Gender and Public Policies In India

Session Report

Aishwarya Dutta

A four week immersive Online Introductory Certificate Course on Fundamentals of Public Policy organized by the Impact and Policy Research Institute has been a remarkable event.
There were eight sessions in total, of which 18th of March saw three of the most distinguished speakers. The event was chaired by Prof. Mukul Asher, Former Professor, NUS Singapore & IMPRI.

Prof. Patel started with the reservation policy which is affirmative action to compensate for historical injustices. The Indian constitution provides provisions which allows the Union government and the states and territories of India to set reserved quotas or seats, at a particular percentage in Education admissions, employments, political bodies, promotions, etc., for “socially and educationally backward citizens.” She also highlighted the first population policy of India which came in 1952. India was the first post colonial nation to adopt Family Planning. NITI Ayog and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare decide the population stabilization policies in India.

Coming to the issues of gender, she highlighted how the Covid-19 pandemic affected public health. While quoting Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director, she said, “ Pregnant women are expected to give birth in the coming weeks under difficult conditions. Their ability to access quality care before, during and after delivery must not be an afterthought.”

She highlighted health policies of 1950, 1983, 2002. The Bhore Committee was set up by the government of India in 1943. It focused on public health, medical relief, professional education, medical research and industrial health. The ALMA-ATA DECLARATION of 1978 highlights several facts: health is a fundamental human right and that the attainment of the highest possible level of health is a most important worldwide social goal. The existing inequalities in the health conditions of the developed states and the developing states is unacceptable. Thus economic and social development, based on a new international economic order is of basic importance to the fullest attainment of health for all.

The discussion moved further with the National Education Policies (NEP) of 1968, 1986 and 2020. The second National Policy on Education (NPE) of 1986 highlighted the equality of opportunity of women in the educational sector and also of the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) communities. NEP 2020 focuses on access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability.

It brought major transformations in the Indian education system including the introduction of Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs), Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) which would store the academic credits earned. A new 4-year multidisciplinary Bachelor’s programme has also been introduced and various
other new provisions came in.

Post this, Professor Patel focused on Public Policy for Livelihoods and Employment. Three major schemes in this direction are the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) which ensures social inclusion by strengthening livelihood base of rural poor, creation of durable assets in rural areas such as wells, ponds, roads and canals, reduce urban migration from rural areas, create rural infrastructure by using untapped rural labour and various other provisions, the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) and the National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM).

The discussion now started on the reservation of seats for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions. The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts in 1993 provided for reservation of 1/3rd of the seats for women in Gram Panchayats, Panchayat Samitis, Zilla Parishads, Municipalities, and Municipal Corporations as well as for the posts of Sarpanch, Chairman and Mayor. Several states such as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan and others have made legal provisions for 50% reservation for women among members and Sarpanches, after the passage of the Constitution 112th Amendment Bill, 2009.

National Policy for Empowerment of Women, 2001

The Government of India had adopted the National Policy for Empowerment of Women on 20th March, 2001 with the objective to bring about the advancement, development and empowerment of Women and to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. The policies/programmes of the government are all directed towards achieving inclusive growth with special focus on women in line with the objective of the National Policy for Empowerment of Women.

Environment & Forest Policy and the Housing Policy, India

The first Forest Policy adopted by the British Colonial Government in 1894 aimed at a custodial and timber-oriented management. The post-independent forest policy of 1952 recommended that 33% of the area of the country be brought under forest cover. Post that there were several forest acts such as the National Forest Policy, 1988, National Forest Policy 1994, Forest Conservation Rules, 2022, etc. But during the last two decades Environment Impact Assessment standards have been diluted to mega projects.

Massive displacement and relocation of communities have generated protests by the forest dwellers. But unfortunately women did not play a major role in devising the forest policy programmes. Women were deprived of any decision-making powers. Not only this, even housing policies have no mention of women. Kerala is the only state which has established hostels or special complexes for women workers.

Energy Policy and Water Policy

There is a connection between equity in energy access and developmental aspects like poverty reduction, health. The Ujjwala scheme has been launched for women below the poverty levels to provide them with clean fuels. Women and men have different energy needs given the prescribed gender roles at both household and productive spheres. Cooking, washing and care work and the lack of access to clean energy for these works have a tremendous impact on women.

Ironically, women participate in the energy supply chain as biomass collectors, producers of charcoal, briquettes, dung cakes, improved cookstoves, solar lights and also marketing of energy products such as Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), cook stoves, solar lights and cookers. When it comes to water, there is more emphasis on water for industry, hotels, water parks, swimming pools, golf and cricket grounds are prioritized over safe drinking water. There are also water disputes between communities, states and even countries.

Policies regarding Gender-based violence

Prof. Patel concluded by highlighting several policies such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, etc, were made to protect women. Feminist solidarity throughout the world have made us concerned about the injustices that happen to women in countries like Afganistan, China, India and others. Thus gender responsive budgets have become very common in the present times in India, it addresses the needs and requirements of women. Even the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 talk about gender equality.

Prof. Mukul Asher expressed his vote of thanks post her presentation.

Acknowledgement: Aishwarya Dutta is a research intern at IMPRI.

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