It is a historical step and culmination of a series of progressive reforms that the Modi Government has undertaken for the welfare of women
Empowerment began with the much-acclaimed Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) campaign, launched by the Prime Minister in 2015 at Panipat, Haryana. BBBP addresses the declining Child Sex Ratio (CSR) and related issues of women's empowerment over a life-cycle continuum. Speaking on the success of this programme, the Prime Minister while addressing citizens of his adopted village Jayapur said, “Our Mantra should be: ‘Beta Beti, Ek Samaan’. “Let us celebrate the birth of the girl child. We should be equally proud of our daughters. I urge you to sow five plants when your daughter is born to celebrate the occasion.”
The next step was the hugely successful campaign of the Swachh Bharat Mission which provided izzat ghars to more than 120 million women thus ensuring access to safe sanitation for women and girl children across rural and urban Bharat. Saving millions of women from chronic respiratory disorders by providing smoke-free kitchens through the widespread Ujjwala Yojana which provided gas cylinders to more than 96 million women was another significant life-changing provision for the women of our country. Apart from these, several important programmes were delivered for the betterment of the health and hygiene of our women.
Distribution of over 270 million sanitary pads priced at Re. 1 through Jan Aushadhi Kendras, providing 39 million free antenatal check-ups under PM Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan; benefitting more than 30 million women through the PM Matru Vandana Yojana; increase in paid maternity leave period from 12 weeks to 26 weeks; were some of the significant health initiatives. As an outcome of these, we could achieve a decline in Maternal Mortality Rate from 130 in 2014 to 97 per lakh live births in 2018-20.Modi Government also facilitated holistic well-being development schemes such as Mission Poshan.
This was an integrated nutrition support programme to overcome the challenges of malnutrition in children, adolescent girls, pregnant women, and lactating mothers. Poshan Abhiyan has reported beneficiaries of more than 100 million which includes more than 5 million lactating and pregnant mothers and more than 4 million children below 6 months.
Apart from social welfare, this Government has also ensured economic empowerment through various interventions beginning with opening more than 270 million Jan Dhan accounts and providing more than INR 200 million to women entrepreneurs through the MUDRA Yojana. There has been a 28% increase in registration of women-owned MSMEs in just 3 years.
More than 45,000 DPIIT-recognised startups have at least one woman director. Mahila Samman Savings Certificate (MSSC) for girls and women which was announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman ji in the Union Budget 23 -24, celebrates Nari Shakti by providing financial freedom and dignity for women and girl children. Apart from social and economic empowerment, this Government has also taken bold steps in bringing much-needed reforms for Muslim women. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019 declared the pronouncement of instantaneous and irrevocable triple talaq by a Muslim husband as illegal. The Women's Reservation Bill is now the culminating transformation being introduced to ensure adequate women's participation in the electoral canvas of Bharat. The chequered legislative history of the Women’s Reservation Bill began 27 years ago when the H D Deve Gowda-led government introduced it in Parliament in September 1996.
Almost every government has since tried to push it through — the UPA government managed to get it passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010 but later could not get it through in the Lok Sabha. The move has not come to fruition so far due to a lack of political will and consensus.
The bill will help to represent those who remain underrepresented. The proportion of women MPs was just five per cent in the first Lok Sabha in 1952 reaching a figure of less than 15 per cent today. In Rajya Sabha too, women's representation is about 14 per cent and below 10 per cent in many state assemblies. Bringing in the 1/3 representation will enable many more women's voices to be heard in the wells of the parliament houses. This will also ensure that women's issues and challenges in the most backward areas are represented before the policy and lawmakers which will go a long way in not just keeping our women and girl children safe in the country but also empowering them to play a critical role in nation-building.
The Women's Reservation Bill will be etched in the history of Modern Bharat and the Modi Government will always be known as the most progressive Government that provided 360-degree empowerment for the women of our country-social, economic and now electoral. A proud and jubilant moment in history for all of us.
((The author is a public policy expert and spokesperson, BJP and State Vice President, BJP Women’s Wing; views are personal))