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Posted on Oct 12, 06:16PM | IANS
The UNDP Friday called for formation of a caucus of women political leaders across party lines to enhance women's participation within political parties and advocate for the Women's Reservation Bill as a collective voice.
For affirmative action to happen, mobilisation of women around an integrated development agenda was crucial. This was one of the key recommendations at a round-table on women's participation in politics, organised by the United Nations Development Programme here.
"For affirmative action -- be it on quotas in parliament or in political parties, mobilisation of women around an integrated development agenda is critical," Caitlin Wiesen, UNDP country director, said.
Participants deliberated over reasons for delay in passing the reservation bill, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010 and is pending in the Lok Sabha since then.
In discussion with MPs, social activists and grassroots leaders, UN Under Secretary General and UNDP associate administrator Rebeca Grynspan said: "There is much to be celebrated in India. There are over one million elected women representatives in local self-governments, thanks to mandatory quotas ranging from 33 to 50 percent.
"Yet, there are only around 11 percent women in Parliament lower than the global average of 20 percent, still far from the 30 percent target set at Beijing."
Participants pointed out that women were held back from entering politics because of social norms and deeply entrenched patriarchal mindsets.
"Women of India are already empowered. All they need is a safe political environment which provides a level-playing field for their participation," said Suhasini Ali of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.
Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre For Social Research, called for urgent action on the long pending Women's Reservation Bill.
"Women must not only demand but take their legitimate space in the political arena as a matter of right - they are no longer waiting for hand-outs as they are capable of entering the political field and doing as well as men.
"I am hopeful that the Bill will indeed be passed by the current government," she said.
India ranks 129 out of 147 countries on UNDP's Gender Equality Index, lower than all South Asian countries except Afghanistan at 141.
One of the key factors pulling down India's rank on this index is the low level women's representation in parliament, which is just under 11 percent.