Bettering women’s lives a social investment: Irani

Improving lives of women should be seen as social investment, women & child development and textiles minister Smriti Irani said in an interaction with ET Now’s Nayantara Rai at The Economic Times Global Business Summit on Saturday. Edited excerpts:

What are your plans for this year to address gender disparity?

Earlier, the development of women and children was seen as social expenditure, but under the PM (Narendra Modi), it has changed. I would like it to be seen as social investment. There has to be a life cycle approach, starting with the birth of a child, and nutrition, vaccinations are an important part of that. This includes access to educational institutes and encouraging women to compete with men on an equal footing. This is what the government is trying to do. It is myopic to say that one has to start helping women when they reach a certain age… you cannot start empowering women from the age of 18 or 21 alone, say, by promoting businesses or giving loans. There has to be a life cycle approach to the way we look at women-led development.

What are the big policy reforms?

Everyone presumes this to be an era of big ideas, but god is in the details. The PM wanted us to focus on onestop shelters for women across the country, and we have actually overshot the target. When the boss gives us a deadline, it is incumbent upon us that we exceed the expectations. The PM’s impetus has always been on improving the lives of women and children. Now there are 700 women shelters across districts in the country. All Mahila police station is important, and I was of the opinion why not a separate help desk for women in every police station. I am happy that my senior colleague and leader Amit Shah has accepted this proposal and sanctioned it, and has also set administrative protocols to ensure the help desks are set up as soon as possible.

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You will also have to employ more women to service these centres. How do you ensure safe working environment for them?

I think digital governance, one of our focal points, will work towards providing safe and secure workplaces for women. Nearly 12,000 forensic kits under Nirbhaya scheme have already been given. Over a thousand fasttrack courts have come up across the country after mapping the places with the highest number of cases against women and children. There has been a conscious effort to improve the lives of women and children. We are looking at women-led development, women as enablers. I think apart from physical security, changes in legislation, economic empowerment of women is also important. Nearly 150 million women have received micro credits to start their businesses.

There has been a lot of talk about the inequality index. Have you done your own study?

It is a disservice to the country if the data assessment is done on partial lines, and not on relevant data. If you look at the country’s MMR (maternal mortality ratio), it is way ahead of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) deadlines. There are global agencies that look at health parameters only from the prism of maternal mortality rate. No other aspect matters. When we were calculated on the global equality index recently, we were assessed on an MMR of 174 when we are actually at 122. We told them they were wrong. They sent us a link which again showed us as having an MMR of 158. We pointed this to them again. They have said they will correct it next year. The other factors that hamper the positioning of the country is the way they look at economic empowerment of women. We are steadfastly engaging with global agencies that comment on India’s health parameters. Even when they look at economic empowerment of women they consider only those who are in labour. What about the hundreds of women who own small businesses and what about those women who are part of the 59 lakh self-help groups? It is essential they get counted too.

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