Although cynics may like to see he government’s policy for women in terms of the party’s internal power struggles, it will nevertheless be churlish to deny that it represents a pioneering effect aimed at bringing about sweeping social reforms. In its language, scope and strategies, the policy documents displays a degree of understanding of women’s needs that is uncommon in government pronouncements. This is due in large part to the participatory process that marked its formulation, seeking the active involvement right from the start of women’s groups, academic institutions and non-government organizations with grass roots experience. The result is not just a lofty declaration of principles but a blueprint for a practical program of action. The policy delineates a series of concrete measures to accord women a decision-making role in the political domain and greater control over their economic status. Of especially far-reaching impart are the devolution of control of economic infrastructure to women, notably at the gram panchayat level, and the amendment proposed in the Act of 1956 to give women comparcenary rights.
And enlightened aspect of the policy is its recognition that actual change in the status of women cannot be brought about by the mere enactment of socially progressive legislation. Accordingly, it focuses on reorienting development programs and sensitizing administrations to address specific situations as, for instance, the growing number of households headed by women, which is a consequence of rural-urban migration. The proposal to create an equal-opportunity police force and give women greater control of police stations is an acknowledgement of the biases and callousness displayed by the generally all-male law-enforcement authorities in case of dowery and domestic violence. While the mere enunciation of such a policy has the salutary effect of sensitizing the administration as a whole, it does not make the task of its implementation any easier. This is because the changes it envisages in the political and economic status of woman strike at the root of power structures in society and the basis of man-woman relationship. There is also the danger that reservation for women in public life, while necessary for their greater visibility, could lapse into tokenism or become a tool in the hands of vote seeking politicians. Much will depend on the dissemination of the policy and the ability of elected representatives and government agencies to reorder their priorities.
At which stage were the grass-root level organizations involved for the policy?