India celebrates women’s day with vows to close gender gap

Bengaluru: People participate in a protest rally organised on International Women’s Day in Bengaluru, on March 8, 2018. (Photo: IANS)

NEW DELHI – With vows to close the gender gap in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday led the nation in marking International Women’s Day — a day to celebrate and refresh commitments towards social and economic emancipation of nearly half of the world population.

Across the country, a host of events were held, new programmes launched and women achievers awarded to recall the nation’s commitment towards women’s empowerment and ending gender disparity.

The Prime Minister marked the day with a visit to Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu district, which was in the news recently for a remarkable transformation in closing the gender gap.

According to 2011 census, the ratio was 837 girls per 1,000 boys. Now it is 955 girls per 1,000 boys — the best in the state.

Modi, addressing a large gathering, comprising mostly women, called for a mass movement to protect the girl child in India and expanded his government’s flagship “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (BBBP)” campaign from the existing 161 to cover all districts of the country.

The Prime Minister said it was about the mindset and that society needed to unitedly battle the problem of the disturbing sex ratio in the country.

“This cannot happen with the government budget alone. This will happen when there is a mass movement. People are to be educated, made to understand. It is unfortunate that we have to plead with people to save the girl child, and use funds from budget separately for creating awareness. Nothing can be more disgraceful for a society than unequal sex ratio.

“We have to make it a revolution that number of girls taking birth should be equal to that of boys, the education provided to boys should also be given to girls, then only we can move ahead.”

Modi lamented how preference for male children had made 21st century India worse than what it was in the 18th century when a girl child was at least allowed to take birth before being drowned in a milk tub.

“Today, the daughter is killed in the womb without either the mother or the daughter seeing each other’s face.”

As Modi spoke about bridging the gender gap, his parliament colleagues, cutting across party lines, raised the long pending demand of Women’s Reservation Bill — which seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies.

The bill was introduced in parliament in May 2008. In 2010, the then UPA government adopted it in the Rajya Sabha to keep it alive on the legislative agenda. The bill, however, failed to get passed in the Lok Sabha.

Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu, also the Vice President, suggested that the government should accord the stalled legislation the top priority.

“With women constituting about 50 per cent of our population, social, economic and political empowerment of women, including providing reservation in Parliament and state legislatures, has to be accorded top priority to achieve rapid progress,” Naidu said.

MPs, particularly women, spoke in favour of the bill, urging the government to ensure its passage.

President Ram Nath Kovind presented the Nari Shakti Puraskar to women from fields as diverse as sports, art, social work, science, conservation, agriculture, education, security, handicrafts and defence.

Many of those awarded have themselves faced severe discrimination and tragedies in their lives but have still risen above these to empower themselves and help others along their journeys of empowerment, according to a statement. Some 39 women received certificates and cash prize of Rs 1 lakh each.

Away from the power corridors, industry lobby Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) said it has tied-up with NITI Aayog for the Women Entrepreneurship Platform (WEP).

The initiative will provide women entrepreneurs a platform where various stakeholders will connect to give a boost to their initiatives.

Commemorating International Women’s Day, Skill India said it has transformed lives of over 35 lakh women through skill training, empowering them for better and secured livelihood over the last three years.

To mark the day in Bengaluru, Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal announced that Banaswadi railway station in the city will be run entirely by women.

“This is the fifth all-women-run railway station in the country, in which all activities at the station will be carried out by women,” Goyal told the media.

Apart from this, other all-women-run railway stations are located in Matunga in Mumbai, Gandhinagar in Jaipur, Chandragiri in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district and Ajni in Nagpur, Maharashtra.