NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – On the eve of elections in Delhi, women's rights activists called on political parties on Tuesday to commit to a “Womanifesto” - a gender-sensitive agenda – to combat rising crimes against women in the Indian capital.
The gang rape and murder of a physiotherapy trainee in New Delhi last December jolted many usually apathetic urban Indians into joining street protests and sparked national discussion about how prevalent violence against women is in largely patriarchal Indian society.
Almost one year on, activists say political parties - which have been campaigning for seats in the Dec. 4 local polls - have failed adequately to address the concerns of women living in a city which has gained the unsavoury reputation of being India's “rape capital”.
“The reason that this is important is that the existing manifestos are deeply inadequate. Why did everyone come out onto the streets a year ago? Because enough was not being done,” Karuna Nundy, a supreme court lawyer who is backing the 'Womanifesto',” told the NDTV news channel.
“This is why so many leaders in the woman's movement have got together to produce this 'Womanifesto' to say to political parties 'If you are going to ask for votes on the basis of gender, then you must commit to something concrete'.”
The “Womanifesto” is backed by over 50 leading women's rights activists in India and campaign group avaaz.org .
The number of rapes in the country rose by almost 3 percent to 24,923 in 2012, the National Crimes Records Bureau says, of which Delhi reported 706 – the most in any Indian city.
Some progress has been made since the outburst of anger over the Delhi gang rape.
A tough new “anti-rape law” has been enacted, fast-track courts have been set up to try gender crimes quickly, more women are being recruited to the police force and a fund has been established to make public spaces safer.
But a recent opinion poll by avaaz.org and the Hindustan Times found that 60 percent of women in the capital felt unsafe and 93 percent of voters wanted tackling violence against women to be a priority for the new government.
Activists say pledges to improve women's safety made by the three main parties contesting the Delhi elections – the ruling Congress Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the newly formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) - have been token gestures.
They say the “Womanifesto” offers a comprehensive six-point plan which is crucial to protecting the freedom and safety of Delhi's millions of women and girls.
First, it calls on candidates to pledge to develop a well-funded public education campaign in schools and through radio, television and SMS services to challenge the mindsets behind violence against women.
Second, it asks political parties to ensure that each government agency produces a detailed action plan – including information on infrastructure, personnel, training and funds - on how to implement and enforce laws pertaining to women.
Third, it calls for a public protocol to be drawn up to make police more responsive to gender crimes. This would mean enforcing penalties on police who do not investigate crimes, increasing the number of police patrolling the streets and creating rape crisis response teams.
The “Womanifesto” also calls for more fast-track courts for serious offences against women and for one-stop 24-hour crisis centres in hospitals to provide medical and psychological support to victims.
Finally, it calls for better infrastructure to make women feel safer in the city such as building more night shelters, creches and women's toilets and expanding bus and underground train services.
The Congress Party's leader in New Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, has endorsed the “Womanifesto” and activists are urging BJP leader Harsh Vardhan and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal to follow suit.
“With nearly all voters calling the protection of woman an election issue, Sheila Dikshit is the first candidate to endorse the 'Womanifesto',” said Ricken Patel, Avaaz's Executive Director.
“Since this manifesto is the best way to cut the rhetoric and assure voters of meaningful action, the only question now is, what are Arvind Kejriwal and Harsh Vardhan waiting for?”