Even as India boasts of reserving 50 percent seats for women in panchayats (village councils) and awaits passage of a bill to reserve one-third of seats in parliament and state assemblies for the fairer sex, women MPs feel that true gender equality will be achieved only when the social mindset changes. On the eve of International Women's Day, women in the top slots of power say that even though the situation is improving, a lot more needed to be done.
"The condition of women has changed a lot, the government has framed several laws and we are working towards giving them a level playing field, but the problem lies in social mindset," National Commission for Women (NCW) chairperson and Chittorgarh MP Girija Vyas told IANS.
"Both in rural as well as urban areas, women are not treated at par with men," she said.
Communist Party Of India-Marxist leader and Rajya Sabha member from West Bengal Brinda Karat said the condition of women presented a mixed picture.
"It is a mixed picture, there is some good and some bad... more girls are in school, more women are working, more women are today able to break barriers and are full of confidence. However, the bad thing is that the potential and opportunities become fewer down the economic ladder, particularly in rural areas and in urban slums," Karat told IANS. "A large majority of poor women are still prisoners of social system and they are both economically deprived and socially discriminated," she said.
Nationalist Congress Party MP from Baramati (Maharashtra), Supriya S. Sule says that issues like female foeticide have to be fought against.
"The condition of women is getting better, but there are problems like female foeticide, missing girl children, especially in age group 0 to 6, and the discrimination between girls and boys," said Sule.
Some members also opined that the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill, which will reserve one-third seats in the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and state assemblies for women, will be a great step forward.
"Today, even as women are financially independent, they are not socially independent. There are laws, but implementation needs to be focused on. Reservation for women in panchayats has changed a lot. Once the women's bill is passed and more women come to parliament, the mindset will change. Men need to understand that women are companions, not competitors," Congress MP in Rajya Sabha from Himachal Pradesh Viplove Thakur said.
Speaking on similar lines, Congress MP from Mumbai (North Central) Priya Dutt said reservation can prove to be an important step.
"The condition of women in the country has improved. But it is important to give them level playing field and opportunity. I believe providing a 33 percent reservation is important in this direction," she said.
Brinda Karat accussed the government of being non-committal to the passage of the bill.
"Not bringing the Women's Reservation Bill will be a discrimination against women. The question is 'if' the women bill comes. The 'if' symbolises lack of political commitment to walk the talk," Karat said.
"If the government was committed to strengthening democracy, it takes two minutes to walk from Rajya Sabha to Lok Sabha," an angry Karat added.
Minister of State for Textiles Panabaka Lakshmi, however, said that even though the government was committed to the cause of the bill, taking decisions in a coalition was a difficult task.
"I wholeheartedly support 33 percent reservation but the government cannot take a decision unilaterally as it is a collation government," she said.
Taking a different approach to the issue, Sule said that political reservation in itself was not enough.
"One bill will not solve the problem. The need is for action from all sides. It's not about women being in politics, there are a lot of things which need to be considered. The problem is that most of the discrimination is considered a way of life and is socially accepted. The problems are in the developing nations. In developed nations, women have equal rights," she said.
According to the NCW chairperson, the empowerment of women requires a multi pronged approach.
"The need is of a multi pronged approach involving all wings of governance and civil society. Firstly, there should be laws, and they should be executed in a sensitive manner. For this, the law enforcement agencies have to be sensitised," Vyas said.
"Then comes the role of the women's commission, the civil society and the media. They are the ones who can monitor the implementation," she added.