Empowering rural women, girls: India’s insight at UN

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United Nations, March 15 (IANS) India has shared with other countries its insights on empowering rural women and girls at an event on the sidelines of the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women drawing on its many programmes.

Leaders, diplomats and activists heard about how India was combating domestic violence, trying to right the unbalanced sex ratio, increasing women’s political participation and providing financial services and educational opportunities for women and girls.

This was at the session on “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls: Experiences from India” organised by India’s UN Mission and UN Women on Wednesday.

The deeply entrenched patriarchal mindset is responsible for many of the problems women face and action to change them must be taken on a warfooting, said Nandini Azad, president of the Indian Co-operative Network for Women.

It has to start with resocialisation of boys, who have been trained in patriarchy and consider violence against women and various forms of oppressing them to be normal, she said and recounted her experiences with conducting workshops for boys and campaigns.

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The sex ratio imbalance is a serious issue and finding a solution has to start with making the girl child valuable, Azad said.

While prosecuting sex-selected foeticide and providing for the health of girls are vital, changing the mindset is more important and India was undertaking one of the biggest campaigns for it, she added.

Subhalakshmi Nandi of UN Women India said that the ads and jingles produced for the campaign can have an impact in changing the mindset by starting a discussions on the status of women and reconsidering patriarchy.

To help women in rural areas deal with domestic violence, India has set up one-stop centres where women can get police action, psychosocial help, medical care and legal assistance, said Jupaka Madhavi, a Senior Consultant with the National Mission for Empowerment of Women.

India started with 36 such centres where women can get all the help in one place, and after two years it is now increasing them to 286 centres, she said.

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The centres are called “Sakhi” or “Friend” and they are developed appropriately into places where women can find people to speak and find shelter, she said.

The data gathered about the women, their experiences and the perpetrators of violence are monitored in Delhi in realtime so they can get a picture of what is happening around the country and focus their action accordingly, Madhavi said.

Paulomi Tripathi, a diplomat at India’s UN Mission, said because of the size of India’s population and the large number of women living in rural areas, the government’s programmes to raise their status and empower them will have a global impact and be essential for achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals.

India’s efforts for bettering the lives of women and girls in rural areas are multi-dimensional and touch every vital area of their lives, she added.

Chetan Sanghi, a Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Women and Child Development, said: “We would like to change the paradigm to women-led development.”

If there was one area where there is consensus across the political spectrum, it is on improving the status of women, he said, listing 24 programmes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has undertaken to specifically benefit women.

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These range from providing free cooking gas and constructing toilets to ensuring availability of financial services and digital training in rural areas, he said.

On social issues, India has taken long strides like outlawing instant divorce, he said.

It has by law increased paid maternity leave to six months from three months, he said.

Although some responses to it were not positive and some employers demurred in allowing them or discriminated in hiring because of it, virtual portals were set up for complaints and employers were made to change their decisions, he added.

In politics, there are 1.3 million elected women representatives at the local level and 20,000 of them have so far undergone training to enable them to take charge and act independently, he said.

(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])

–IANS

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