India is facing “very very big” challenges in gender justice, a top UN Women official has said, adding that the government has “prioritised” women’s issues in its policies and programmes but there is need for greater momentum. Lakshmi Puri, assistant secretary-general of the United Nations and deputy executive director of UN Women, called for setting up special courts for hearing cases of violence against women, and providing gender responsive training to police. She said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has prioritised women issues in his policies and programmes. “He (Modi) has prioritised it (gender equality and gender issues) in every programme, every mission that he has launched. He has put gender equality in the middle of that. Jan Dhan Yojana is a very big win for women. In Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, he is highlighting more gender related issues. Similarly, Skills India, Digital India…” she told PTI. Considered a guiding force in driving the women related agenda of the UN, Puri said, “We would of course like to see greater momentum in regard to some of these initiatives going forward.” Puri, who was acting head of UN Women from March to August 2013, noted that the challenges being faced by India in the arena of women equality and gender justice are “very very big”. In addition to addressing the challenges being faced by women in cities, she underscored the need for safety of women in rural areas in India. “Rural women face different types of violence and the more disadvantaged amongst them, marginalised amongst them, the poorest face different types of violence. So that needs to be addressed. The number, the scale, the scope of the challenges are so big that sometimes the impact cannot be seen immediately,” she said. Despite India making considerable progress in the last 70 years, the country is still facing the challenge of patriarchal social and cultural norms that hold back women, she rued.
There is still a high-level of girl aversion and boy preference which has led to sex selection, against which Prime Minister Modi launched the “beti bachao, beti padhao” campaign, she added. “We have progressed considerably in the last 70 years. Whether you’re looking at women’s economic empowerment, whether you’re looking at consciousness about gender equality and women’s empowerment. Whether you’re looking at political participation and leadership, there is some progress,” she said. “On this whole issue of violence against women, what I see as progress is the consciousness and people recognising particularly domestic violence and its criminalisation. That’s a really big,” Puri said in response to a question. While women have made considerable progress in education field, but translating that to their participation in formal work force and access to finance has been disturbing, she said.
Now preparing to leave the UN Women to join her husband Hardeep Puri, the Union Minister of State with Independent Charge in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, next month, Lakshmi Puri said there is need for greater representation of women in the Parliament and judiciary. She joined the UN 14 years ago through the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) as Director of the flagship Division of Trade in Goods, Services and Commodities of UNCTAD and then as Acting Deputy Secretary- General.