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The newly formed Jal Shakti Ministry will create 3.75 million jobs for women across the country.
Speaking at the Bloomberg Equality Summit, Smriti Irani, Union Minister of Women and Child Development and Textiles, said the government’s mission is to employ five women each across 750,000 villages to be trained to ensure water quality, maintain water hygiene and turn water into an enterprise.
“Under the Jal Shakti Ministry, there will be massive employment generation for women in the districts identified. At present, we have found water-related challenges in 256 districts. We are involved in training women across these districts,” she added.
On female labour-force participation
India has a female labour force participation rate of 27 percent, which is among the lowest in the world. Talking about steps to improve this scenario, Irani said the government is taking a series of initiatives to empower women.
“One of the biggest challenges for women was access to credit. Through the Jan Dhan Yojana, about 199 million women (out of 370 million accounts) have had their bank accounts opened in the last five years. Similarly, there were 200 million loans disbursed as part of the Mudra scheme. Of this, around 70 percent beneficiaries were women,” she added.
The idea, she said, is to empower women at the grass root level. Talking about an older initiative when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Irani said he had encouraged villages to come as one unit and vote for women leaders in local Panchayats. Wherever women were elected as representatives, those villages got additional government funding.
On formal jobs, Irani said the government has increased the maternity leave to 26 weeks, and it was now the responsibility of companies to ensure that these women are not left behind when it comes to promotions.
In male-dominated professions, Irani said the number of women employed is seeing an increase. Citing the example of chartered accounts, Irani said that from the late 1940s (when Institute of Chartered Accountants of India was set up) till 2014, India only had 50,000 female chartered accountants. "However, that number rose to 75,000 between 2014 and 2019, and is estimated to touch 150,000 over the next five years."
When prodded on the government’s future focus areas, Irani said the unorganised sector has been a cause of concern, despite the higher female labour force participation, as they offered lesser medical benefits and pay.
On safety and health
Irani said the primary objective of the government is to ensure the safety of women and children. "The government has funded setting up of 1,023 fast track courts where all the pending cases relating to safety of women and child can be expedited."
Going forward, she said the government's focus will be on dealing with crimes against women in a more stringent manner. “The perception was that an all women police station was an answer to every challenge. However, we are working towards ensuring that every police station in our country has desk exclusively manned only for the safety of women in that district/area.”
On healthcare, the Women and Child Development Minister said the Ayushman Bharat (health insurance) scheme has ensured that women who have otherwise been reluctant to seek medical care do so without any hesitation.
Under this scheme, the government aims to provide health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh to 50 crore Indians free of cost. This includes families from lower income groups that fall under the socio-economic caste census (SECC) data of 2011.
Citing data, Irani said that within a year of the health insurance scheme’s launch, 530,000 women have been tested for cervical cancer and 300,000 for breast cancer and are being treated.