Speech by her excellency the President of India, Shrimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil, at the the National Conference on the Implementation of the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, 2005
“I am happy to be inaugurating the 3rd National Conference on the implementation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, a progressive legislation that seeks to provide protection to women in society.
The issue of gender equality as well as the rights and protection of women has received global attention, including at the United Nations. The Beijing Declaration adopted in 1985 by the international community put together a comprehensive agenda for promoting the participation of women in all fields, adopting gender sensitive programmes and preventing all forms of violence against women.
Gender equality and advancement of women is one of the most critical aspects of development in all parts of the world. In India we have followed a three pronged strategy towards this objective, consisting of social empowerment, economic empowerment and issues relating to gender justice. In our efforts and work in the field of gender equality, we draw inspiration from the remarkable contribution of countless women who took part in our freedom movement as well as from our enlightened Constitution.
The founding fathers of our Constitution envisaged a nation in which justice, liberty, equality and fraternity would be secured for all its citizens. The concept of discrimination between one citizen and another on the grounds of race, religion, caste, sex, place of birth was rejected. The pledge of equality between men and women was inherent in the provisions relating to fundamental rights that affirm equal opportunity for all its citizens. Over the years, the Government has taken various steps to fulfill the constitutional mandate. The increasing presence of women in employment, social and economic activities, as well as in public life is a proof that the constitutional doctrine of equality and equal opportunity are at work. Today, in India women are excelling in administration, science, arts and in many other many fields.
It was a good beginning when free India in its Constitution adopted universal adult franchise and women got voting rights along with their male counterparts. This was not the case in many other countries, where women had to strive to get their voting rights. Women have been participating in the political life of the nation and have been elected to office of the President, Prime Minister and Speaker of the Lok Sabha. At the grass roots level, there are 1.2 million elected women representatives in local bodies in the villages and towns, which is about 36 percent. This percentage is now proposed to be increased to 50 percent.
We have a forward looking agenda for strengthening the processes that promote economic and social development of women. A number of programmes to achieve a holistic empowerment of women through schemes that provide micro credit and support systems to women are being implemented. The Self-Help movement has been particularly successful in enabling women to create economically sustainable models of growth. Today, we have more than 2.2 million Self-Help Groups throughout the country covering 33 million households. This is a very positive step in the movement towards empowering women. A National Mission on the socio-economic Empowerment of Women is being set up. This will be in addition to the National Commission for Women, which is doing commendable work on recommending policy and legislative measures for addressing matters affecting women.
Since independence, numerous laws have been enacted to further strengthen the constitutional mandate of equality whether it was the legislation relating to the Dowry Prohibition Act, the Maternity Benefits Act or the Equal Remuneration Act, among others. Over these years, these laws have been helpful in enabling women to come forward in the various activities of the nation.
Our task, however, is not complete and gender equality is work in progress. Women continue to face constraints and difficulties at various stages of life and in various situations. The falling sex ratio in some regions of the country and higher drop out rates of girls in primary and secondary education, the growing statistics of crimes against women are all a reminder of this. However, the violence that women truly face both within and outside their homes is an aspect which is particularly condemnable and not tolerable as it goes against the very ethos of a civilized society. Ours is a nation where the independence of the country and Constitutional guarantees for individual citizens both were the result of a peaceful and non-violent struggle. Ahimsa is a very important concept for us. Violence violates this principle and domestic violence, in addition, violates the sanctity of the home, which is the abode of a love and affection. The enactment of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act in 2005 was an important step towards promoting safety for women and, in a way, of the whole family.
We also know that enacting legislations is not enough, if there is no evaluation of its effectiveness in meeting its intended objective. Although this is true for all legislations, the significance of the implementation becomes especially critical for a social legislation, for the simple reason that the law intends to benefit the whole society either by eradicating a social evil or by providing social security. In this context, the monitoring and evaluation of the Domestic Violence Act in its early years is crucial to set the systems in place for the smooth functioning of the law.
While the relevance of laws in bringing about social change is undisputed, laws are not the only means of furthering empowerment of women. The World Health Organization in its report on Women Health and Domestic Violence against Women pointed out that education for women has a protective effect. Research shows that education results in lesser violence as it gives women many more options for earning and greater command over resources. To bring about gender equality we need to focus on educating and empowering women.
I would encourage organizations such as Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative whose members are young and educated people, to concentrate their energies on these areas and create awareness. It is only when information is disseminated that the people are made aware of issues, policies and schemes, so that they can avail of opportunities. Awareness is of two kinds. One is awareness among women about their own inherent potential strength and the need to exert, so as to confidently fight against the odds confronting them and for their rights. Second, is awareness among men and women that there is no conflict of interest between them, but that they have a complementary and supplementary role to play in building their future together and, therefore, to work jointly to help each other lead better lives.
In the end, I would like to congratulate the National Commission for Women and the Lawyers Collective for the work that they are doing. “