Ela Bhatt receives Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace; “her work reflects Indira’s ideals”
Gender disparity in the country can be tackled only through proactive intervention in areas such as economic empowerment of women, building of adequate social and physical infrastructure and improving women’s role in governance, said President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday.
Presenting the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development for 2011 to Ela Ramesh Bhatt of Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) at Rashtrapati Bhavan here, Mr. Mukherjee said empowerment of women was the key to not only meeting the objective of gender equality but also to eliciting full participation in nation-building.
Congratulating Ms. Ela Bhatt, the President said her life and work was reflective of the philosophy and ideals espoused by the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The prize bestowed upon Ms. Bhatt “is a tribute to her unflinching zeal towards the betterment of women in society and progress of humanity”.
Expressing hope that Ms. Bhatt’s example would spur many more initiatives in the country and elsewhere, the President said there was a need to strengthen the systems and processes that facilitated women to take control and claim ownership of their lives.
“Rural backwardness can be addressed only through concerted efforts to create equality in access and unearth the potentialities hidden in people. Ms. Bhatt’s work has underscored this approach to socio-economic upliftment,” he said. “Women comprise 48.5 per cent of our total population. Though the overall sex ratio has increased by 7 points during the decade 2001 to 2011, the ratio of 940 females per 1,000 male population in 2011 is [a] disappointing figure and reflects the distance that remains in achieving true equality.”
The President said that as poor women were often incapacitated to act individually, social mobilisation for their economic redemption was a critical necessity. “Participatory institution building through self-help groups has been found to be one of the most effective tools for the empowerment of women in developing countries. As on 31st March 2012, there were around 63 lakh all-women self-help groups in India that had combined bank savings of more than Rs. 5,100 crore. The number of such self-help groups is increasing, with a growth rate of 9.2, 14.8 and 3.3 per cent during 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 respectively,” he pointed out.
Story of leadership
Speaking on the occasion, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the government’s own efforts at empowerment would also benefit from studying the working of SEWA. “This is particularly true, for example, for the National Rural Livelihood Mission, which seeks to organise the members of nearly 7 crore households, including women, across 6 lakh villages into self-help groups,” he said.
Praising Ms. Bhatt’s efforts, Dr. Singh said: “The story of Ela Ben and SEWA is not just a story of organising poor women for economic empowerment. It is also the story of women’s rights and protection of women. It is the story of holistic empowerment of the poor, for ensuring them equality and rights guaranteed under the Constitution, for ensuring timely delivery of entitlements and for countering all forms of discrimination. Above all, it is a story of leadership.”
Dr. Singh expressed hope that Parliament would “urgently” pass amendments to strengthen criminal laws dealing with sexual offences against women. “It is indeed a matter of shame that, notwithstanding the gains we have made, incidents of violence and sexual offences against women are on the increase.”
He said the government has adopted a mix of legislative, institutional and procedural reforms to deal with the rise in crime against women.
“The recommendations of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee have resulted in the promulgation of an ordinance, amending and strengthening the criminal law to deal with sexual offences against women. It is our hope that Parliament will urgently pass the necessary legislation to enact a comprehensive law in this regard. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012 has been passed by the Lok Sabha and is awaiting passage in the Rajya Sabha. Schemes aimed at giving restorative justice to victims of rape through financial assistance and support services, a national helpline for women and a ‘One Stop Crisis Centre’ in 100 public hospitals under the aegis of the National Mission for Empowerment of Women are also under consideration of the government,” he said.