The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) released its manifesto for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls on Monday. Like the Congress, which released its poll pledge last week, the ruling party has dedicated an entire section to what it plans to do for Indian women if it comes to power.
Women now constitute around 48% of India’s 900 million voters, and this is underlined by the fact that the space dedicated by both parties to them in their manifestos has significantly increased since 2014.
The BJP manifesto mentions its pet Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and Ujjwala cooking gas schemes to claim that it has “gone beyond tokenism to take substantive measures to ensure overall development of women and achieve gender equality”.
While the BJP says that it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wish that India see “women-led” development, the Congress claims that it had always been at the forefront of women empowerment and that it was the only party that gave India a woman prime minister.
Here’s a comparison of what both the parties have promised women in the coming five years.
Both the parties promised 33% reservation for women in Parliament and state assemblies through a constitution amendment bill.
While both the Congress and BJP have openly expressed support for the Women’s Reservation Bill multiple times, neither party pushed it through while they were in power. It has been more than 22 years since the bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha.
Apart from this, the Congress has also promised it will amend the Service Rules to “reserve for women 33% of appointments to posts in the Central Government”.
While the Congress has promised that the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, will be enforced effectively to ensure that women get equal pay for equal work, the BJP would not get into specific promises, saying, “We are committed to make women equal partners in and equal beneficiaries of the progress and prosperity of the nation and will formulate a comprehensive ‘Women in Workforce’ roadmap focussed on dramatically increasing the female workforce participation rate over the next five years”.
The question of unemployment has been a serious challenge for the Modi government—in January, a leaked jobs report the government did not want published showed that India’s unemployment rate stood at a whopping 45-year high of 6.1% in 2017-18. Declining participation of women in the workforce is an especial concern.
Ensuring Women Continue To Be In The Workforce
*Creches — Both the parties have promised creches and childcare facilities in every Anganwadi. The BJP also promised that it will “ensure that the number of childcare facilities is increased three-fold by 2022”.
*Night shifts — The Congress promised that “it will repeal any provision of law that prohibits night shifts for women.”
*Working women’s hostels — The Congress also promised to set up working women’s hostels and safe transport facilities in every Special Economic Zone.
Crimes against women
The Congress manifesto promised a review of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplaces Act, 2013, and said it would institute measures to address all forms of harassment of women at the work place. It also promised a separate investigative agency to probe heinous crimes against women and children. The party also said it would appoint an ‘Adhikar Maitri’ in every panchayat to educate women about their rights.
BJP’s promise in terms of women’s security was vague in comparison. Here’s what it said:
“Women’s security will be given more priority. We have constituted the Women’s Security Division in the Home Ministry, and have made strict provisions for transferring the laws in order to commit crimes against women, in particular in a time-bound investigation and trail for rape. In such cases, forensic facilities and fast track courts will be expanded to bring convicts to justice.”
However, the BJP did promise gender sensitisation for educational institutions and public offices to “create a positive atmosphere for women”.
Toilets and menstrual health
The Congress has promised “safe and hygienic public toilets” across towns and cities and sanitary napkin vending machines in public places, schools and colleges.
The BJP’s promise on health and sanitation was also a bit ambiguous. While they promised that they will “ensure that all reproductive and menstrual health services are easily available to all women across India”, they did not specify in what way this would be carried out. The BJP also said that it would provide affordable sanitary pads to women at Re 1 with the extension of its Suvidha scheme.
HuffPost India had reported in January that the Modi government’s much-hyped Stree Swabhiman scheme, meant to simultaneously boost women’s incomes and improve their menstrual health by training them to set up small-scale sanitary napkin manufacturing units, has failed on both fronts.
Widows and destitute
While the Congress promised it would “work with State Governments to implement a programme to provide single, widowed, divorced, abandoned or destitute women a dignified and secure life”, the BJP only mentioned welfare of “widows of defence personnel killed in action”.
Anganwadis and SHGs
The Congress boasted that it was the pioneer of the ‘self-help group movement’ and said that it will also launch the National Rural Livelihoods Mission-2 if it came to power to ensure economic benefits for women. The BJP said it will “significantly increase” the honorarium of ASHA and Anganwadi workers as well as the coverage of Ayushman Bharat to include all Anganwadi workers and ASHA workers.