While he didn’t win the recent Indian election for Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi isn’t taking defeat as an excuse to lay low. In fact he is choosing to continue to use his influence to empower women.
Rahul Gandhi is the Vice President of the Indian National Congress part, and is mother, Sonia Gandhi is currently serving as the President. It is the largest political party in India, and one of the largest and oldest democratically-operating political parties in the world. It was established in 1885 by freedom fighters and activists, but really came to prominence after India won Independence from the British Empire in 1947, when the first Indian Prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was elected to lead the country.
Rahul is also the great grandson of Nehru. In case you missed the news surrounding the recent Indian elections in May, it made headlines because it was the largest democratic vote where more than 550 million citizens turned out to elect BJP leader Narendra Modi into power. The Bharatiya Janata Party also hold the majority of seats in the lower house of parliament which is called Lok Sabha, and represents the people.
While Modi has promised to tackle the issue of rape and gender violence plaguing the country right now, the INC is not convinced that they will follow through, so they are putting forward their own proposed legislation.
The INC, led by both Gandhi’s is reaching out to over 2 million of their female members across the country in the hope they can put the pressure on Narendra Modi’s government to deal with communal violence.
At a national Mahila Congress (the women’s arm of the INC) convention on August 20, they spoke about issues such as price rises, the safety of women, and women’s empowerment in India. While the two parties may be in opposition, from our point of view the fact that women’s empowerment is on the table is a good thing. The Indian National Congress party is hoping the women they mobilize will in turn mobilize other members of their community to spread the message.
“Women are the worst sufferers in any instance of communal violence. Issues like price rise also affect them,” Mahila Congress chief Shobha Oza told the Daily Mail.
One of the things Rahul Gandhi and the Mahila Congress (often referred to as the All India Women’s Congress, or AIWC) is pushing for is the Women’s Reservation Bill which aims to reserve 33% of seats for women in state legislatures/Upper House (Rajiya Sabha) and the House of the People (Lok Sabha) in Parliament. Sonia Gandhi has tried to push for the bill in the past but because of the lack of votes in the Lok Sabha it was passed over, even though they did get enough votes in the Upper House assembly.
Rahul Gandhi’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was a big advocate of women’s empowerment and both Rahul and his mother are hoping to continue this work by presenting the bill once again.
AIWC chief Shobha Oza told the Indian press that so far the BJP have been reluctant to to vote on the Women’s Reservation Bill, but the Gandhi-led INC party will not take no for an answer.
“BJP talked big on women’s issues but you can see they did not do anything to that effect in parliament. We hope they table the bill in the next session of parliament. Our party will support them. The BJP cannot make any excuses in this matter as they enjoy majority in the house,” she said in a statement.
She also said if the BJP was serious about women’s empowerment, as it had pledged during the election campaign, it should table the bill in the next session of parliament.
Elsewhere in India, the state of Rajasthan is creating their own schemes to empower women financially on a local level. The state’s first female chief, Vasundhara Raje, who is a member of the BJP party launched an initiative on Independence day (August 15) called the ‘Bhamashah’ scheme for women.
Various versions of the scheme have been launched before, relatively unsuccessfully, but the most recent version has a bank account number and card registered to the female head of her family. The woman’s biometrics are also recorded so that only she can withdraw money from the account, stopping her husband or anyone else from having access to her money.
Ms Raje said that the “Bhamashah scheme” will empower women and bring a positive change in their lives. “Women today need to be empowered and for this aim, Bhamashah scheme is getting a new start in Rajasthan,” she said.
The earlier version of the scheme targeted 5 million poor women in the state who received Rs 1,500 each (roughly $25 USD), but the initiative was stopped by the court system in 2008. The latest version of the scheme to empower Rajasthan women has identified 10.5 million women who can benefit from financial freedom, and the government has allocated Rs 600 crore (nearly $100 million USD) for this idea.
Aside from financial help, Ms. Raje has also come up with ways to help and encourage women to own land. She offered 1% discount in registration fee and stamp duty if the land was registered in the name of female member of the family.
Land transaction in Rajasthan are mostly done in men’s name. Land title is seldom registered in women’s name. However, after Ms Raje’s Budget announcement, scenario changed as land transaction are being done in women’s name to take advantage of the concession in registration and stamp duty.
While this is only at a state level, it is a major step forward, especially because Ms Raje is part of the BJP Party. Here’s hoping Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and the INC can wield enough power to force Narendra Modi to take action on his promises to empower women and curb violence.
We love reporting on news where women’s empowerment is the focus. India certainly has a long way to go to allow women equal status in society, especially in a country where rape against women is the number one crime, and one of the most heavily reported news items coming out of the sub-continent. If both political parties can work together, here’s hoping the largest democratic country in the world will also one day become the largest nation of female empowerment.