreover, in the absence of truly wide-ranging consultations that reach beyond the usual suspects, the recommendations or guidelines as they stand are silent on a lot of key concerns for women.

Based on the experiences of women in Tamil Nadu in the last few years, we at Prajnya drew up a short list of concerns that they would be well-served to have included in the National Draft Policy.

I. Sexual and gender based inter-caste violence (‘Honour’ crimes): Since June 2013, civil society estimates 88 ‘honour’ killings in Tamil Nadu, with caste-mobs murdering young inter-caste couples, and sometimes even their families. Falling in love or marrying outside of caste boundaries is often threatened with sexual violence and murder. With no official estimates of such crimes, justice is often delayed or denied.

The Draft National Policy as it stands does not consider the gendered consequences of the overlap of vulnerabilities—when caste or socio-economic status or minority or ethnic status already place you at a disadvantage, both women and men are even more vulnerable to human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence.

II. The challenges faced by women refugees living in and out of camps in Tamil Nadu: There are over one lakh Sri Lankan refugees living in Tamil Nadu, close to 65,000 of them in refugee camps. Many of them live in cramped spaces without basic amenities like access to water and sanitation. Women and girls in these camps face sexual and gender based violence which goes frequently unreported. While life as refugees in India is difficult, going back to an unstable home in Sri Lanka is not an option for many.

Displacement is a reality across India—both refugees and internally displaced persons. Women make up at least half of these numbers and yet, the Draft National Policy does not acknowledge or address their problems.

III. Women and disasters: There is just one paragraph that mentions women’s needs in disaster contexts. Given the present frequency of climate change and human-made disasters, a gender-sensitive disaster risk reduction and mitigation policy is an urgent need that needs to be emphasised strongly.

In states like Tamil Nadu, women are vulnerable to both natural (and climate change) disasters like last year’s floods as well as the slow disasters that might result from human-planned development and industrial projects gone awry. The National Policy should mandate their inclusion with voice in consultations and decision-making at every turn–from project planning, to land acquisition negotiations, to resettlement planning and to safety planning.

IV. Workplace-related guidelines: While the Draft National Policy does address livelihood issues at length and emphasise the importance of workplace protections, we would like to draw attention to three situations where Tamil Nadu women would benefit from stronger national guidelines to protect their rights.

a. Forced and bonded labour of women and girls in spinning mills: A study conducted by civil society organisations says about 100,000 girls and women are being exploited as bonded labour in the textile industry in the state, and frequently face sexual violence at the workplace. Following the suspicious death of a teenager in Tirupur in March, investigations have revealed poor living conditions, and exploitative ‘schemes’ endangering the safety and health of young women.

b. Minimum wage for domestic workers in Tamil Nadu: Domestic workers are not covered under the Minimum Wages Act, and while some states have fixed a minimum wage, Tamil Nadu is not among them. There is also little awareness about their rights among domestic workers. Workplace sexual harassment, health insurance, decent working conditions are other areas of concern.

c. Enumeration of manual scavengers, abolition of manual scavenging: While the TN Govt has claimed there are only 210 manual scavengers in the state, both the National Commission for Scheduled Castes as well as civil society organisations have rejected this number. The state has over 2 lakh unsanitary toilets, and as many as 27,659 households are serviced manually, with another 26,020 households serviced by animals. Night soil is usually collected by Dalit women, and this inhuman practice, while officially abolished, still persists.

V. Single women living in poverty: Destitute, deserted and never married women (especially those over 35 years) living in urban slums and rural areas deserve social support. The National Policy should acknowledge their special needs.*

VI. Enabling Environment: The TN State Women’s Commission has been less and less active in the last decade, chaired by political appointees who have rarely reached out to women’s groups and other parts of civil society. The State and National Commissions are uniquely placed to serve as a bridge between government and civil society, and when they are more or less moribund, they are a wasted opportunity for a strong partnership between the two for social change. Civil society loses and institutional ally and the government loses the ability to genuinely connect with the public.

The National Policy for Women should re-imagine the Women’s Commissions in a stronger form and mandate their constitution as an independent, well-resourced and pro-active body.

*Point V is the contribution of Ms. Renuka Bala of the Centre for Women’s Development Research. 




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.

  1. Introduction:

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.

  1. 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/

  1. 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.


Action Priorities

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:

  1. Gender-disaggregated data collection and resource creation
  2. Promoting and achieving compliance with existing gender equality laws within public, private and informal sectors
  3. 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.

Brief: Draft National Policy for Women 2016


Draft National Policy for Women 2016

prepared by Ragamalika Karthikeyan

Draft released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development on May 18, 2016 hopes to replace the 2001 National Policy for the Empowerment of Women.


A society in which, women attain their full potential and are able to participate as equal partners in all spheres of life and influence the process of social change.


To create an effective framework to enable the process of developing policies, programmes and practices which will ensure equal rights and opportunities for women in the family, community, workplace and in governance.


