President Pranab Mukherjee said on Wednesday that a gender-sensitive Parliament would have a greater success in achieving gender equality and prioritising subjects important to women.

Inaugurating the 7th meeting of Women Speakers of Parliament on ‘Gender Sensitive Parliaments’ here, Mr. Mukherjee said a gender-sensitive Parliament could “more insightfully” address social problems faced by women.

“By increasing rural women's leadership and participation in decisions that shape the laws, policies and programmes that affect them, we can enable them to take charge of their own future,” he said.

The President said women constituted 11 per cent of the 15th Lok Sabha, which was still lower when compared to countries such as Sweden, Argentina, the U.K. and the United States.

“I am sure that it is a matter of time before the number will be increased significantly,” he said, recalling that the Women’s Reservation Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010 after efforts made over two decades.

Vice-President Hamid Ansari voiced concern over unresolved core issues affecting women such as social equality, equal access to education and employment, equal pay for equal work and equitable share in decision-making. “This calls for serious reflection. In the first place, we need some conceptual clarity. Gender equality is specific and quantifiable; gender equity less so; gender sensitivity, on the other hand, is an amorphous concept capable of varying and at times evasive interpretations,” he said.

“This calls for serious reflection. Correctives, therefore, are imperative at the base of the social pyramid. Gender sensitivity, in other words, is more a bottom-up process rather than a top-down one,” Mr. Ansari said. He said the gender profile in Parliament was woefully lopsided with women constituting only 11 per cent of the total membership.

“Legislation reserving 33 per cent of seats for women was passed in one House and has since been pending in the other,” he added.

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar recalled the decisive role played by women in India in the medieval ages and in the freedom struggle. She also cited the recent examples of Sonia Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj, the former President, Pratibha Patil and the former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.

“They [women] are also in leadership positions of major political parties,” Ms. Kumar said, adding there were more than 1.2 million elected women representatives in local bodies in the country. Indian women were excelling in various fields, including those traditionally considered male bastions.

The Speaker said a gender-sensitive Parliament was not “only the one with sufficient representation of women, but is also the one which enacts forward-looking legislation for women.”

Delivering the inaugural address, Abdelwahad Radi, president of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said only 20 per cent of the world's parliamentarians were women.

Mr. Radi said he firmly believed that through women's participation society could be transformed in general and institutions of governance in particular in order to achieve greater equality and equity.

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