Linking the issue of women’s empowerment with their numbers in parliament and state assemblies, President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday said it was impossible in the absence of their appropriate representation in legislative bodies.
"It’s unfortunate (for the country) for not being able to ensure 33 per cent representation of women in Parliament," he said here, while addressing the inaugural function of the two-day national conference of women legislators on ‘Women Legislators: Building Resurgent India’.
He also praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was present on the occasion, for giving due importance to the cause of women and girls, saying: "I thank prime minister for ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ (save girl child, educate girl child) programme".
He said that to ensure overall development of the country and society, the country must recognise and encourage ‘stree shakti’ (women’s power) and this could only be possible by giving them their due representation in parliament and state legislatures.
"How can there a be empowerment of women without proper representation," he asked.
Speaking on the occasion, Vice President Hamid Ansari and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said women’s representation in parliament and state legislatures has to be corrected as they play a crucial role in society. Congress president Sonia Gandhi was also slated to attend the conference but did not turn up. Party sources said she was unwell.
Observing that the theme of the conference was "appropriate and timely", Ansari called upon all political parties to help in ensuring women’s representation as it was in the national interest.
"Women must have votes and equal legal status, but the problem does not end there. It only commences at the point where women begin to affect the political deliberations of the nation," he said, adding that the present situation with regard to their representation is "certainly not very encouraging".
Sumitra Mahajan hoped when women legislators would sit together, they would come out with new provisions and answers to various problems.
She also emphasised the need for ensuring "women-friendly tools" as a large number of women work in the country’s agriculture sector.
The Lok Sabha speaker also thanked renowned lyricist Prasoon Joshi for writing a good song for the conference. She said women could actually be best compared with the river as he did in the song which has been specially composed for the two-day conference.
"A river gives life to many… similarly women too, are life-givers," she said.
The Women’s Reservation Bill that sought to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies was introduced in Parliament by the UPA-I government in May 2008.
It was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010, but kept pending in the Lok Sabha and lapsed with the 15th Lok Sabha expiring its term.
The prime minister did not speak on the occasion.
Among those who attended the conference were women leaders Uma Bharti, Maneka Gandhi, Sheila Dikshit, and Poonam Mahajan.
The report examining the 1996 women’s reservation Bill recommended that reservation be provided for women of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) once the Constitution was amended to allow for reservation for OBCs. It also recommended that such reservation be extended to the Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils. Neither of these recommendations has been incorporated in the Bill.