  • The policy focuses on health, education, employment and visibility of women.
  • Although the larger focus is on maternal health and nutrition, policy also mentions mental health, geriatric care.
  • Policy focus on migrant women labourers, especially domestic workers. New legislation promised for domestic workers.
  • Large focus on skill development and vocational training of women and girls.
  • Pay parity, institutional mechanisms to encourage gender equity in familial responsibilities mentioned.
  • Focus also on increasing land ownership of women. Measures to reduce stamp duties, increase awareness about land rights among women.
  • Emphasis on collecting gender disaggregated data across sectors.
  • ‘Emerging issues’ like menstrual hygiene, cyber safety touched upon.
  • 50% reservation for women in local bodies, 33% reservation in assemblies, Parliament, promised.
  • The policy promises to strengthen public transport, sanitation infrastructure to help women in many ways.
  • Institutional response mechanisms, better implementation of existing legislation promised to tackle violence against women.


The draft policy lists out 12 objectives, focusing on the health, education and social and political participation of women and girls. The objectives also talk about tackling violence against women and empowerment of marginalised women. The subjects of these objectives are discussed in seven ‘priority areas’, and some ‘emerging areas’. The document also focuses on strategies for implementing its objectives.

Priority Areas:

  • Health, including food security and nutrition

  1. Maternal, Sexual and Reproductive Health:
  • Capacity building of existing systems, like Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) and Anganwadis, in order to improve maternal mortality rates.
  • Co-ordinated ‘Referral Transport System’ for safe childbirth and emergency obstetric care in all areas, especially difficult, remote and isolated areas, and in places affected by natural calamities.
  • Focus of sterilisation campaigns to be shifted to men instead of women.
  • Special emphasis on sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents.
  • ‘Suitable interventions’ to focus on health needs of menopausal women.
  • Healthcare coverage for surrogates during pregnancy, and for post-pregnancy check-ups.

2. Nutrition:

  • Focus on nutrition during antenatal and postnatal stages.
  • Strategies to address intra-household discrimination on nutrition for girls and women.
  • Regular data collection, district-wise, sex-wise, on nutritional deficiency of children.
  • Review of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) role in preventing and addressing under-nutrition.
  • Strengthen Public Distribution System (PDS) to reach vulnerable women.
  • Proposal to have Self Help Groups (SHGs) manage institutions of food/grain banks, to ensure uninterrupted supply of food, even during disasters.

3. General/Other:

  • Systemic approach to provide mental health screening, care and treatment to vulnerable women.
  • Focus on communicable and noncommunicable diseases, formulation of appropriate strategies and interventions to address them.
  • Strengthening of geriatric services, including preventive, curative and rehabilitative health care, to help women over 60.
  • Expansion of Govt health insurance schemes, and linking them to existing schemes benefitting women, like Integrated Child Development Services, Janani Suraksha Yojana etc.
  • Investment in data infrastructure to get gender based data from public and private institutions, and researchers, to address health reforms.


  • Education

  1. General
  • Responsive complaining mechanism in schools and colleges to address discrimination, sexual harassment.
  • Gender sensitisation of faculty, and curriculum, content and pedagogies for an understanding of concepts of masculinity, femininity, and gender stereotypes.

2. School Education

  • Strengthen pre-school education in Anganwadis in order to:
    • Improve cognitive and communication skills of children.
    • Free older children, especially girls, from child care responsibilities and prevent dropouts.
  • Increase enrolment and retention of adolescent girls by providing functional girls’ toilets, recruiting more women as teachers.
  • Transport systems to ensure girls don’t drop out because of distance to school.
  • Secondary education of girls to focus on skill development and vocational training.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation of Govt schools by Mother Groups, Self Help Groups.
  • Innovative and accessible education systems for children of migrant labourers, especially in large construction sites, salt pan areas, plantations, and other manufacturing zones.

3. Higher Education

  • Inter-sectoral plan of action to encourage enrolment of women in professional/scientific courses, by provision of financial assistance, coaching, hostels, child care etc.
  • Partnership with international universities to provide opportunities to women for higher education.
  • Online distance education courses in skill development and entrepreneurship.

4. Adult literacy

  • Mission mode approach for women’s literacy. Adult literacy to be linked to financial literacy, life skills, education on rights, laws, schemes etc.
  • Economy


  1. Poverty:
  • Gender disaggregated surveys on intra-household well being to measure incidence of poverty among women.

2. Raising Visibility

  • Gender wage gap to be addressed across all sectors. Focus on pay parity and satisfactory work conditions for women in informal sector.
  • Growing informalization and casualization of women’s work / labour to be addressed.
  • Reduction in stamp duties for women if assets registered in their name; lowering of income tax slabs for women.
  • Gender outcome assessment in all financial inclusion schemes.
  • Review of all existing trade agreements and treaties from a gender perspective. Future negotiations to be backed by ‘Gender Trade Impact Assessment’.
  • Household surveys to assess gender inequality in household work and unpaid care work. Measures to free women’s time for paid work.
  • Caregiver support programmes and family and community counseling to help differently abled women.
  • Focus on social security, protection of migrant women labourers, especially domestic workers.

