NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on India's female politicians to lead development efforts by empowering themselves with technology and knowledge, but remained silent on long-standing demands by women for a stronger voice in parliament.
In the world's largest democracy, women hold only 12 percent of seats in the lower and upper houses of parliament combined, says the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) - just over half the global average of 22.4 percent.
After years of lobbying by activists, a bill - which provides for one-third of the seats in national and state assemblies to be reserved for women - was passed by the upper house in 2010. Yet it has faced vehement resistance from male lawmakers and has failed to be tabled in the lower house.
Addressing a conference of female legislators, Modi did not directly mention his 2014 election pledge to pass the bill, but suggested that changing the make-up of parliament would not be enough to bring gender parity in politics.
"We must think beyond women's development and move towards women-led development," Modi told delegates on Sunday. "You will have to make yourself effective. You will have to present issues with facts and figures. Mere changes in the system will not suffice."
Campaigners say among the numerous women's issues that need to be addressed in India, one of the most important is to ensure that women have a voice in the highest offices of power.
A stronger voice for women at the top would trickle down and bring policies and laws which would help ordinary women fight abuse, discrimination and inequality.
Modi told the women parliamentarians they should groom female leadership at a grassroots level and seek to overcome "jealousy" and "competition" from other women in the same field.
"Politics is a game of competition but when the feeling of jealousy dominates in competition, then you cannot grow," said Modi.
"Rather if you allow others to come up, you will go high. A kind of pyramid-like structure comes up then," he added.
The IPU ranks India's representation of women in national parliament well below neighbouring states such as Pakistan, which has 21 percent female representation, Afghanistan with 28 percent, and Bangladesh with 20 percent.
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla, Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)
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