“Civil society has an important role in shaping public opinion”

Reaffirming his commitment to the social, economic and political empowerment of women, with whatever effort and resources the task might take, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday said the government was moving towards providing one-third reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and State legislatures.

“While the government will continue to anchor this task, civil society and all those who are role models must also play an important role in shaping public opinion, thus aiding in the evolution of collective, combined efforts to ensure a more equitable and more productive future for the women of our country,” Dr. Singh said, while inaugurating the Women's Leadership Summit — Inclusive Growth and Empowering Women of Rural India here.

Observing that reservation for women in local bodies had revolutionised governance at the grassroots, he said: “We hope to give this movement of political participation of women further fillip by increasing the number of seats reserved in panchayats and city and town governments to 50 per cent.”

“More significantly, we are moving towards providing one-third reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and the State legislatures,” the Prime Minister said. The Women's Reservation Bill is expected to come up in the Rajya Sabha on Monday.

Expressing unhappiness over the low female literacy rate as well as the maternal mortality rate, besides the exceptionally low sex ratio, Dr. Singh said: “The gender disparity on the economic front is reflected in the low female work participation rate of 25.7 per cent as compared to 51.0 per cent for males,” he said.

“While we have shown improvement in these indicators over the years, the progress has been much slower than what we would have liked,” he said, adding that violence against women was another issue which needed to be addressed urgently.

Pointing out that the country had done extremely well in terms of rates of economic growth, Dr. Singh said that for growth to be meaningful it must benefit all sections, particularly the marginalised. “This is the reason why our emphasis has been so much on inclusive social and economic growth. And women have been, as they must be, a special focus of our efforts at inclusiveness.”

United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, in a message read out by Minister of State for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath, said: “Women in the country have broken glass ceilings but those in rural areas have not been able to avail themselves of many opportunities. Our sisters in rural India also need to enjoy such opportunities.”

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