15th October 2018
Answer questions in NOT MORE than 200 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.
Links are provided for reference. You can also use the Internet fruitfully to further enhance and strengthen your answers.
GS II- SOCIAL-WOMEN
Q1. In the light of the recent complaint about sexual harassment at workplace made by many women, suggest what steps can be taken to make workplaces safe for women in India.
- An obvious starting point is to implement, in earnest, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which superseded the earlier 1997 Vishakha guidelines. Further, we need to broaden our reading of the “workplace”, to include the field when a female employ travels with her colleague on assignment, or even a co-worker’s vehicle. Organisations must provide safe transport for women on late shifts. As the Network of Women in Media, India said in its statement, editors must ensure that stories are not privileged over the safety of their staff.
- Second, there is an urgent need for effective internal complaint committees (ICCs). While setting up these committees, organisations must be mindful of internal power structures that often load the dice in favour of those wielding more power. The key word, however, is “effective”. Workplaces that foster environments that are hostile to women who speak up render an ICC meaningless. Very often, those who complain about their discomfort are readily branded “troublesome”, “fussy” or “thin-skinned”, discouraging others from raising similar concern. #Metoo is perhaps the antithesis of due process – but conversely, it is by strengthening due process that we can even begin to address this crisis institutionally.
- The spate of reactions from some (usually male) quarters to the allegations that have surfaced now, suggesting that the women “trivialise” more aggravated cases of sexual harassment involving physical violence, is a stark indication that we still have a long way to go in understanding what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. This, despite the fact that sexual harassment – even by law – is defined as not just “physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures” but also “making sexually coloured remarks” or “any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature”. Harassment comes in many forms and varying intensities. Dismissing some of it as “harmless flirting” or as “jest” trivialises the issue. Raising it doesn’t.
- Without doubt, there is a need for proactive sensitisation, even within the “all-knowing” media. The 2013 Act lists organising regular workshops and awareness programmes as part of the employers’ duties. But Indian workplaces – not just newsrooms – are utterly inadequate on this front.
GS II- SOCIAL-WOMEN
Q2. Discuss the various problems faced by women working in the agriculture sector in India.
- According to Oxfam India, women are responsible for about 60-80% of food and 90% of dairy production, respectively. The work by women farmers, in crop cultivation, livestock management or at home, often goes unnoticed. Attempts by the government to impart them training in poultry, apiculture and rural handicrafts is trivial given their large numbers. In order to sustain women’s interest in farming and also their uplift, there must be a vision backed by an appropriate policy and doable action plans.
- The Agriculture Census (2010-11) shows that out of an estimated 118.7 million cultivators, 30.3% were females. Similarly,out of an estimated 144.3 million agricultural labourers, 42.6% were females. In terms of ownership of operational holdings, the latest Agriculture Census (2015-16) is startling. Out of a total 146 million operational holdings, the percentage share of female operational holders is 13.87% (20.25 million), a nearly one percentage increase over five years. While the “feminisation of agriculture” is taking place at a fast pace, the government has yet to gear up to address the challenges that women farmers and labourers face.
- The biggest challenge is the powerlessness of women in terms of claiming ownership of the land they have been cultivating. In Census 2015, almost 86% of women farmers are devoid of this property right in land perhaps on account of the patriarchal set up in our society. Notably, a lack of ownership of land does not allow women farmers to approach banks for institutional loans as banks usually consider land as collateral.
- Research worldwide shows that women with access to secure land, formal credit and access to market have greater propensity in making investments in improving harvest, increasing productivity, and improving household food security and nutrition. Provision of credit without collateral under the micro-finance initiative of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development should be encouraged. Better access to credit, technology, and provision of entrepreneurship abilities will further boost women’s confidence and help them gain recognition as farmers. As of now, women farmers have hardly any representation in society and are nowhere discernible in farmers’ organisations or in occasional protests. They are the invisible workers without which the agricultural economy is hard to grow.
- Second, land holdings have doubled over the years with the result that the average size of farms has shrunk. Therefore, a majority of farmers fall under the small and marginal category, having less than 2 ha of land – a category that, undisputedly, includes women farmers. A declining size of land holdings may act as a deterrent due to lower net returns earned and technology adoption. The possibility of collective farming can be encouraged to make women self-reliant. Training and skills imparted to women as has been done by some self-help groups and cooperative-based dairy activities (Saras in Rajasthan and Amul in Gujarat). These can be explored further through farmer producer organisations. Moreover, government flagship schemes such as the National Food Security Mission, Sub-mission on Seed and Planting Material and the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana must include women-centric strategies and dedicated expenditure.
