New Delhi: The women and child development ministry (WCD) has reset the narrative on women’s rights in India by focusing on women’s reproductive rights, redistribution of gender roles and the recognition of the rights of single women in its draft National Policy for Women, 2016.

“The attitude of women towards themselves has changed which reflects in the draft policy where the focus has shifted from just welfare to welfare with a heavy dose of rights. This policy will define government action towards women for the next 15 to 20 years," WCD minister Maneka Gandhi said on Tuesday.

The draft policy, which comes 15 years since the National Policy for the Empowerment of Women was formulated in 2001, focuses on reproductive rights of women by regulating surrogacy and shifting the onus of family planning from female to male sterilisation.

According to data in the United Nation Development Programme’s latest Human Development Report (HDR) of 2015, India ranks 130 out of 155 countries in the Gender Inequality Index (GII) for 2014, way behind Bangladesh and Pakistan that rank 111 and 121 respectively.

The index measures inequalities on the basis of indicators such as reproductive health measured by maternal mortality ratio and adolescent birth rates, empowerment which is measured by the share of parliamentary seats—just 12.2% of parliamentary seats are held by women in India—and attainment in education, and economic activity calculated by labour market participation rate.

The policy also recognises the need for a social protection mechanism to address vulnerabilities and create opportunities for single women- including widows, separated women, never-married and deserted women. As per Census 2011, 21% of India’s population comprises single women, The Times of India reported.

The report does not take into account some of the key recommendations made by the High Level Committee on the Status of Women in India, which was set up the previous government in 2013 to study the status of women in India since 1989. The committee, which submitted its report in July 2015, had recommended criminalisation of marital rape, decriminalisation of sex work and giving the National Commission of Women the status of civil courts, among other things.

Though women’s rights activists welcomed the move, they said more work needs to be done.

“The women’s movement has been demanding these things for a very long time now. We have done a lot of advocacy and lobbying to make men more responsible in the process of reproduction and we see our efforts finally making a change. However, our other demands like criminalising marital rape or regulating sex work have not been addressed. Thus, there is still a long way to go," said Kamla Bhasin, a feminist activist.

The policy has been made public and the ministry is taking suggestions from various stakeholders along with inter-ministerial consultations before it moves the policy to the cabinet after a period of three months.

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