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Make Policy, Forget About It

The Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India has put out in the public domain for discussion a draft of National Policy on Women. What is the purpose of such policy making in India? How often policies are made, only to be forgotten, says Rajesh Tandon, President, PRIA

Policy making in any country is increasingly challenging. It has become more so in democracies like India. Students of public policy in India may find it hard to clearly explain how such policies are formulated. And more critically, how such policies are implemented?

The political economy of policy-making in a country like India has to be understood explicitly in order to assess the potential of real implementation of that public policy.

I am reminded of these questions because the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India has put out in public domain for discussion a draft of National Policy on Women.

The draft seems to be exhaustive, and also exhausting. Nothing has been left out -- from constitution, rights, schemes to everything that may come in the life journey of women, from birth to death. So comprehensive an agenda that it is hard to figure out where to start.

The policy draft does not indicate what has been learnt from previous versions of policy on women in the country, and what are key drivers for any change that national public policy on women in this era, from 2016, can target effectively.

Let me point out two key drivers missing in this policy, which were not adequately recognized three decades ago when this Ministry was created in the national government.

First is the criticality of changing attitudes, roles and responsibilities of men in India in improving the status, contributions and leadership of women in the coming period. Women's empowerment can not be just the responsibility of women alone. Men, their socialization and attitudes, need to change significantly if any of the goals of the draft policy have to be achieved. The policy deals with this driver of change barely.

Second, the structural institutional gender biases engrained in policies, structures, practices and cultures of most government agencies as a practical constraint to operationalise past and future policies on women have not even been recognized in the present draft. Our daily work with police stations, legal aid offices, district administration etc. clearly indicates that the very design and functioning of these agencies treats women as home-makers and reproduction machines, not what the policy hopes as 'dignity, freedom and agency' of girls and women.

Even those agencies specially created for operationalisation of some policies for women's empowerment are gender blind and gender subjugating. PRIA's studies on various women's commissions three years ago highlighted the design and functioning weaknesses inherent in them.

The proposed draft policy assumes that these very agencies will be instrumental in realizing the goals of this new policy in future. I hasten to add that these very agencies are obstructing any progress on women's empowerment in any of those aspects identified in the draft policy.

So, what is the real purpose of this new policy on women in 2016? Is it to make some public statements of good intents as gender inequality and gender-based violence has captured the imagination of public discourse these days? Knowing very well that most of these goals will anyways not be achieved in the remaining tenure of the current national government?

The Minsitry of Women and Child Development alone, in any case, would be unable to make any difference on operationalisation of the policy. And its influence on other more powerful ministries and departments of the national government is rather weak.

So, has the policy been made to be forgotten quickly, in practice?


Rajesh Tandon

Founder-President, PRIA New Delhi

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