- Third, female cultivators and labourers generally perform labour-intensive tasks (hoeing, grass cutting, weeding, picking, cotton stick collection, looking after livestock). In addition to working on the farm, they have household and familial responsibilities. Despite more work (paid and unpaid) for longer hours when compared to male farmers, women farmers can neither make any claim on output nor ask for a higher wage rate. An increased work burden with lower compensation is a key factor responsible for their marginalisation. It is important to have gender-friendly tools and machinery for various farm operations. Most farm machinery is difficult for women to operate. Manufacturers should be incentivised to come up with better solutions. Farm machinery banks and custom hiring centres promoted by many State governments can be roped in to provide subsidised rental services to women farmers.
- Last, when compared to men, women generally have less access to resources and modern inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) to make farming more productive. The Food and Agriculture Organisation says that equalising access to productive resources for female and male farmers could increase agricultural output in developing countries by as much as 2.5% to 4%. Krishi Vigyan Kendras in every district can be assigned an additional task to educate and train women farmers about innovative technology along with extension services.
- As more women are getting into farming, the foremost task for their sustenance is to assign property rights in land. Once women farmers are listed as primary earners and owners of land assets, acceptance will ensue and their activities will expand to acquiring loans, deciding the crops to be grown using appropriate technology and machines, and disposing of produce to village traders or in wholesale markets, thus elevating their place as real and visible farmers.
GS II- GOVERNANCE
Q3. Discuss the importance of policy and legislative impact assessment (PLIA) framework for India
- Legislation and policies in the country are often passed with inadequate scrutiny and assessment. Increasingly, the ‘rush towards law’ results in policies and legal frameworks that are mostly reactive and seek to offer quick-fix solutions to complex problems. As a result, both law-makers and citizens are frequently blindsided by the unanticipated impact of these moves and the laws often run aground on issues of implementation.
- Law-making in India is still largely conducted in silos which ensures that there is little consciousness of how these might potentially impact, either directly or indirectly, aspects of the economy, ecology, development and society in ways that might be wholly unintended by their framers.
- This lack of consciousness stems from multiple causes, including the nature of political economy in India, the lack of a formal assessment structure for these laws and rules and the increasing complexity of law-making in today’s diverse and interconnected societies. Take for example, the legal framework that aims to protect our biological resources – the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 (BDA). In addition to the fact that awareness of the BDA’s provisions is extremely limited among the judiciary and the executive, the provisions of the act are so contradictory that conservation, use and development action have almost come to a standstill.
- The idea of legislative impact assessments is slowly getting traction around the world, since there is widespread acceptance of the idea that laws and rules need to be comprehensively analysed prior to their enactment so as to minimise such negative externalities, or at the very least, to identify them.
- Given the current scenario, the need of the hour is an impact assessment that focuses on policy and legal frameworks before they are passed. Countries like Kenya and Finland have mechanisms in place for the assessment of regulatory and legislative proposals as an essential part of their legislative process.
- Policy and legislative impact assessment (PLIA) framework for India should be submitted and released to the public along with every proposed Bill. At a minimum, a framework would (a) identify the policy problem, its root cause and the need for action; (b) benchmark it against available alternatives; (c) conduct stakeholder meetings and identify potential impact; and d) pre-empt possible conflicts by identifying and planning for the mitigation of any and all negative effects of taking such an action..
- There are, of course important caveats. A PLIA should be a fundamentally iterative process that seeks to methodically apply a framework that assesses policies and laws at a granular level before they are put into place. Moreover, we should be wary of the manner in which the costs and benefits of proposed legislation and policies are identified – for example, laws have persistently sought to undervalue ecosystem services as well as indigenous peoples’ rights.
- Establishing and following a PLIA framework in both letter and spirit would allow us to identify optimal law and policy changes and ensure that preferred options are those that are economically feasible, operationally viable, and socially acceptable, among several other considerations. Above all, such a framework would promote transparent and democratic law-making in the country and allow citizens to understand and debate trade-offs created by such laws even before they are formalised.