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UN Renewal and Empowerment of Women
24th August, 2005 at the United Nations Hall, New Delhi

Panel Members:

Dr. V. Mohini Giri - Chairperson Guild of Service
Shri Shivraj Patil - Hon’ble Minister for Home Affairs, Govt. of India
Ms. Shalini Dewan – Director.United Nations Informaton Centre
Smt. Girija Vyas - Chairperson, National Commission for Women
Mr. L.M. Singhvi – Sr. Supreme Court Advocate, Former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
Mr. Christopher Kim – Asia Regional Co-Chair, IIFWP
Mr. Krishna Rajan – Former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Govt. of India
Ms. Zena Sorabjee – Vice Chairperson, Guild of Service
Ms. Sunita Dhar – Regional Programme Coordinator, UNIFEM

Mrs. Meera Khanna, Vice President, of the Guild of Service welcomed everyone and invited Dr. Mohini Giri, Chairperson and Smt. Zena Sorabjee, Vice-Chairperson of Guild of Service to be co-chair and moderator and invited all the panelists to take their places on the dias. Mrs. Khanna said that over the last six decades there have been changes in women’s status. In the UN new projects are initiated aimed at capacity building of women. In the UNIFEM, ILO efforts have been made to empower women. Yet even in the 21st century engendered crimes like honor killing, genital mutilation, dowry deaths still exist

Women are the most effected by war. Warring soldiers go home. Years after peace accords are signed, women remain abandoned in refugee camps, or are homeless, surviving as beggars, forced into prostitution at the hands of traffickers. Women are left to pick up their lives, because peace comes to them in pieces. The reconstruction processes has scandalously neglected women. Their voices are not heard and this is a matter of vital concern.To focus on these issues and the role of the UN in ensuring the empowerment was the afternoon's discussion

Ms. Meera Khanna then introduced the first speaker, Ms.Shalini Dewan, Director of United Nations Information Centre.

Ms. Shalini Dewan

Ms. Dewan welcomed everyone and thanked Guild of Service for organizing this conference. Ms. Dewan began by giving a brief background of the United Nations in its 60 years of existence.

The UN was based on equal rights of dignity of both men and women. The UN began with the charter on human rights. At that time women’s rights were considered as human rights. Slowly due to the efforts of women activists gender issues began to be included at the top of development agendas. Still the advocacy on women’s empowerment has a long way to go as this is a continuing progress.

  • Gradually women’s rights are being given importance through focus on feminization of poverty, feminization of HIV/AIDS and mainstreaming gender issues.

  • In the UN Secretariat, in 1988, the focus of the General Assembly was on women. From Beijing to Nairobi gender equality was emphasized. In the UN Secretariat the percentage of women has increased to 37%. But these posts are at low levels only. In peacekeeping operations more and more women are being involved. 25.7% percent of women staff are in peacekeeping indicating that more and more women are heading peace-keeping operations in the UN.

  • After the Millennium Summit and the signing of the Declaration Charter, Millennium Development Goals were put forward. The first goal being to end poverty by 2015. There was a demand for feminization of Millennium Development Goals.

  • On 16th September World Summit these goals will be taken up. In March the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, mentioned three strategies:
    1. Freedom from want.
    2. Freedom from fear
    3. Freedom to live in dignity.

  • In conclusion Ms. Dewan gave the example of a woman in Rajasthan who faced many struggles in the process of becoming a sarpanch.

Smt. Zena Sorabjee of the Guild of Service then read out a message received from Ms. Sonia Gandhi.

“I am happy to know that the Guild of Service is organizing a panel discussion on “UN Renewal and Empowerment of Women” in August this year. The need of the hour is to end all forms of discrimination against women and to incorporate the principle of gender equality in our political, social, economical and legal systems. Such empowerment will strengthen and bring greater buoyancy to democratic institutions of governance in member countries as well as international organizations like the UN. As a civilized nation, a responsibility devolves upon us to ensure equal opportunities to women in all spheres of life. Women’s empowerment in the true sense is fundamental to the achievement of development and peace. I send my good wishes for the success of the discussion.”

Sonia Gandhi
Chairperson National Advisory Council
New Delhi

Shri. Krishna Rajan

Shri. Rajan said in this new millennium there is a hope for “woman kind” as there is a historic opportunity to reshape the United Nations by increasing the presence of women there. The issue of renewal is in the news. So is the restructuring of the Security Council. The world has changed, objectives, priorities have changed. There is recognition of reform in the United Nations.

  • There is a clear agenda for September 16th seeking to advance the cause of acknowledgement of the need of women empowerment.

