80 per cent of women are not aware of the laws protecting their rights and entitlements

About one crore girls vanish every year through foeticide or other forms of killing, Governor of Uttarakhand Margaret Alva said here on Wednesday. She was addressing a seminar on women's rights here organised by Congress leader Janet D Souza's non-governemental organisation ‘Parivartan.' “We call it the disappearing sex. One crore girls die every year or are not allowed [to be born],” Ms. Alva said.

On the issue of ‘honour killings,' she said: “What is happening in Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh? Khap panchayats tell married couples to live like siblings. Couples are killed. We call it dishonour killings,” Ms. Alva said. While there were many laws protecting the rights and entitlements of women, 80 per cent of the women were not aware of them, and mostly, women were told to put up with domestic violence.

She stressed on the need to sensitise the implementation machinery to make legislation more effective. “Till today, there are thousands of dowry-related deaths. There are many complaints of the police not registering cases. No one comes to help the women. If a woman is suffering domestic violence, others prefer not to meddle with the family's affairs. If laws have to be implemented effectively, we have to think about how to go about it. Jail officers, bureaucrats, court, lawyers and NGOs need to be sensitised about legislation on women. Crores of rupees are being spent on this,” she said.

‘Appoint women judges'

Pointing to the large number of male judges at family courts, Ms. Alva called for the appointment of women judges. Most of the health programmes for women focussed on issues related to child-bearing, while other health issues were neglected. “Health initiatives only look at pre-natal, post-natal problems. Don't women's bodies suffer from other ailments? Is there a post-menopause programme? Since a woman is done having children, she can be left to die,” Ms. Alva said.

Criticises idolisation

She also came down heavily against the traditional idolisation of women. “Men ask ‘What do women want?' Are they not worshipped as Lakshmi and Saraswathi? Isn't the President a woman? Isn't the person heading the United Progressive Alliance a woman? But, this is not victory. Don't turn us into idols; treat us like human beings. Give us the right to life, to live and to die peacefully,” Ms. Alva said.

Speakers called for 33 per cent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha. Advocate Mrunalini Deshmukh said women were becoming aware of their rights as a growing number were filing for divorce. “In a year, there are at least 10,000 cases not just of divorce, but of child custody and maintenance,” she said.

Veteran journalist Pratima Joshi said that the Mahila Ayog in Maharashtra had almost become defunct. She also said that along with the grant of 33 per cent quota, there must be an assurance that the seats would go to women party workers and not to the kith and kin of leaders in power.

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