Thursday, 19 July 2018 |Pioneer|in Edit– BJP, Congress should work together onWomen’s Reservation Bill and triple talaq law Women, who have an almost equal heft as male voters going by Election Commission figures for 2014 and who outran men in turning out for the UP Assembly election last year, are definitely driving policies and compelling a discourse on empowering them among all parties who, no doubt, see them as a trusted constituency. So the trade-off sought by Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad after Congress chief Rahul Gandhi offered his unconditional support to reviving the Women’s Reservation Bill, asking the latter to support the Triple Talaq Bill, could be interpreted as polemic. But what if it actually set the agenda of the Parliament’s monsoon session? Prasad did indeed sound credible when he said, “As national parties, we cannot have two sets of standards in dealing with women and their rights.” But the question is whether the two sides are indeed capable of a bipartisan approach without showboating good intentions in an election year? Let us not forget that the Congress is guilty of a failure to effect a consensus in the Lok Sabha on 33 per cent reservation of women’s seats in legislature during UPA I and II even though the BJP went with the Bill in the Upper House. It even faltered on the Triple Talaq Bill because it criminalises errant husbands for patriarchal wrong-doings and it didn’t want to upset its minority vote-bank or its predominantly male leadership after years of appeasement. The BJP, on its part, did not pursue a lapsed bill conferring the right of political representation with as much gusto as it had for upholding the equality in personal laws. It cannot be denied, however, that the BJP, often perceived as anti-minority, did seize the opportunity provided by marginalised and abused Muslim women to repair its stock as a champion of sabka saath and vikaas. It has even managed to go some way in consolidating the woman vote through schemes for the girl child, breaking taboos by prioritising menstrual health, relieving them from kitchen burdens and encouraging entrepreneurship; that’s a primary good so we are not complaining. It did not, therefore, need to make the revival of the women’s bill conditional except to hold the Congress to its commitment which again in parliamentary politics is acceptable. But take away the politics of posturing and the fact is that women still have the short end of the stick in one of the world’s largest democracies and any kind of tokenism only defeats the larger purpose of entitling them to decision-making in the national narrative. Although the number of women legislators has risen with each election, we have just 11.8 per cent women in the Lok Sabha against a global average of about 22.8 per cent. The women’s Bill has often drawn criticism that it perpetuates unequal status instead as very few will have merit and most candidates will be proxies of male legislators to make up numbers. This could subject a good-intentioned Bill to abuse. Opponents also argue for special quotas for minorities and OBCs within the women’s quota. Yet, we need to start somewhere and set time-bound checks and balances. If both parties can indeed strike a deal and act on it, it would be their greatest service to women’s empowerment.

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