Women empowerment a priority

Shimla: Though declining female sex ratio remains a major cause of concern, the Himachal government has put women empowerment on high priority and proposed to make 50 percent reservation mandatory in all local governance bodies, both urban and rural.

Presently women representative have 33 reservations in Panchayati Raj Insititutions and urban local bodies and are contributing significantly to the developmental process. Chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, after taking over the reigns of power at the turn of the year announced that the women reservation in these bodies would be enhanced to 50 percent.

To improve female sex ratio, the government has decided to act tough on sex determination cases and check female foeticide. Regular checks at various clinics have resulted in affirmative action and many ultrasound machines have been sealed for want of proper staff and violations of Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act laws. Awareness campaigns to change the psyche of the people and incentives to rear the girl child are being offered for poor and below poverty line (BPL) families.

For the welfare of poor, helpless, widows and old aged women various schemes are being implemented costing the state exchequer Rs 30 crore. At the outset social security pension for 68,455 widows was raised from Rs 200 to Rs 300 per month. A marriage grant of Rs 11,000 for poor and helpless girls, for a widow remarriage Rs 25,000 grant and a financial assistance of Rs 1000 per year to widows, divorcee and helpless women to bear expenses of two children besides other assistance is being provided, a government spokesman stated.

Under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), the government is operating 18248 Anganwari centres that is providing nutritious diet to about 90,000 women, 4.27 children of under 6 years age and 88,000 young girls. In 2008-09 Rs 40 crore would be spent on the scheme, which also covers pre-school education for about 1.64 children in the 3 to 6 years age bracket, the spokesman said. As many as 35,000 women are employed as anganwari workers and another 1300 posts are to be filled soon.

Self help groups (SHG) have done a commendable job for women empowerment as there are more than 18,500 SHGs functioning in the state which have a membership of more than 2.16 women. The accumulated income generated by these groups exceeds Rs 32 crore.

For facilitating employment opportunities, 14 working women hostels have been set i[ and another hostel with a budget outlay of Rs 6.37 crore is proposed to be constructed at Baddi.

To protect the rights of working women and to check exploitation at workplaces, Female Grievances Redressal Committees have been constituted in all government and allied offices. A gender budgeting cell would soon be set up in every department, the spokesman said.

Compare to government male employees, women enjoy more days off for the new government declared Raksha Bandhan and Bhaiya Dooj along with one for Karwachauth as holidays for women employees.

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