The new Parliamentary committee on women’s empowerment is an all-woman affair, a fact many of its members call “shocking”. They said the committee has earlier always had men as members, and they were enthusiastic participants in the deliberations.
BJP MP Locket Chatterjee defended composition of the committee and said if women such as Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani and former External Affairs Minister, late Sushma Swaraj, can hold powerful Cabinet posts, women MPs are enough to talk about women’s empowerment.
While the committee has traditionally been dominated by women, complete absence of men is a new development. The committee, notified earlier this month, has 30 members - 20 from Lok Sabha and 10 from the Upper House - and is chaired by BJP’s Heena Gavit.
Parliamentary committees are usually constituted for a period of one year, or until they fulfill their mandate, as happens for select committees.
NCP MP Vandana Chavan, member of the present committee and who has been part of previous panels, said: “It is shocking. Normally there are some male members...there has to be some male members because women’s issues are not just women’s issues - they are social issues. Men have to address them just as much as women, and unless men are equally involved there is no point, because it really is an issue of the male mindset. It cannot be addressed by women alone.”
In fact, she proposed reservation for men in the committee to “make it effective - may be 33 per cent (reservation for men)”.
Rajya Sabha MPs Prabhat Jha, Anubhav Mohanty (now in Lok Sabha) and A V Swamy have been members of this committee in the past, and Chavan remembered them as enthusiastic participants.
TMC’s Satabdi Roy, another member, said is little point if men, who are a “part of the problem”, are not a part of the solution. Roy said said even though the panel deals with women’s issues, that issue is there not just because of women. “The problem is how men look at things - half the battle is to make men understand those issues. Men need to understand our problems so that we can solve them. Unless they become a part of the solution, I do not think it can work,” she said.
Committee chairperson Gavit was not available for a comment; she is currently hospitalised in Nandurbar, Maharashtra.
Congress’s Chhaya Verma asked why in a day and age when women do not have a problem consulting male gynaecologists men not be a part of a committee on women’s empowerment. “But you really need to ask this to the people who constituted the committee,” she said.
BJP’s Chatterjee, who is also president of the party’s women’s wing in West Bengal, said, “There are 78 women MPs in Parliament and we are enough to deal with the issue (of women’s empowerment). I am not saying male members are not required - that is how social balance is struck - but in this issue women would connect better with women, understand their issues and their realities better, and solve those problems.”