  • He also spoke about the MDG’s and talked about the eradication of poverty. He spoke about the UNDP’s role in empowerment of women in different parts of the world especially in South Asia through micro-credit projects, setting up bakeries, etc.

  • He emphasized that women play a major part in conflict situations. In Nepal women use guns to prevent insurgencies as they are the brutal victims of insurgencies. Women play a role in preventing conflicts and developing an understanding and sustaining peace. In interstate wars and conflicts there are many women victims. Women are a powerful force in building a peaceful world.

  • According to Kofi Annan - women think of children, of the future and make sure life goes on. Thus empowering women is a remarkable cause. It is the role of UN, government and civil society to implement the strategies of the Beijing Conference. Priority must be given to the status of women.

  • The World Bank President recently made an announcement of how more than 8 million were empowered in Andhra Pradesh through self-help groups formed under the World Bank-funded programme. Thus by empowering women economically progress can be achieved.

Hon’ble Minister Shri. Shivraj Patil

Shri Shivraj Patil began by addressing the panelists. He thanked Dr. Giri for giving him the opportunity to express his views on the Bill that is being discussed by the media and country on a large scale. He said that we must consider women’s empowerment in the world.

  • As far as opportunities in the UN in India are concerned there are some women working and contributing to the numbers working for the UN in the world. If the women get more opportunities in the country they are born and live in, then also they will be able to contribute in international organizations.

  • In South Asia fortunately women occupy important posts in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. In South Asia the opportunities given to women are more than other parts of the world. He asked, “In this part of the world are we more just to women?”

Talking on the topic of women’s empowerment in India, he spoke about the history of human rights in India. After independence when the Constitution was adopted many bills were introduced like the Hindu Code Bill of 1952, which at the time was opposed by many important persons and was passed as different acts like Hindu Adoption, Hindu Marriage Acts, etc. This was the first time the level of authority given to women was raised but still they were not given equal status. In the past women have been given economic and social if not political justice. Women have been empowered economically, divorce was not allowed before but later legal provisions were made.

  • With respect to inheritance of property there is still no equal status between a son and daughter. No right is given to women in ancestral property. Explaining this with and example he said that if out of 100 acres of land, 50 acres given to son and 50 to the father. In the interest of the father the daughter gets only 25% and the son in all gets 50+25=75 acres. Thus the son get three times the daughters share.

  • Many legislations have been changed to improve the status of women. The Hindu Succession Act has been amended to give women more rights in ancestral property. Amendments have been made in the Hindu Succession law also.

  • In 1980 Mr. Rajeev Gandhi wanted to change the policies adopted by the government. He introduced the new education policy, which was discussed in the Cabinet. He wanted a modification of the education policy. Thus a committee was constituted with P.V. Narasimha Rao with recommendations with far reaching consequences: 1. Education must be from cradle to grave, 2. Distance education, 3. Degree is not important what is important is that one understands the basic education, - Science and technology is important and Aesthetics, Arts and Culture must also be given importance.

  • Rajiv Gandhi said - give power to the people. He talked about the issue of Panchayati Raj. In some places for more than 10 to 15 years no elections took place. Some people did not allow the elections to take place. Rajiv Gandhi reintroduced Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of “Gram Panchayat”. He wanted to change the law. Three points were discussed.
    1. Panchayati elections should be held every 5 years.
    2. Funds for the Panchayat should be made available
    3. 33% reservation for women in panchayats.
    At that time women asked for reservations at states, legislative level as well and this he promised at that time. Thus political empowerment of women started.

  • Shri. Patil spoke of how women are respected and loved but no authority is given to them, not even by their husbands and children. India today is one country that gives more political authority to women compared to other counties across the world. Over one million out of 3 million Panchayat members are women. This has happened at District and lower levels. The 33% reservation in Parliament and State Legislatures was in the manifesto of all political parties. As pressure developed the Bill was be introduced, many objected – there was a physical scruffle in which even women were involved. Then the Bill was introduced but could not be passed. Three times the bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha but the house was dissolved each time. He said maybe this time it should be introduced in the Rajya Sabha. At lease if it is introduced in the Rajya Sabha it will remain there.

  • Shri. Patil said that he worked with leaders of different political parties separately and individually. After the second round of discussions which included Pranab Mukherjee, Gulam Nabi Azad and him, there was a third round of talks. The following ideas were thrown up-

    Draft was introduced three times, there has been enough dissent – must act now. To act three possibilities emerged

    A/ Reserve 33% for women in the existing strength of the house

    B/ Increase the number of seats by 33% and out of the new total reserve 33% for women

    C/ Allow political parties to nominate lady members for 1/3 of the seats.

