(GIST OF YOJANA) Empowering the Nation with Women-Led Development [OCTOBER-2018]

(GIST OF YOJANA) Empowering the Nation with Women-Led Development


Empowering the Nation with Women-Led Development

Women make up nearly half of India's population. Over the years, we have increasingly seen women grow in public life - working in offices, representing us on the international sports arena, in bureaucracy, politics, international organizations and much more. This change is positive and it is happening at a pace faster than ever before.

I feel the recent developments in the area of women empowerment are extremely encouraging. The first female fighter pilots have recently been appointed in the Indian Air Force. The participation of women in combat roles in the Army is also strongly under consideration. The Olympics, Commonwealth Games, and a number of international sporting events including cricket have seen outstanding performances by Indian women. Even India's successful launch of the Mangalyaan and the record-breaking 104 Nano satellites launched into orbit onboard a single rocket had a team of women scientists behind them. These women are role models for a country, which now echoes with the slogan of 'beti bachao beti padhao'.

India has been successful in achieving gender parity in school education. Even in technical and professional education such as medicine, law, IT, engineering. Management etc., the representation of women is significantly increasing the literacy rate of women has risen from a mere 9 per cent in 1951 to 65 per cent in 2011. This, in itself. Is a huge turnaround factor.

In the workplace today, every fourth worker in India is a woman. The more technical and complex the work, the more likely we are to find an increasing number of women in the same. One third of all certified engineers are now women and over three fourths of all health workers at primary level are women. It is estimated that almost one-third of all certified medical researchers, banking employees, IT workers and chartered accountants are women. In a country bursting with entrepreneurial spirit, today almost every fifth entrepreneur is a woman. With their increasing participation in a variety of fields, women's bargaining power in both private and public life is steadily increasing.

In politics too, the figures are more encouraging than ever before. Elected women representatives now make up about 46 per cent of our panchayat members. With these 1.3 million + women in positions of power at the village level, the landscape of our country is changing from ground up. For instance, where in the 1957 elections only 45 women had contested general elections, in the last elections of 2014, 668 women candidates contested.

On the health front, improvements have been noted with the average life expectancy of women having risen from 31.7 years in 1950-51 to about 70 years in 2016. More women are also giving birth to children in hospitals rather than at home - institutional births have risen to an all-time high of
79 per cent in 2014-15. This is better for the health of the child as well as the mother. The maternal mortality rate has dropped by half in the decade between 2001-03 and 2011-13.

Women's financial inclusion has also increased tremendously, especially in the last few years. The number of women with a bank or savings account, which they operate themselves, has increased from just 15 per cent in 2005-06 to 53 per cent in 2015-16.

Ending Discrimination

Despite these positive figures, unfortunately women still face serious dangers to their life and liberty in our country. We hear of horrific incidents of violence every day, and at the same time we still see young girls dropping out of school to look after their siblings or to be married. Women still contribute a disproportionate amount of unpaid work in their homes and on farms. Despite having more control over their finances, they are often not given an equal say in household or work decisions. These are the stark realities of life even now. This continuing discrimination and violence needs to be recognized and acted upon if we want to see true empowerment of the Indian woman.

The Government views the problems plaguing the women of India, as problems plaguing our entire society. We are committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that the ideal of gender equality is achieved. No progress in the country can endure unless it comes with the empowerment of women.

The Government has taken a number of measures to ensure its female citizens have equal opportunities along with a supporting and safe environment for their development. A number of legislations have been passed and schemes implemented to encourage women in education and the formal workforce, ensure their physical and psychological health, promote public and political participation, provide them with safe public and private spaces and enable their equality within and outside the family.

Financial Empowerment

Attacking the root of the problem, we have initiated the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Programme that addresses the complex issue of mindsets in all districts of India. If people are not made to change the way they think about girls and women, we are unlikely to see much long-lasting success in other initiatives for empowerment

Along with this, the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana was also launched in 2015, under which small affordable deposits are made in the bank accounts of girls, with the benefit of higher rate of interest. The amount can be withdrawn by the girl on reaching 18 years of age, giving her a fund for higher education or other investments. Such accounts have already been opened for 1.39 crore girls with a total of Rs. 25,979 crore deposited in these.

Economic empowerment is central to the overall empowerment of women, and financial inclusion is an important part of this. Until a few years ago, opening a bank account was considered a tedious task. But through the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana and PM Jan Dhan Yojana, we have enabled banking services for the unbanked. 16.42 crore women's accounts have been opened under Jan Dhan. Women's share of total savings accounts increased from 28 per cent in 2014 to 40 per cent in 2017 (according to the data from top 40 banks and RRBs). This is a sizeable and rapid growth in financial inclusion of women, a cherished goal for decades.

