‘Let’s seed forest of equality’

Rekha Sharma assumed charge as chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW) on 7 August 2018.

‘Let’s seed forest of equality’

Rekha Sharma chairperson of the National Commission for Women (photo:ANI)

Rekha Sharma assumed charge as chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW) on 7 August 2018. An passionate women’s rights advocate, she is credited with signing an MoU with the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) for gender sensitization of police personnel across the country to bring attitudinal and behavioural changes in them.

The NCW also launched the third phase of ‘We Think Digital’, a global digital literacy programme run by the Commission, Cyber Peace Foundation and Facebook with an aim to provide digital literacy training to 1.50 lakh women for effectively using online resources and grievance redressal mechanisms by women across states. In an exclusive interview with Surya S Pillai of The Statesman, Sharma talks about the level of women’s rights awareness in our country, the challenges faced by the NCW, and the need to talk about gender rights from school level.

Q: How is India dealing with women’s harassment complaints? Are the laws in place enough or do we need to tweak them?


A: The National Commission for Women acknowledges the efforts of the government in addressing women harassment complaints through legal frameworks and initiatives. As far as the laws are concerned, I think Indian laws are still better than a lot of developed countries of the world. The Indian judicial system can have a delayed outcome therefore, statutory bodies like NCW are needed to step in to suggest amendments in law. In 2020, over 4 lakh cases of crimes against women were reported. While existing laws such as the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 provide a foundation, continuous evaluation and improvement are needed. This includes enhancing implementation, accessibility to justice, and support systems. The NCW advocates ongoing reforms to strengthen protections and ensure a safer environment for women across the country.

Q: What according to you is women’s empowerment? How can an average Indian woman feel empowered? What are the red flags she should be looking for?

A:Woman empowerment, to me, means giving every woman the freedom and opportunity to live her life to the fullest, to dream without boundaries, and to achieve without limitations. It is about ensuring she has the same rights, opportunities, and respect, as anyone else. An average Indian woman can feel empowered through education, financial independence, and a supportive community. Education opens doors to knowledge and opportunities, financial independence gives her control over her life, and a supportive community provides the encouragement and strength to overcome challenges. However, there are red flags she should be aware of. Any form of discrimination or inequality, whether at home, work, or in society, should not be ignored. Domestic violence, emotional or physical, is a critical warning sign. Restrictions on her freedom to make choices, whether it is about her career, education, or personal life, are also red flags. Lastly, a lack of support from her family or community in pursuing her dreams and goals should prompt her to seek help. Empowerment is about creating an environment where women can thrive and be the best versions of themselves, and it is something we must all strive for together.

Q: The recent episodes, be it the Swati Maliwal assault case or the Sandeshkhali incident, have proven that women are not safe anywhere, whether they are rich or poor, popular or lesser known. Your comments.

A: It is unfortunate that women continue to be targeted, irrespective of their status or achievements – successful or not, rich or poor, and regardless of political affiliations. As the chairperson of the National Commission for Women, I feel these incidents reinforce the urgent need for comprehensive societal changes and robust legal measures to ensure the safety and dignity of every woman. We must collectively strive towards creating a society where every woman can thrive without fear of harassment or violence. It is not just a matter of law and order but also about fostering a culture of empathy and respect towards women. We must work towards building a safer and more equitable society for all.

Q: Can you talk about your role as the head of the National Commission for Women and the challenges faced by you in terms of media scrutiny, trolling on virtual platforms or even political bashing.

A: Leading the NCW is a duty that comes with its share of challenges. My role is to fiercely advocate for women’s rights and ensure their voices resonate across every platform. Despite facing media scrutiny, online trolling, and occasional political criticism, our team perseveres with determination and empathy. Ultimately one has to do their job with honesty and grit. As the NCW head, I have to stand by every woman who is in need and comes to the women’s rights panel for justice. Each critique has strengthened my resolve to make a meaningful impact and create a more equitable society. I approach these obstacles with resilience. All of us at the Commission are working for the day where all women can live free from fear and discrimination and women panels would not be needed.

Q: As the head of the prestigious rights body, how do you look at the level of awareness among women regarding their rights? Has it improved over the years?

A: Yes, awareness among women in India regarding their rights has significantly improved over the years. The literacy rate increased from 65.46 per cent in 2011 to 70.3 per cent in 2021. In terms of legal awareness, over 15 million women have been educated through NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) programmes since 2015. Coming to financial inclusion, 23 crore women have Jan Dhan accounts. Besides, we saw a 15 per cent rise in reporting crimes against women from 2015 to 2020. When it comes to economic empowerment, 70 per cent of Mudra Yojana beneficiaries are women.

Q: Do you think we can start women’s rights awareness from school level? For instance, Kerala recently introduced genderneutral images in school textbooks to promote equality, challenging traditional gender roles and stereotypes by showing husbands and fathers working in the kitchen.

A: Absolutely, starting gender awareness from the school level is like planting seeds for a forest of equality! Kids should grow up in environments where they see men leading in cooking and cleaning at home. Why only text books, PT (physical education) teachers in schools should also be women – and there must be equal enthusiasm for inter-school cricket teams for girls. These experiences, both at home and school, break down stereotypes and nurture a generation that sees equality as the norm, paving the way for a brighter, fairer future.

Q: Can you talk about the various women-oriented schemes of the Modi government like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Ujjwala Gas Yojana, Jandhan Yojana and Mudra scheme? Will the Women’s Reservation Bill passed by Parliament be a game-changer?

A: The Modi government’s women-oriented schemes have significantly improved the lives of many women in India. ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao,’ which started in Haryana, has helped improve the sex ratio from 834 girls per 1,000 boys in 2011 to 914 in 2021. Rajasthan also saw improvements, with the ratio rising from 888 to 940 over the same period. These changes show a positive shift in how society views women. The Ujjwala Gas Yojana has transformed lives by providing over 80 million LPG connections, allowing women to move away from harmful wood-fired stoves and improving their health and quality of life. The Mudra Yojana has supported women in business, with around 70 per cent of the loans going to female entrepreneurs, helping them start and grow their own ventures. Indian women are also excelling globally. Women scientists played key roles in the Chandrayaan mission, and the Indian women’s cricket team has achieved great success, inspiring many young girls. The Women’s Reservation Bill has been passed by Parliament, marking a historic step towards greater representation of women in governance. This will ensure women’s voices are heard and contribute to more balanced and inclusive decision-making