At the start of the Budget session today, President Pranab Mukherjee delivered a speech before both the Houses of the Parliament. In his speech, he also remarked, "Women have had a place of reverence in our society since time immemorial. My Government has taken several measures to empower and protect the dignity of women"

Right before Election 2015, JaagoRe released a carefully assessed crowd-sourced manifesto which was presented to the leading parties. The Powerof49 Manifesto sought to achieve safety and development of women in all spheres in India.

Though the positive steps taken by the Government to uplift the status of women in India are welcome, we still need to ascertain the long road that lies ahead of us to achieve security and equality for women.

Let's look at the points mentioned by the President in the Budget speech today with regards to women. Let's also place it in perspective with the Powerof49 Manifesto, which can earmark how far we've come, and how much further we need to go to achieve independence for women.

Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Abhiyaan (Save girl child, educate girl child)

"The unabated decline in Child Sex Ratio since 1961 is a matter of grave concern. This trend has to be reversed. To ensure survival, protection and education of the girl child, my Government has launched Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Abhiyaan, which seeks to change mindsets to celebrate the girl child," stated President Mukherjee.

This scheme was recently launched in January. Read more about here

Small saving scheme for girl child.

"A new small saving scheme 'Sukanya Samriddhi Account' has been notified for the girl child," as stated by President Mukherjee.

In January 2015, the Government launched a small deposit scheme for the girl child, as part of the 'Beti Bachao Beti Padhao' campaign. This scheme is specially designed for girl's higher education and marriage needs.

JaagoRe had released the Powerof49 Manifesto right before Elections 2015. One of the important demands raised was: Incentivise schooling for girls by providing financial saving schemes and free transportation

It may be far-fetched to say that we are achieving this, but this is certainly a step in the direction. Many more schemes like these and strictly overseeing them may go a long way in improving the financial status of the newer generation of women. It may also be wise to say that apart from allocating saving schemes for a girl's marriage, her overall financial needs (maternity, employment issues, housing needs, cheaper and inexpensive transportation etc.) be met with. The authorities have to acquire more importance to several other needs for women, rather than just education or marriage.

Lowering the age of juveniles to 16: Juvenile Justice Act

"A Bill to amend Juvenile Justice Act has been introduced in Parliament to reform the law relating to juvenile offences," said President Mukherjee.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection Children) Bill 2014 was introduced by the Government in August 2014. According to the revised act, a juvenile above the age of 16 years and below 18 years, involved in a henious act of crime like rape may be tried as an adult and be given the maximum punishment. Read more here

It may be remembered that one of Nirbhaya's offenders was 16 at that the time of the assault. Protests triggered the Government to lower the age of those accused of serious crimes.

Mobile app for women's safety in Delhi

"Another initiative has been the launch of Himmat, a mobile based application, to ensure women's safety in Delhi," stated President Mukherjee.

Read more about it here

One stop crisis centre for survivors of assault

"To provide complete support to women affected by violence, One Stop Crisis Centres, one in every State, are being set up for provision of integrated services including medical aid, police assistance, temporary shelter, and legal and psycho-social counseling," remarked President Mukherjee.

A one-stop-crisis centre was set up back in June 2014 in Bhopal. However, progress on the set up of similar centres remains to be seen.

Read more about them here

Powerof49 Manifesto key point: Provide complete medical, legal and psychological support to victims of domestic violence by instituting special family counselling centers in government buildings and policy centres.

While this has been assured by the Government several months ago, efforts to speed up and monitor the progress of setting up these centres has to come in place. A sensitised personnel at the one stop crisis centres could certainly aid the trauma of the survivors that seek rehabilitation and recovery.

SMART Police

"My Government is committed to implement the idea of SMART Police (Smart but Sensitive, Modern and Mobile, Alert and Accountable, Reliable and Responsive, Tech-savvy and well Trained) to provide efficient, courteous and effective citizen services and meet the operational needs of the police personnel including women police personnel," said President Mukherjee.

Powerof49 Manifesto stated: Increase percentage of women police personnel from current 5% to at least 33%

While rehashing the current state of Police forces is a welcome step, strong and concentrated efforts must be made to introduce and nurture more women in the Police forces. There has been sporadic news, but nothing concrete in this regard and this is something our Government needs to look into.

Committed to construct a toilet in every school by August 2015

"Government has rolled out 'Swachh Vidyalaya' programme and is committed to construct a toilet in every school before 15th August, 2015," said President Mukherjee.

Read about it here

PowerofManifesto key highlight: Build 1 crore women toilets within a year with privacy and 24/7 access to water

This move by the Government is critical. However, strict monitoring and practical measures to ensure this actually happens is equally important.

Powerof49 Manifesto – What Next?

While many measures have been announced time and again, crimes against women and even minor girls has not reduced. Where are we then, going wrong in ensuring a safer country where women can walk free? Have the authorities taken sufficient measures in the areas of transportation, employment and also in social and cultural contexts? Are there enough women today in the armed, police forces, or in politics? The answer may be No. The only way to resolve this is to confront these issues and for the authorities to not just commit, but speedily work to resolve them at the earliest.

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