Modi govt restricted women to traditional roles in a patriarchal setup, Sonia Gandhi tells DMK meet

'We must enable women to reach a status where they are seen as individuals who are equal in all respects,' the Congress leader said.

ByVinodh Arulappan

Published Oct 14, 2023 | 11:20 PMUpdatedOct 14, 2023 | 11:57 PM

Priyanka Gandhi, Mehbooba Mufti, MK Stalin, Sonia Gandhi and Kanimozhi at the Women's Rights Conference. (Supplied)

The Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government reduced women to mere symbols, to be counted and appreciated only in their restricted traditional roles in a patriarchal setup, Congress Parliamentary Party chairperson Sonia Gandhi said in Chennai on Saturday, 14 October.

Addressing a Women’s Rights Conference organised by the DMK’s Women’s Wing, she assured that the opposition INDIA bloc would fight for the implementation of the Women’s Reservation Bill recently passed in Parliament.

Despite several initiatives towards gender equality and the betterment of women in Tamil Nadu, she said such programmes were not being reflected at the national level.

“Just as in every other front, rights, freedoms, equity and equality — all the remarkable gains of the last 70 years have disappeared,” Gandhi said.

She asserted that the 33 percent reservation for women in Panchayati Raj introduced by former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi spurred an entirely new phenomenon of women donning leadership roles at the grassroots level.

“It was a vital stepping stone towards the reservation of a similar one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha for women, which the Indian National Congress has pioneered in Parliament and outside,” Gandhi said.

She recalled that the Congress-led UPA government introduced the Women’s Reservation Bill in 2010, and it was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 9 March 2010.

“But a lack of consensus prevented it being passed in the Lok Sabha. The Women’s Reservation Bill has finally been passed due to our relentless persistence and efforts. But it is still a long wait, as the Government has provided no timeline. Perhaps this Bill awaits the INDIA bloc for it to become a reality,” Gandhi said.

Related: 3 women finish ‘archakas’ training in TN, to join temples as interns

The Tamil Nadu model

The Congress leader further stated that the Tamil Nadu government under the leadership of former chief ministers C Annadurai and then M Karunanidhi laid the foundations of incredible changes in status and opportunities for women.

“As a result, today, Tamil Nadu stands as a beacon of women’s equality and women’s development,” she opined.

“In his historic five terms as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi brought the provision of reservation for women in the police in 1973. Today, a fourth of its police force are women,” she pointed out.

“The re-marriage assistance scheme for widows which allowed them to rebuild their lives was among his other transformative actions. It set a precedent nationally of equal rights to women in property, financial assistance to girls in school post 8th grade, encouraging them to pursue higher studies,” she recalled.

“Another initiative was the reservation for women in government positions. Today, women’s participation in government services exceeds 30 percent,” Gandhi lauded.

The Congress leader further stated that through initiatives like the mid-day meal scheme, the promotion of women’s empowerment, and the encouragement of female education, Tamil Nadu boasts some of the most impressive maternal and infant mortality rates in India today.

‘Women restricted to traditional roles’

“Unfortunately, these efforts and programmes are not being reflected at the national level. Instead of mitigating the problems faced by women, the last nine years have seen a sustained effort on the part of the Modi government to turn our women purely into symbols, to be counted and appreciated only in their restricted traditional roles in a patriarchal framework,” she said.

“I am confident that we, the like-minded parties of the INDIA bloc, can and will take urgent steps needed to make women’s equality a reality. We often tend to see women as mothers, sisters, and daughters. These relationships are the foundation of family life and society. But they position women in terms of relationships with men,” she opined.

“We must advance from this and enable women to reach a status where they are seen as individuals who are equal in all respects in life, in work, and status. That is our goal and that is what we must fight for,” the Congress leader asserted.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti, and Lok Sabha member and DMK’s deputy general secretary Kanimozhi attended the meeting.