Lakshmi Puri calls for greater political momentum on Women’s Reservation Bill

“My ambition for my country is it should become a democracy for women, by women and of women. This revolution is happening at the local level but [it] should also happen at the State and national level,” said Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and acting head of U.N. Women.

She believes much progress has been made by women in India but it still lacks the critical mass of women representation in Parliament. “We, in U.N. Women, always emphasise that we need a critical mass to bring about gender equality revolution,” Ms. Puri said during an interaction with The Hindu here.

“We certainly hope the grass-roots revolution — which we call a silent revolution — at the panchayat and zilla parishad level will be reflected at the State and national level also,” she said calling for greater political momentum on passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill.

Pointing out that economic democracy should work itself out for benefiting women and overcoming inequalities “which are part of our development story,” Ms. Puri said inequality was one of the problems which India faced like the rest of the world. “Gender inequality is to be addressed so that women become the beneficiary and enablers of economic growth and equity.”

Ms. Puri, who joined U.N. Women in March 2011 shortly after its creation, said the organisation had been put on a strong footing in terms of “all our key thematic areas” — ending violence against women, economic empowerment, political participation and enhancing the role of women in peace and security and gender responsive planning and budgeting.

According to her, poverty and lack of access to basic services, including infrastructure — both physical and social — are an issue in India. Also, culture, tradition, customs and religion are interpreted in a manner that perpetuates social, political and economic structures that are disempowering and unequal and patriarchal. “These structures and social constraints are damaging to women.”

Appreciating India’s move to universalise basic education through the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, Ms. Puri said U.N. Women supported a rights-based approach to development. “India is a role model in this kind of approach because they have pioneered this model, be it Right to Work, Right to Food, and Right to Education.”

Pointing out that universal access to primary education would have a positive gender effect, Ms. Puri, however, said it was not enough. “We have to make sure the educational curricula and educational system are geared towards gender equality. It has to be gender sensitive and gender responsive. And within that social measures are taken, changing the whole concept of roles of men and women in textbooks. Issues of aggression including the concept of masculinity have to change and humanity has to be inculcated. It will empower and enable women.”

Investment in girls and women was another neglected area in most countries. “In India, it is just 5 per cent of the budget; we have to step it up. We have targeted 15 per cent in gender equality programmes.”

On the December 16, 2012 rape incident in the Capital, Ms Puri said, “We worked very closely with Justice Verma Commission [set up to suggest amendments to anti-rape laws]. We are happy the government acted with speed, and a political consensus was built quickly to pass an anti-rape law.”

  • Educational system should be geared towards gender equality, says acting head of U.N. Women

  • Step up investment in girls and women