Maneka Gandhi on Tuesday took to social media through the Ministry of Women and Child Development's Facebook page encouraging users to send their questions. Over the next two hours, she answered many of the pertinent ones.
Throughout the session, Maneka Gandhi was informative and also firm in her responses, refusing to entertain trolls but also dropping pearls of witty wisdom. When asked if there could be a provision made for women writing civil service exams to be given centres in their towns, since they have children, Gandhi said, "Why not ask the fathers to look after the children while you go for the exam? After all that is the meaning of family." Another commentator asked about lack of transparency and corruption and what is the government doing for enabling access programmes meant for them. Gandhi said that the government cannot do everything, "we can use the social media, we can make films and run ads on radio and TV. But, at the end of the day, instead of considering government as apart from yourself, if you and people like you start spreading the programmes of each ministry among people who cannot access computers and cellphones, you will do India a great service."
As of Wednesday, Maneka's Ask Me Anything (AMA) had received 891 comments/questions. At Firstpost, we have curated a few of the important questions and responses. (Questions have been edited for clarity.)
Q. Please tell us about the empowerment of women politicians at grassroot level, with the ministry focusing to train two lakh women politicians at zilla parishad level. How will their training be done and by when do we expect the programme to begin? (Tania Ameer)
This is the first programme of its kind. I have always felt that the Panchayati Raj empowered women to the extent of making two lakh of them pradhans of villages. And yet these women never went beyond that. One of the mian reasons is that, after they become pradhans, they don't know what to do so they abrogate their responsibilities and power and hand it over to their husbands or male elders. As a result, they never move up the political ladder. No MLAs, no MPs come from this pool. So NCW (National Commission for Women) has been asked to train these two lakh pradhans in several things: how to administer, access money, look after the building of infrastructure, etc.
Q. You have recently made an awareness campaign about sexual harassment at workplace but I want to ask you how transparent the system is. If it happens at a government organisation and a Class 1 officer is involved, all system and ICC stop working. (Dharaa Patel)
Every government and private organisation with 10 workers has to have a harassment committee. Has your organisation got one. If not please complain at email@example.com and we will take it up. I have had a handbook made which explains what is to be done by the committee.This is available on the website wcd.nic.in . Print it out and give it to all the women who are working in some company or government department
Q. There have been huge budget cuts for schemes which fund govt centers and short stay homes for widows in India. Does the WCD ministry plan to take up this issue and address it? Details of Budget cuts. (Tania Ameer)
The budget has been restored. In fact we are giving a lot more money to institutions and for the first time a massive exercise to check on each institution has started. We will also be building the largest widows' home in Mathura.
Q. Has there been any forward movement from the home ministry on your proposal to register names of sexual offenders including the juvenile? (Sreeparna C. Mukhuty)
I have asked the home ministry to make a national register of sexual offenders. I have not heard back from them as yet. But, if our success rate of getting what we ask for still holds, this will probably be done.
Q. What will be done to ensure timely justice for women in the cases of crime against women which are pending in different courts? Isn't it possible to fasten the pace of legal proceedings? (Ujjwal Pathak)
Let me ask the law minister on what can be done. The problem is that every fast track court for a specific minority or problem quickly becomes swamped and then becomes as slow as any other court.
Hopefully when the one stop centres come up all over, the police, the doctors and the lawyers provided will make cases that go through easily as all the evidence will be recorded properly.
Q. I have a suggestion for women empowerment. I hope you would make it a part of flagship programme for the cause. Rani Laxmi Bai was a role model with self integrity. It was she who refused to abolish her state for the British. She fought until death. Why don't we start self-defence training for Indian women in her honour to give them more power? Mere financial integrity will not pave the cause so far. (Abhishek Khatri)
I think it is an excellent idea to make it compulsory to start self-defence training for women in all schools. I will ask the HRD minister if she can put it in.
Q. Any plans for women for entrepreneurship and self employment? Is the Ministry considering any specific program to empower, train and enable entrepreneurship? Women make for a major workforce in our country. (Sushma Morthania)
I have a bank called Rashtriya Mahila Kosh. We give money to women to start enterprises at 6 percent (interest). We also give the same money to self help groups. I have a programme called STEP to train 200 women at a time to earn money. I am also starting something called Women of India in which we help market any product made by any woman anywhere in India - in collaboration with eBay. Any more suggestions are welcome as this is the right way to go.
Q. What is your stand on misuse of IPC Section 498A (Dowry law)? I am asking you this question because innocent elderly parents and female relatives of the husband are also victims of the misuse of this law. (Chandrakant Mane)
While it is true that a minuscule number of women are misusing this law, it is the only protection that women have and it would be a shame to make every woman defenceless. Every law is misused . That's why we have courts and judges.
Q. Why can't the government take any hard steps about stopping violence against women? What's the next step for women safety? (Monster Nil)
The government has taken both hard and soft steps: the Juvenile Justice Bill brings more criminals into the ambit of the police. In two months, each cellphone will have a panic button - both new and old machines. There are 10 one stop centres for women affected by violence so far and my aim is to have 660. Seven states and all the UTs have made 33 percent women reservations in the police which is something I asked for from Day 1 in my ministry. We are now putting one Special Mahila Police Volunteer in each village whose job it will be to report any crime against women - sometimes even before it has happened.
Go to my Twitter handle @ministrywcd and see all the other initiatives.
Q. What's your strategy or plan to fight malnutrition through the micro-nutrient initiatives? Most programmes fighting hunger and malnutrition are still neglected (Mahesh RV)
Very important question. This is the year that we start a mission to tackle it. I am working on food changes, delivery changes, training of anganvadis and real time monitoring.
Q. When will our country become the safest place for women? (Pappu Gupta)
It depends on the education we get in schools and at home. While I cannot do much about the home education except make laws, we have started something called gender champions in every school. These are annual prizes that will be given in each class to the young boy who does the most to look after, value and champion the cause of his female counterparts. Gender equality is important to instill in schools.
Q. In the last budget, the union government drastically reduced allocation in the ICDS scheme, I keep reading about the poor state of affairs in various anganwadis due to lack of funds and irregularity in dispersal of budgetary allocation. You have been vocal about this issue. Will your ministry be giving any formal deputation to the finance ministry to give sizable grant in the 2016 budget?
Madam, anganwadi centers are poor man's creche. Many parents in village leave their wards in these centers, before leaving for work. Many centers work out of community-held properties or rented premises which are in a poor shape. Madam let me know, if there is any provision under 'Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana' to build permanent structures for anganwadi centers. If yes, then has your ministry made any guidelines regarding children-friendly facilities in such center?
I want to know if there is any 'assessment team' or 'team of experts/counselors' in the district or state level who assist or monitor anganwadi workers on a periodic basis and asses their performance. (Sudeep Kumar Dey)
I am making 50,000 more anganvadi centres this year and integrating their building with MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). We are also starting a strong creche scheme. Yes, it is important to have a team of people to assess the centres. The CWCs (Child Welfare Committees) should be asked. We are making something new called the Women's Welfare Committees and maybe we can ask them as well
Q. What is your ministry's concrete step taken till now to eradicate child labour mercilessly prevailing in India? Kindly start a nation-wide movement or plan or campaign to stop this inhuman practice. There are many kids out there forced to beg on streets, tortured in cottage industries, etc. (Vishwesh Srinivasan)
There is a bill coming up in the labour ministry. But this is an issue that needs to be looked at comprehensively. Maybe the children are working after school, or for their parents.... then what ? We need to see that children are not trafficked, exploited or made to work instead of school.