Speaker hopeful of political consensus on women's reservation bill

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New Delhi, Sep 24 (UNI) Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee today exuded optimism of being able to evolve a political consensus to bring in a legislation in the near future providing reservation of seats for women in the Legislatures, both at the Centre and State levels.

Addressing the Opening ceremony of the First 'Commonwealth Women Parliamentary(CWP) Conference' here, he said that by affirmative action and by reserving and earmarking seats for women in the Legislatures, it was possible to involve them in the political process.

Describing the Constitution's 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts as a ''great achievement'' on the part of India, which enables 33 per cent reservation for women in the Panchayati Raj Institutions, he said that encouraged by this, they were looking at a legislation to provide for reservation of seats for women in our legislatures." The Speaker bemoaned the low participation of women in the decision making process and representation in the legislatures in various countries of the world, saying that this was critical for achieving democracy and inclusiveness.

Mr Chatterjee spoke of the need to break barriers preventing women's equal participation in decision-making. This would involve creating a conducive legislative regime, but also appropriate enabling conditions and a change in the mindset and social outlook towards the issue.

"Our mindset and outlook towards women's role in the family, society and polity have to undergo a paradigm shift, if they are to be made part and parcel of the decision making processes". he said.

Mr Chatterjee said women's participation in the decision-making process, however, should also extend to other spheres of governance and the legislature. "The very idea of representation is incomplete, if women who constitute about half the population do not take part in the decision-making or political processes", he said.

The Speaker said although of late, there has been a perceptible improvement in the participation and representation of women in decision making process, it still falls short of the Commonwealth target, requiring that at least 30 per cent of those in political and decision-making positions should be women.

Ms Renuka Chowdhury, Minister of State for Women and Child Development and President of the CWP, Ms Lindiwi Maseko, Chairperson, CWP, and Dr William F Shija, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) also addressed the gathering. The event is part of the 53 rd CPA, to be formally inaugurated by President Pratibha Patil tomorrow.

Mr Chatterjee said women, being the major stakeholders in all nations, should have an equal say in matters that affect the welfare of society. Unfortunately, this was not happening in most parts of the world, he noted and called for concerted action at gender mainstreaming of the socio-economic and political policies and programmes, in which women parliamentarians can play a pivotal role.

Referring to the Agenda of the Conference, Mr Chatterjeee said poverty and gender inequalities were the driving factors in the spread of HIV/AIDS. Women parliamentarians can play a critical role in creating awareness and helping remove the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS patients and in mobilising governmental agencies and civil society groups in dealing with the problem, he said.

He said women legislators need to play a pro-active role by motivating women to initiate and organise Self-Help Groups which will go a long way in economic empowerment.

Ms Chowdhury, said to improve the status of women it was important that they are given an equal voice in decision-making. ''We, as parliamentarians, should use our role in removing the hindrances to achieve it'', she said.

UNI

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