Representatives of women civil society delegations from India attending the ongoing Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Beijing+20 Review organised by UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) from November 17 to 20, 2014 in Bangkok, are disappointed with the Government of India’s participation and deliberations during the conference. The conference is reviewing the 20 years of working of the Declaration on women’s rights made in 1995 in Beijing and is considering the adoption of the draft Asian Pacific Ministerial Declaration on Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment as official outcome document of Asia and Pacific countries for the advancement of women’s rights as laid out in the Beijing Platform for Action, 1995, commonly known as BPFA.
On the first day of the conference, the Indian delegation in their statement over emphasized the impacts of notional budget allocations for women under different schemes and terming it as the tool to achieve gender inequality in the society. Critical issues related to implementation of the schemes and accountability for institutionalized practice of impunity was totally ignored. Violence against women specially women’s situation in conflict was not addressed at all by the delegation, instead the delegation glorified campaigns like Swach Bharat that is happening in the ‘world’s largest democracy’ and promised clean India by 2019. Gravity of prevailing sexual violence, appalling condition of reproductive health, discrimination faced by women due to social and cultural norms, degrading sex ratio, feminization of poverty and several related issues acting as crucial barrier for women’s equality qualify enough to figure in the India’s official deliberation.
In day two of the conference, the participation of Indian delegation during the drafting session of the document continued to be disappointing as well. India rejected the use of the term ‘caste’ and proposed to replace it with ‘social origin’. Additionally, para 35 of the draft Declaration which talked about women’s participation in conflict resolution and peace building both in conflict and post conflict situation and India proposed to replace the word “Conflict” with “Armed Conflict” in the text. India managed to receive Indonesia’s support in this regard. Clearly, this recommendation is proposed to achieve a strategic target of rejecting any existence of armed conflict in India. India can now reject entire section on ‘Women and Armed Conflict” by reiterating its stand that “no armed conflict exist within the territory of India” while in reality, a several states in North East India, Jammu and Kashmir and other states in central India are witnessing a protracted violent armed conflict.
Day third and fourth of conference is the ministerial segment where ministers from the Asian and Pacific region will deliver their official statement in implementing BPFA. Taking this opportunity, Indian Civil Society Delegation submitted six points memorandum for consideration by the Minister of Women and Child Development, Menaka Gandhi, who instead of respecting the CSO participation in the review, rejected the memorandum outright terming it as ‘very general’ and suggested that the CSO groups can use it ‘to justify their foreign trip’. The points submitted by Civil Society groups are as follows:
- Women in political and economic decision-making: equal and meaningful participation in governance with proportional electoral reforms or 50 percent representation in all government bodies – parliament, assemblies, land and revenue administration and district level governance. Educate girls and women in new technologies and management skills
- Women and Economic Empowerment: In reducing poverty and social, gender and economic inequalities distribution of agricultural land in rural women names. Gender based wage parity and maternity benefits in both public and private sectors. Creation of employment opportunities with attention to dalit, tribal and other minorities.
- Formulate and implement a national plan of action to address all forms of violence against women and girls in private and public spheres with attention to aggravated forms of violence in caste – armed conflict situation, tribal, dalit and religious minorities. Also eliminate gender based violence and harmful practices including child and early and forced marriage and honor killings.
- Ensure that all women and girls can exercise the rights to a full range of quality, free, and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and service provided through the public and private sectors, without any form of stigma and discrimination, coercion or violence.
- Allocate adequate finance to ensure the availability, acceptability, accessibility and quality of services and adopt mechanisms for accountability that including regular monitoring redress mechanisms for violations.
- Engaging with Civil Society; especially women’s organization in planning, implementation and monitoring of policies and programs.
Later the Minister in her official statement in the conference, she acknowledged the contribution of women organisations in advancing women’s equality and then listed the social sector schemes like ICDS, NRLM, SSA, Rashtriya Madhyamik Siksha, NRHM, Universialization of nutrition, JSY claiming as success of the government in achieving gender equality.