  • Of the first formula - the difficulty is that of the 33% of male members sitting will lose out. This will in itself prevent them from supporting the bill. How to solve the problem he asked. India’s population is about 105 crores so increase the numbers of seats to have practical political representation. This proposal is likely to be useful. Allow the “Give Formula”.

  • In the third formula let the political parties themselves nominate women candidates and increase the number of seats in the Lok Sabha. How will the house be managed, people say. Shri. Patil here mentioned that, as speaker of the house there was more ‘ecstasy than agony’ as he mentioned in his book. He said in different countries the houses have large numbers like in Britain and in France. Finding accommodation for additional members in the Lok Sabha is not a problem.

  • Where will these women candidates come from people ask if we require 4000 candidates. He said if there are one million at district and taluk level and if the top ten medal achievers in most universities are women then why can’t we get these candidates?

  • As far as additional expenditure is concerned this also can be adjusted.

  • He said that his assessment as far as parties are concerned – the first bill or second bill – try it – don’t discuss it, Act now.

  • Shri. Patil said that from the start there was not a single person opposing the 33% reservation openly even if they were feeling that way. Today all are taking interest from Sonia Gandhi to the Prime Minister.

  • Dr. Ambedkar wanted to pass the Hindu Code Bill. He resigned and Panditji reached compromise and the Bill was passed. The situation seems similar today as we are not able to do justice to our sisters, mothers, not able to do social justice.

  • All problems will be adjusted: more members, delimitation committee, sitting arrangements all will be adjusted.

  • Women have moved ahead by being given economic and social justice through the Hindu Acts, now they may be given Political justice. Credit will go not to one person , one government but to all who passed it.

  • He ended saying “I have presented the facts – Draw your own conclusions”.

Mrs. Meera Khanna thanked Shri. Shivraj Patil saying That with his commitment and hope the bill will be passed.

Dr.L.M. Singhvi

  • Dr.L.M. Singhvi discussed the MDG’s. He stressed on the 2nd goal Universal Primary Education – where equal importance should be given to the girl child. As far as reservation is concerned he said the mindsets of both males and females have to be changed.

  • Women’s empowerment is fundamental, family values are important. Politicians are the greatest hypocrites as none of the political parties came to implement this 1/3 issue.

  • In 100 years there is a new sense of equality and gender justice. Why are men opposed to this 33%. A century ago women could not even have a bank account. Politicians must implement a greater sense of justice for women. The Constitution speaks of equality. Social reality is something else. What is done for the girl child today he asked? He gave the example that only in Kerala women manage to get an education. Today there is an imbalance in the demography in the country. Still no attention is given to the issue of the girl child.

  • Talking about the 4th Millennium development goal - Reduce Child Mortality he said we should look from the point of view of the girl child. He mentioned here, how little work is being done for destitute women; Mrs. Giri has worked for the widows. But society as a whole is not doing anything as a whole. We cannot legislate morality. We have to empower civil society to change the situation.

  • In USA the constitution was formed but women and negros were not involved in its formulation. In 1946 when our constitution was formed – we did proclaim equality of the sexes. But since then: How have we progressed?

  • These MDG’s will help in the reconstitution of the UN. These MDG’s are the heart of the peace movement, of all interfaith movements.

  • Talking about the political empowerment of women at the panchayat bill, he said that once when speaking to Shri. Rajiv Gandhi, he was told that Indira Gandhi had legitimate fears about this bill, feeling that in a feudal society the rich and powerful would have control over this.

  • Women were worshipped - this innate respect for women is being destroyed, women are not even safe, the girl child today is refusing to be born because of this.

Mr. Christopher Kim

  • Mr. Christopher Kim from the IIFWP Talked about the 60th anniversary of the UN. The IIFWP is a proposer to the UN with focus on peace and inter-religious harmony. The EU and ASEAN also support the IIFWP’s cause of peace.

  • Talking on women in politics, he said that in Asia women are joining politics, the Sri Lankan President is a women. Women’s status is improving, the future is bright.

    Mrs Mohini Giri, Chairperson of the Guild of Service here thanked everyone and said that she hoped the Bill would be introduced soon in parliament. All the panelists were given complementary copies of the Guild of Service publication “Living Death” written by Dr.Giri.

    Mrs. Sunita Dhar gave the vote of thanks saying a number of issues have been discussed from women to peace; the issues of gender equality and social justice. We thanked the Hon’ble Minister Shri. Patil and thanked Mr.Singhvi and all other participants. The conference concluded with a refreshing high tea.


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