Editorial Articles

Issue no 49 , 05 - 11 MARCH 2022


Women: Changemakers of New India New Challenges, New Measures

INTERVIEW: Mrs Rekha Sharma, Chairperson, National Commission for Women

Indian women have come a long way since the country achieved Independence 75 years ago. Indian women, both rural and urban, have become more confident and enterprising, breaking the shackles of inhibitions and oppression. As India progresses towards 100 years of freedom, the welfare and empowerment of women continue to be at the forefront of development objectives and policy-making. The National Commission for Women (NCW) has been a proactive facilitator in enabling women to achieve equality and equal participation in all spheres of life by securing her due rights and entitlements through suitable policy formulation, advising on legislative measures, effective enforcement of laws, implementation of schemes/policies and devising strategies for solution of specific problems/situations arising out of discrimination and atrocities against women.

Speaking to Sidharath Jha for Employment News, NCW Chairperson Mrs Rekha Sharma presents her views on different issues which affect the modern Indian woman.

Question: Social media has become a powerful platform for women to voice their concerns, express opinions and collaborate in the fight for equality. What is your view on this?

Rekha Sharma: Social media has proven to be a powerful vehicle in terms of raising awareness and mobilizing campaigns on a variety of issues. In recent times, social media has more specifically been drawing attention to women's empowerment and women's rights issues such as discrimination, gender inequalities and negative stereotypes. This has given women around the world a voice to discuss and enhance conversation around various issues especially by hashtag campaigns and other such campaigns which shed light and raise support, which are mostly not covered by mainstream media.

However, at the same time, there are numerous instances of new forms of crimes against women on the social media platforms. Therefore, effective steps are also required to be taken to protect and safeguard women's rights in the cyber space. As far as National Commission for Women is concerned, it has been running digital literacy programs in educational institutions, in collaboration with Facebook and Cyber Peace Foundation. Over 2 lakh women and girls have been digitally trained so far.

Question: Although the status of women in general has undergone considerable change, working women continue to face immense challenges. There are various legislations to shield their interests, but how far has India been successful in putting the Acts into Action?

Rekha Sharma: Economic and social empowerment puts women and girls in a stronger position and empowers them to make decision for their own well being as well as that of their families. Also in every generation, women have faced some unique, prejudicial challenge. In modern times, as more and more educated young women enter into white-collar jobs, their chances of facing predatory behaviour from men at different occupational levels have also increased.

The legislature has also acknowledged the issue and steps to prevent and punish the perpetrators of harassment are stronger than ever before. Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013, Maternity Benefits Act, 1961, Factories Act, 1948, The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 are some of the examples which are enacted taking care of women’s rights and empowerment.

I strongly feel that women need to know their rights at the workplace and exercise these, if needed. The Commission has also been receiving complaints of women at workplace be it of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and denial of maternity benefits.

The laws affecting women are also reviewed by the Commission from time to time. In the recent past, Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 was reviewed by the Commission and its recommendations were shared with the Government. During the current year, the Commission has been reviewing Maternity Benefits Act, 1961. I still agree that much more is required to be done for better implementation of these laws to ensure protection of women’s rights.

The National Commission for Women (NCW) is the statutory body of the Government of India, for advising the government on all policy matters affecting women. It was established on 31 January 1992 under the provisions of the Indian Constitution.

Question: How important is it to have women's representation in the legislature and local bodies?

Rekha Sharma: There are two arguments frequently cited in favor of women's political participation; first is that women must have an equal share in politics and power as they constitute half of the population and second that women in politics will bring a special caring focus and female values to politics and in the long term, change the nature of politics of the country. Acknowledging the fact, it has been constitutionally mandated by the 73rd and 74th amendments for 33% reservation for women in local bodies. Women's political participation results in tangible gains for democracy, including greater responsiveness to citizen needs, increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines, and more sustainable peace.

However there is a range of barriers- social, cultural, political and so on- that limits women's full and effective participation in political domain which needs to be considered and addressed. Despite making it constitutionally mandated, it still remains socially discouraged, the fact we cannot negate. There are two key challenges women in politics tend to face; first, they have to overcome prejudices that come solely by the virtue of their being women and second, they are under pressure to deliver to the expectation of the voters whom they are representing.

In this context, National Commission for Women considers that it is pertinent to empower women in politics by addressing their training needs, which covers soft aspects that would help them get more confidence and improve their overall personality, particularly improving communication skills, writing skills, and aspects which may positively impact their overall thinking process and confidence level.

The Commission has taken an initiative under the title "She is a Changemaker" and has been sponsoring capacity building programs for women elected representatives from different democratic and governance structures. These programs are conducted in collaboration with State training institutes at a panIndia level. So far, 15 such training programs have already been conducted and many more are in the pipeline.

Question: Despite legislations and court rulings supporting equal inheritance rights of men and women to ancestral property, there are conflicting Central personal laws and State laws that govern inheritance of agricultural land. Hence, do you agree that women's right to property remains an unfinished project?

Rekha Sharma: In a country where women face massive social and legal hurdles to inheritance, we are really grateful to the judiciary and legislatures who from time to time are recognizing women's right to inheritance of property and coparcenary rights by birth. However, it cannot be denied that inheritance laws for agricultural land remain conflicting in Central personal laws and State laws.

NCW had organized three regional consultations to review various laws concerning property rights to women. The report of the consultation highlighted major constraints to women's property rights and suggested amendments, which was also shared with the Government in the year 2019.

Question: How have Non Government Organizations contributed in inspiring initiatives for the empowerment of women?

Rekha Sharma: NGOs and the Self-Help Groups play a very vital role towards women empowerment through various programs like basic education, vocational training, training for self-employment, legal awareness and self-awareness programs, etc. National Commission for Women also supports these initiatives from time to time. In the recent past various initiatives for women empower-ment are taken up by NCW: 

·         NCW has launched a country-wide capacity building and personality development program for women Undergraduate and Postgraduate students for their Personal Capacity Building, Professional Career Skills and Digital Literacy and Effective Use of Social Media to prep women students for entering the job market. 

·         The Commission, in collaboration with IIM, Bangalore, is running an online training programme through a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to digitally train aspiring women entrepreneurs. A total of 1859 participants have been sponsored under this programme so far. Now applications are open for running the same program in Hindi. 

·         In an endeavour to empower rural women and make them financially independent, the National Commission for Women has launched a country-wide training and capacity building program for women in dairy farming in association with agricultural universities across India.

Interviewed by Sidharath Jha, Delhi-based Senior Journalist.

Views expressed are personal.