3. Agriculture

  • Effective implementation of land rights laws for women; ‘witch hunt’ against women landowners to be addressed.
  • Encourage women to hold land in Govt land distribution schemes.
  • Gender disaggregated data collection on land ownership.
  • Women to be recognised as farmers; agro schemes to target women beneficiaries.
  • Self Help Groups, co-operatives to be incentivized to follow sustainable agriculture practices.
  • Special package for wives of farmers who committed suicide.

4. Industry, Labour and Employment (Skill Development and Entrepreneurship)

  • Pay parity, safe workplaces, social security to facilitate women in formal work environments.
  • Focus on skill development and entrepreneurship for women.
  • Part-time and flexi-time job creation in the organised sector to attract more women.

5. Service Sector

  • Infrastructure like toilets, child care facilities, safe public transport to be strengthened to encourage women to enter service sector.

6. Science and Technology

  • Gender-based data collection through mobile phones to inform policy decisions.
  • Self Help Groups, Co-operatives, Non-Governmental Organisations to be trained to disseminate technology in rural areas.


  • Governance and Decision Making


  • 50% reservation for women in local bodies, 33% in assemblies and Parliament.
  • Financial incentives, quotas to increase women’s participation in civil services, judiciary.
  • Increase women’s participation in trade unions, political parties etc. Maintain gender disaggregated data to assess progress.
  • Train civil servants on gender issues.


  • Violence Against Women


  • Life cycle approach to address all forms of violence against women and girls.
  • Measures to improve Child Sex Ratio – effective implementation of Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PCPNDT) and creating awareness about the issue.
  • Special measures to combat violence against adolescent girls in public and domestic spaces.
  • Strengthen existing legislation to prevent trafficking of women and children.
  • Sensitise law enforcement, judiciary, panchayats to prevent violence against differently abled girls and women.
  • Strengthen alternate dispute redressal systems, like family courts and nari adalat, to address violence against women.
  • Create and strengthen linkages between legal service institutions and shelter homes. Create one-stop-centres at shelter homes to provide legal aid to women.
  • Advocacy and awareness work with men and boys.
  • Gender sensitivity training for law enforcement, judiciary.


  • Enabling Environment


  • Focus on providing safe housing for women across socio-economic spectrum, including capacity building of state-run shelter homes for survivors of domestic violence.
  • Safe drinking water and sanitation facilities for women at all levels.
  • Menstrual health and hygiene education for adolescent girls in schools/colleges.
  • Include women in decision making process regarding water conservation.
  • Increase number of women in decision making roles with respect to mass media.
  • Advocate use of gender sensitive language in media.
  • Provide safeguards to protect women on the web.
  • Promote sports for women by providing financial incentives, scholarships, coaching.


  • Environment and Climate Change


  • All environment policy to incorporate gender concerns.
  • Gender specific strategies in disaster management and prevention.
  • Environment friendly, sustainable micro-enterprises run by women to be promoted.
  • Strengthen role of women in forest governance.

Emerging Issues:

  • Child care, dependent care and paid leave for both men and women in organised and unorganised sectors.
  • Review of personal and customary laws in accordance with Constitutional provisions.
  • Develop measures to prevent cyber fraud, and protect victims, especially women.
  • Ensure rights of all parties using in artificial reproductive techniques, including commissioning mothers, surrogates, and children.
  • Social security measures to benefit single women, including widows, separated, divorced, never-married and deserted women.

How will these issues be tackled?

  • At Central and State level, short-term, medium-term and long-term action plans will be made in the following template:
  1. Action points based on each priority area to be achieved during each fiscal year
  2. Outcomes with Indicators
  3. Responsible Agencies
  4. Identification and commitment of resources
  • Inter Ministerial Committee headed by Minister of Women and Child Development to operationalise policy. At state level, committee to be headed by Chief Minister.
  • Strengthen existing institutions for the protection and empowerment of women, including National Commission for Women, State resource centres under National Mission for Empowerment of Women, Central Social Welfare Board etc.
  • Include civil society organisations in formulation, implementation and monitoring of policies for women.
  • Review existing legislation and formulate new legislation and/or amendments to benefit women.
  • Comprehensive legislation to address the issues of domestic workers.
  • Compulsory registration of marriages.
  • Emphasis on advocacy efforts to change the mindset of the population, focus on men and boys.
  • Promote skill development opportunities for women.
  • Strengthen convergence at all levels to ensure village co-ordinators can reach out to women effectively on all Govt schemes.
  • Collect gender disaggregated data for all policies and schemes; find new ways of collecting gender-based data to know the real state of women in India.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development invites feedback on the draft by June 20, 2016.