New Delhi: Caste and dowry system are hurdles
to gender equality and women empowerment and it was incumbent
upon all to act as agents of change in creating a level
playing field for them, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar on Wednesday
While the deep-rooted caste system was the root cause for
honour killings, the dowry system has led to the girl child
being considered a liability from the day she is born, she
said delivering the Sunanda Bhandare memorial lecture here.
"Any marriage outside the caste is perceived by staunch
proponents of this system as a rebellion which has to be
quelled. This practice must be condemned. Women should be free
to decide the course of their future," the speaker said.
Raising concern over the widely prevalent dowry system,
she stressed the need to eradicate it on a "priority" basis.
The country`s adverse sex ratio is a consequence of the
widely prevalent dowry system and has led to the denial of
decent existence to women, hampered opportunities and impeded
them from realising their full potential, Kumar said.
"It is incumbent upon us as responsible citizens to be
agents of change and play a proactive role in creating a level
playing field for the women of our country," she said.
She felt that though there are several legislations to
safeguard women`s interest, what remains the main challenge
for everyone is "legislating the mindset". It is important to
change the societal outlook towards women.
Kumar expressed her bemusement over "profound
discrimination" among women in well-off societies.
"The more educated, the higher dowry they demand. This is
a sad reality," she lamented, calling for reforms in education
system which also builds good character among all.
The Speaker felt though outwardly women`s status may seem
to be on a par with men, there often exists an unspoken and
invisible barrier that stops them from going further ahead
despite constitution having provisions for a harmonious and
"For it is mistakenly believed that women cannot handle
power. This deeply-ingrained prejudice is the biggest
roadblock in the path to women`s empowerment," she said.
She said the dowry system has led to the girl child being
considered a liability from the day she is born. It has
resulted in female foeticide, female infanticide, neglect and
discrimination against the girl child.
Kumar lamented the role of the sex determination centres
which have illegally flourished on the outskirts of the
She said India was committed to the Beijing Declaration
and Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goal to
promote gender equality.
She also said the concept of gender budgeting has become
the mainstay of government`s policies and programmes.