The 17th Memorial Lecture

Every year, since its inception, the Foundation invites an eminent person to deliver a lecture on the subject of women and human rights. Smt. Meira Kumar, Hon'ble Speaker, Lok Sabha delivered the Seventeenth Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture on "Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Barriers to Women's Empowerment' on 9th November, 2011 at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.

Smt. Meira Kumar said that these days the status of women is apparently at per with that of men. However, there exists an invisible barrier to their empowerment. Our Constitution guarantees Fundamental Rights to every citizen without discrimination on the basis of sex, caste, creed or race. We are among the very first democracies in the world to adopt universal adult franchise and equal rights to contest elections to legislative bodies. And it goes to the credit of women voters that around 49% of the women electorate voted in the 15th Lok Sabha elections in 2009. In 15th Lok Sabha, the number of elected women members has increased to 59 as against 22 in the first Lok Sabha. Similarly, in Rajya Sabha their number has increased from 15 in 1952 to the present strength of 26. Representation of women in Panchayati Raj institutions has brought them into the forefront of development. Today, we have more than 1.2 million women elected representatives in local bodies. Some states have gone beyond the mandated 33 per cent and provided for more reservation for women in local bodies. However, prevailing socio-cultural norms, practices and prejudices continue to hamper gender equality.

The caste system and the dowry tradition are two major social issues we have to address to make sure that discrimination against women stops. The caste system is the root cause of honour killing and dowry system is responsible for female foeticide, said Meira Kumar.

Education of women is a essential for ensuring gender equality. Special attention is to be paid to women living in rural areas, especially to women belonging to disadvantaged sections. Prejudices against women can be seen from their low literacy rate. The gap between the male literacy rate. The gap between the male literacy rate of 82.14 per cent and the female literacy rate of 65.45 per cent is about 17 per cent. Labour markets in industry and service sectors are also male dominated. The goal of development in a society can be achieved only if the women do not suffer from exclusion, deprivation and marginalization.

Hon'ble Shri Justice A.K.Sikri, Acting Chief Justice, Delhi high Court presided over the meeting which was also addressed by Hon'ble Shri Justice P.Sathasivam, Judge ,Supreme Court of India.