Congress President Sonia Gandhi today used the occasion of the International Women's Day to seek early passage of the "long-awaited" Women Reservation Bill, asking the government to "give us women our legitimate due".
Addressing the Lok Sabha where women members were allowed to speak on women's issues by Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Gandhi attacked the government over its 'maximum governance' slogan, saying this also meant expanding the base of disagreement without inviting retribution, a reference to its crackdown on several NGOs.
Criticising the law in some BJP-ruled states like Haryana and Rajasthan which makes minimum educational qualification necessary to contest local elections, the Congress chief said it denied a large number of women from SC/ST groups to exercise their constitutional rights and called for "urgent legislative attention" to undo it.
Gandhi, who was the first member to speak on the issue of women empowerment, highlighted her party's role on the issue, saying the Congress gave the country the first woman Prime Minister, the first woman President and first woman Speaker.
She noted that it was due to Rajiv Gandhi's vision that women accounted today for over 40 per cent of elected local body and panchayat posts.
Gandhi then took a dig at the government over a host of issues including its slogan of 'maximum governance and minimum government'.
"Maximum governance is more than just accelerated pace of economic growth. It is also expanding the base of disagreement without inviting retribution or retaliation. Surely, maximum governance does not mean to have double standards in dealing with women's rights.
"Surely, maximum governance also means to give us women our legitimate due -- the long awaited women's reservation bill," Gandhi said and told Speaker Sumitra Mahajan that "we can expect in you a strong ally..."
Though she did not make a direct reference to the government's crackdown on some NGOs, her reference to it was obvious as she sought giving "freedom" to the civil society, NGOs and activists.
She also referred to social evils like discrimination against girl child, foeticide and dowry and pitched for male colleagues' cooperation in confronting these challenges.
It was Congress, she said, that had pledged itself to the woman's voting rights when the country became independent.
What other MPS said:
Sasikala Pushpa (AIADMK) said while the women's reservation issue has got just lip sympathy so far, women continue to be discriminated and harassed.
Stating that most effective form of empowerment was participation in decision-making, she went on to list the women-friendly moves by the Tamil Nadu government.
Ambika Soni: UPA just did not pass the women's reservation bill in the Upper House but also enacted domestic violence bill and created an all-women's banks which the BJP-led government was "abandoning".
She also said that the Rs 1000 crore for Nirbhaya fund is being given back instead of enhancing it and added that the Budget for 2016-17 does not have any proposal for women.
Prime Minister's speech at the conference of women legislators did not have a word on women's reservation, she said.
Kumari Selja: Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not refer to the women's reservation bill during the recent two-day women conference. "The two-day conference was just tokenism," she said.
While several political parties have women as Presidents, the ruling BJP has never had any woman president, she added.
Noting that women are referred as Durga and Lakshmi, Selja said: "Don't make women God, let only women be women".
Another senior Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury asked male MPs in the House to speak for women and said it was only former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who had empowered women by giving them reservation in panchayati raj institutions.
Women were "not an object of entertainment ... We are not perks of your jobs," she said while saluting women like the mothers of Nirbhaya and Rohith Vemula who are fighting for rights.