The past few months have been a trying time for the country, with tragic incidents like the rape and death of the 23-year old paramedic in Delhi and the recent bomb blasts in Hyderabad. The question of safety for women has always been there, but has taken a sterner and more vociferous stand. And it seems that the government is finally listening.
Presenting his eighth budget on Thursday, Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram made sure that he extended a fair share to the women of the country. He announced setting up Rs 1,000 crore ‘Nirbhaya Fund’ for the safety and empowerment of women and also promised to set up India’s first all-women public sector bank by October this year. Besides that, he allocated additional funds of Rs 200 cr to Women and Child Welfare saying, “We stand in solidarity with our girl children and women. And we pledge to do everything possible to empower them and to keep them safe and secure.”
While words are only empty without action backing them up, that at least a promise being made might be an indication of something happening towards the betterment of womenfolk. Yet some in the city don’t feel too optimistic.
Responding to budget allocations, noted women’s rights activist and a professor of Law, Dr Kalpana Kannabiran, says wryly, “The government has suddenly woken up and realised there are women too in this country!” Another renowned activist, V Sandhya of Progressive Organisation for Women adds, “For ages we have been demanding a proper action plan for ensuring safety of women. Announcing the programmes does not solve the issue, they need to implement them efficiently.” While Chidambaram had informed that the Ministry of Women and Child Development and other ministries concerned would work out details of the structure, scope and application of the fund, Sandhya raises a pertinent question: “Why has government not come up with the entire details of the programmes at the time of the budget?”
With the budget throwing a big number in the air and hoping to allay the anger that’s been simmering, the lack of a proper plan of action seems to have had the opposite effect. Feminist poet and the founder member of Asmita Resource Center for Women, Vasanth Kannabiran says, “I do not understand what is this fund or how is it going to be used. If it is just to provide compensation for rape victims like the government always does, it is going to be insulting. If the government has not decided how they are going about it, what difference does it make. It looks like a gesture without substance.”
So they may have not yet chalked out the details for the fund, but what of the all women bank? The move to set up the bank is seen by the government as means to increase job opportunities for women and emergence of women entrepreneurs. But will this really help?
Usharani, of Sannihita, points out, “Bank run by women to some extent will address the issues relating to gender discrimination and women empowerment, but empowerment does not mean only financial. This should not burden women as in the case of SHGs and loans for women, where men use women to get these monetary benefits.” According to her, the funds allocated should educate both men and women and should be used beyond caste and class politics. She demanded re-establishment of the State women’s commission at the earliest. “These funds will go through different departments, commissions and then NGOs. Government should thoroughly screen all these organisations to know about their ideology and politics for a fairer implementation of programmes and schemes,” she adds.
As Sandhya rightly opines, “Income generation is only a partial remedy for women’s emancipation.”
Women have spoken, and it now remains to be seen if the government is continuing to listen.