Encouraging Entrepreneurship

Under the Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana, our government has provided credit to small entrepreneurs without the need for collateral or a guarantor. 75 percent of these loans have been given to women, with 9.81 crore women entrepreneurs already benefiting from them under this scheme.

Over 47 lakh Self Help Groups (SHGs) have been promoted under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM), with more than Rs. 2,000 crore of revolving fund disbursed to them. In fact, our government has overseen a 37 per cent jump in loan amounts granted to women SHGs in the last financial year.'

Skill development is another key aspect for raising the potential of our female workforce. Under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana a large number of Indian youth have taken up industry relevant skill training. Till date, half of the certificates awarded under this yojana have been given to women candidates.

Empowering Motherhood

To retain women in the workforce, the Maternity Benefit Act has been amended to extend the period of mandatory paid maternity leave for working women to 26 weeks. This empowers working women as they need not fear loss of salary or job due to childbirth and now they also have time to recuperate and breastfeed their child.

In order to extend protection to the unorganized sector as well, pregnant and lactating mothers a provided cash incentives under the PM Matru Vandana Yojana. As partial compensation for wage loss, these mothers are provided Rs. 6,000 incentive, which enables them to tak adequate rest before and after the delivery and exclusively breast feed their child. Over 38 lakh beneficiaries are already enrolled under this scheme.

Having women in senior positions is a positive step in recognizing the merit of deserving women while also making organizations more women- friendly. The representation of women in boards of companies and at senior positions is, thus, being encouraged in all public and private companies. Over 5 lakh women directors are currently appointed in companies, which is the highest ever number in India.

At the village level, women members of panchayats are leading the empowerment of their villages. To support their process and ensure proper disposal of their duties, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has conducted training for 18,000 women members last year. This year we will be training another 13,000 women to improve their leadership qualities and managements skills.

Safety in Workplace

Workplaces need to be made conducive to women employees, if we want to ensure that women are actively engaged in the workforce. For this, we are strictly implementing the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention,

Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. This provides a safe and secure environment to women at the workplace and covers all women - all ages, full- time and part-time, public and private sector, organized or unorganized sector etc. including domestic workers, students, apprentices and even those women visiting an office. My Ministry has recently also set up an online complaint system for cases of sexual harassment at workplace to make it easier for women to report and follow up on their complaints.

Within their homes too, women contribute a huge amount of work which is unpaid and often unrecognized. To empower women and protect their health, the Ujjawala scheme has been introduced, which provides free LPG cylinders to women from BPL families to replace unclean cooking fuels. Till July 2018, over 5.08 crore LPG connections had already been released, relieving these women from the tedious and hazardous process of cooking on firewood and giving them free time for other productive work.

An important aspect of empowerment is also safety. Only if women feel safe and secure will they be able to fully participate in the economy and public life. For this, the government has sanctioned 181 Women Helplines in 31 States/ UTs and 206 One Stop Centres have become operational where women affected by violence can access quick and easy help. 33 per cent reservation for women in the police force is also being implemented. A feature of Panic Buttons will soon be available on all mobile phones to provide emergency response system to women in distress. The Nirbhaya Fund is also being used to roll-out comprehensive plans to make 8 major cities in the country safer for women and also
improve our forensic analysis abilities in cases of sexual assault. All these and many other initiatives for safety will support the empowerment journey of women.

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Accessing the Inaccessible

As discussed, the government implements a number of schemes for the empowerment of women. However, these do not always reach beneficiaries in remote or backward areas. To overcome this problem, and reach the yet unreached women across the country, my Ministry has recently launched the Mahila Shakti Kendra scheme. Under this, 3 lakh student volunteers are fanning out across the country to directly reach women at village level with government schemes and services for their empowerment.

It is the focus of my Ministry now to ensure that no woman is left behind in the march towards empowerment. The existing schemes are being implemented to their full potential, with a particular focus on the most backward areas, so that the women at the bottom of the pyramid can experience a quantum jump in status.

The way forward lies in the conviction that we must have women-led development rather than just women's development. This sentiment forms the basis of our government's strategy. Stemming from this, we see a much brighter future for Indian women than we thought was possible in such a short time.

Women need a safe and enabling environment which encourages their empowerment. They should be able to live without fear so that they can explore their potential and not be bound by artificial restraints. Along with this, we need to push for affirmative policies which bring women on a level playing field with others. Provided with the right opportunities, the potential of Indian women knows no bounds.

As India looks forward to reaping benefits from its demographic dividend, the role of empowered women becomes all the more important. Through education and productive employment, we look forward to more women actively participating in public life and contributing to nation-building.

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