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Sexual violence on the rise: PM

Posted on Feb 18, 10:10PM | IBNS

New Delhi, Feb 18 : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday said it is a matter of shame for the government that despite all its efforts sexual violence against women are on the rise.

Addressing a ceremony to confer the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace Disarmament and Development, 2011, to social worker Ela Ramesh Bhatt of Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) at Rashtrapati Bha­­­van in New Delhi, Singh said: "Our government too has made efforts to address the issue of women's empowerment by strengthening existing institutions, providing women better access to education and health care, ensuring equal opportunities for their participation in decision-making and mainstreaming gender concerns in processes of development."

"While more women are now joining the formal economy as a result, a corollary of these developments has been the heightened risk to their safety and security.

"It is indeed a matter of shame that, notwithstanding the gains we have made, incidents of violence and sexual offences against women are on the increase. In order to deal with this, the government has adopted a mix of legislative, institutional and procedural reforms," the PM said.

He said he hopes the Parliament will urgently pass the necessary legislation to enact a comprehensive law in this regard.

"The recommendations of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee have resulted in the promulgation of an ordinance, amending and strengthening the criminal law to deal with sexual offences against women. It is our hope that Parliament will urgently pass the necessary legislation to enact a comprehensive law in this regard," Singh said.

"The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012 has been passed by the Lok Sabha and is awaiting passage in the Rajya Sabha.

"Schemes aimed at giving restorative justice to victims of rape through financial assistance and support services, a national helpline for women and a 'One Stop Crisis Centre' in 100 public hospitals under the aegis of the National Mission for Empowerment of Women are also under consideration of the government," he said.

"Our endeavor to create an environment of security in which women can pursue their dreams will be a continuous effort, pursued jointly with civil society organizations," the PM said.

Following is the text of Singh's address:

"It is a privilege to be present here on the occasion of the conferment of the prestigious Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development for 2011 on Padma Bhushan Smt. Ela Ramesh Bhatt. Such public recognition of her work is not new to Ela-ben. She has been a deserving recipient of accolades around the world for her pioneering efforts in the area of women's emancipation and empowerment. Indeed, her life's work is best described in her own words. While receiving the Niwano Peace Prize for 2010 in Tokyo, Ela-ben had said that her story and philosophy could be expressed in three simple words - "Women, Work and Peace". The sheer simplicity and relevance of this conceptual framework, combined with her remarkable work ethic, is largely responsible for the force that Ela-ben represents when it comes to giving a voice to the concerns of India's women.

The Prize that Ela-ben is being honoured with today is, of course, named after another very remarkable woman Smt. Indira Gandhi. Smt. Indira Gandhi worked and fought relentlessly for the elimination of poverty and empowerment of women. Her clarion call, "Garibi Hatao", remains relevant more than four decades after it was first given. Today, it is in many ways the inspiration for some of our government's landmark programmes intended for the empowerment of the poorest and most marginalized sections of Indian society. The centrality of poverty as one of the greatest social ills facing our country was tellingly underlined by Smt. Indira Gandhi when she said, in a different context, that poverty was the biggest polluter.

While deliberating on the work of Ela-ben, I was struck by the similar idea of combating poverty that seems to be her motive force. By saying that poverty is the moral failure of a society, Ela-ben throws down the gauntlet to society at large. Her own attempt to attack poverty by organizing poor women and helping them empower themselves economically is at once aimed at the twin evils of poverty and gender discrimination. Some would even describe her very enterprise as audacious. I daresay that modern India could do with more of this kind of audacity.

It is no wonder that one of Ela-ben's inspirations in her campaign to empower women was someone who, almost a century ago, had the similar audacity to challenge the legitimacy of British rule in India. Mahatma Gandhi's ideas on 'swaraj', I believe, have been Ela-ben's touchstones as she set out on her journey to form the Self Employed Women's Association and build it into one of India's most respected and effective social enterprises. While the Mahatma succeeded in bringing political freedom to India, he did not live to see its vital counterpart, economic freedom, being realized in any substantial measure. Therefore, when Ela-ben says to her colleagues in SEWA, "My sisters, swaraj is ours to take", she is in many ways carrying on the unfinished work of Mahatma Gandhi in the area of winning economic freedom and self-reliance for India's women, who constitute about half of India's population.

Our government too has made efforts to address the issue of women's empowerment by strengthening existing institutions, providing women better access to education and health care, ensuring equal opportunities for their participation in decision-making and mainstreaming gender concerns in processes of development. While more women are now joining the formal economy as a result, a corollary of these developments has been the heightened risk to their safety and security. It is indeed a matter of shame that, notwithstanding the gains we have made, incidents of violence and sexual offences against women are on the increase. In order to deal with this, the government has adopted a mix of legislative, institutional and procedural reforms.

The recommendations of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee have resulted in the promulgation of an ordinance, amending and strengthening the criminal law to deal with sexual offences against women. It is our hope that Parliament will urgently pass the necessary legislation to enact a comprehensive law in this regard. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012 has been passed by the Lok Sabha and is awaiting passage in the Rajya Sabha. Schemes aimed at giving restorative justice to victims of rape through financial assistance and support services, a national helpline for women and a "One Stop Crisis Centre" in 100 public hospitals under the aegis of the National Mission for Empowerment of Women are also under consideration of the government. Our endeavor to create an environment of security in which women can pursue their dreams will be a continuous effort, pursued jointly with civil society organizations.

The government's own efforts at empowerment would also benefit from studying the working of SEWA. This is particularly true, for example, for the National Rural Livelihood Mission, which seeks to organize the members of nearly 7 crore households, including women, across 6 lakh villages into Self Help Groups.

The story of Ela-ben and SEWA is not just a story of organizing poor women for economic empowerment. It is also the story of women's rights and protection of women. It is the story of holistic empowerment of the poor, for ensuring them equality and rights guaranteed under the Constitution, for ensuring timely delivery of entitlements and for countering all forms of discrimination. Above all, it is a story of leadership. Ela-ben, whom some have called the "gentle revolutionist", has demonstrated that struggle and constructive work can go together. These are her great contributions to the discipline of development. They deserve not only to be acknowledged but also to be deeply analyzed and studied for rapid and widespread replication. By honouring her today, we do credit to the principles that this country holds dear. I congratulate her on her achievements and hope and pray that others will follow in her footsteps and make our country a better place to live in."