Staff Reporter

"Country needs new social reform movement for gender equality"

  • Government initiatives to empower women not enough
  • Cities have to be made safer for girls and women
  • More college-going students should have access to universities

    NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday said the Government would bring forward a legislation to reserve seats for women in Parliament in the next session. Dr. Singh said such reservation at the gram panchayat level had demonstrated its efficacy in empowering women across the country.

    He added that those who were opposed to the legislation had been brought around.

    Speaking at a function organised here to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Lady Shri Ram College, Dr. Singh said a political consensus on the issue was being worked out for the past two years and it was an idea whose time had come. He listed out the initiatives taken by the Government for the emancipation and empowerment of women from introducing gender budgeting to amending the law to prohibit arrest of women after sunset and before sunrise.

    "These are all legislative and administrative initiatives to empower women. These are necessary and important, but surely not enough. What we need in our country is a fundamental change in the mindset. We need a new social reform movement for gender equality and empowerment of women," he added.

    Change necessary

    The Prime Minister said cities had to be made safer for girls and women. "We have to make public places, public transport, our roads and parks, our offices and homes, safe for women," he stressed.

    Deeply distressed by the rising crime against women, Dr. Singh said: "What is most distressing is the casual approach that so many educated people take to the harassment of women. The Government cannot change social attitudes. People can and must."

    Underscoring that female foeticide was the worst manifestation of gender discrimination, Dr. Singh said: "How can we call ourselves a civilised society if we can tolerate such a barbaric crime? This is not committed by the illiterate and the impoverished. It is being committed in this very city, perhaps in this very neighbourhood."

    The function gave Dr. Singh an opportunity to relive his academic days with students. On being asked about the controversial quota issue, he said equality of opportunity had to become a living reality. Less than 10 per cent of college-going students have access to universities, he said, and added that if India was to claim its rightful place in the world, the percentage had to go up to 25 per cent.

    The proposed reservation would not reduce educational opportunities for students from general categories, but would aim at providing those from backward communities greater access to college education. "Our approach on this issue is two-fold. We must not do anything that will reduce educational opportunities for children other than those belonging to the backward classes. The Government aims to provide students from backward communities access to genuine opportunities to empowerment to realise their capability."

    Asked which was the best way to serve the country, as a teacher or as a politician, Dr. Singh said on a lighter note: "My happiest years have been the time I spent in academics. I think teachers contribute more than politicians these days."

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