The Union Council of Ministers of the Modi Ministry 2.0 has taken on their respective portfolios. As the Women and Child Development Minister, Smriti Irani of the BJP has also taken charge on Friday. Irani took charge of the WCD Ministry, which is in addition to the Ministry of Textiles, which she has been heading since 2016. WCD ministry is always under scrutiny as women’s safety and security issues have started to take precedence in the country’s political narrative.

With crimes against women becoming national concerns, WCD ministry has a lot to do already to bring in corrective initiatives for various issues around child abuse, sexual harassment cases at the workplace, sexual abuse at homes, marital rape etc. The women’s movement has always suggested areas and core elements for the WCD ministry to work upon. It has asked for involvement in policy-making and raised concerns over the mismanagement of funds allocated precisely for gender sensitivity and precautionary measure to achieve women’s safety.

We spoke to human rights and women rights activists and scoured through manifestos released by organisations working towards a safer and accessible public space for women to understand what are some of the areas that require WCD ministry’s immediate attention apart from the alarming rise in crimes and level of impunity guarding perpetrators.

Preventive actions against caste-based atrocities

Minority rights activist, Beena Pallical noted that they should ensure protection and equality for Dalit women. “We expect the ministry to implement the prevention of atrocities act when there are crimes happening against Dalit women which are also caste-based violence.”

“Can we have more specific schemes to ensure equal education opportunities for Dalit girls and protective mechanism and measures and have sufficient budget to support that? Do we have a preventive system so crimes like the Dr Payal Tadvi case does not happen again?” she asked.

Equal education opportunities

National Alliance for Women’s Reservation Bill had released a manifesto called Womanifesto before the Lok Sabha elections and made some demands in the education aspect like ensuring 100% literacy rates for girls, effective implementation of provisions of Right to Education Act to prevent dropout rate of girls from schools. It also called for fund allocation and to release it on time for “Women Studies Centres” existing in the country.

Education can ensure proper development of young girls and it is that one key leveller to provide a stepping stone for all across caste and class barriers. Hence, feminists across the board have pressed for free and all-encompassing educational schemes for girls and women across the country.

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Sexual harassment is a serious issue

Triple Talaq Petitioner and women’s rights Hasina Khan expects the WCD ministry to act against cases of sexual harassment and implement better initiatives to reduce workplace harassment. She took the example of CJI Ranjan Gogoi harassment case and shared her concern for the survivor. “The WCD ministry has to take up such cases and ensure that the survivor gets enough space to represent herself, without adequate safety for survivors, it is difficult for them to ever speak up again. This case has been an eye-opener and the WCD ministry must ensure justice to the survivor.”

Khan’s Bebaak Collective also released a manifesto before the elections and it demanded, “In the light of #MeToo campaign, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 must be amended to extend the period of filing complaints.”

For survivors of domestic and other forms of violence, the state must facilitate access to shelter homes that are safe, inclusive, non-judgemental, and promote healing and rehabilitation. Non-partisan committees should be formed to monitor their functioning. There should be regular sensitisation and training programmes for police and other state authorities, in dealing with women, gender non-conforming persons, differently abled persons, and religious minorities. These are some of the other demands made in the Bebaak collective manifesto.

Ensure reduction in child trafficking

Human rights advocate and journalist, Alka Raza called for real introspection on the issue of women’s security. “Secondly, child trafficking is on the rise and it should be prioritized. There is a huge market of trafficking in the country where girls are not only bought and sold but also forced into prostitution. We haven’t been able to really tackle this issue and there isn’t much noise around it too. So WCD ministry should take affirmative steps to ensure that girls get enough economic opportunities so they cannot be lured easily.”

“Can we have more specific schemes to ensure equal education opportunities for Dalit girls and protective mechanism and measures and have sufficient budget to support that? Do we have a preventive system so crimes like the Dr Payal Tadvi case does not happen again?”

Inclusion and transformative financing for gender equality

One of the things that various feminists working across issues have urged for is inclusion. Inclusion in policy-making decisions and law-making decisions need to come through and the ministry needs to be open to activists working with the women’s movement in the country to see real change to happen, said one of the prominent women’s movement faces who wanted to remain anonymous.

Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) was officially adopted in India in 2004 when the women’s groups and feminist researchers joined the UNIFEM in urging the Ministry of Finance to make the budget gender-sensitive, towards ensuring equitable sharing of resources towards addressing gender equality, stated the National Foundation of India report. A key strategy for promoting the adoption of GRB in India has been the setting up of Gender Budget Cells (GBCs) within line ministries/departments.

Feminists across the board have spoken for transformative financing for gender equality. Hence, they have stressed on the urgent need to improve transparency in budgetary allocations and introduce mechanisms for evaluation.

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