Sikkim has not just won accolades in the field of tourism and industry. A recent World Bank report has placed the State at the top with regard to rural female labour force participation in the country. Sikkim has undoubtedly achieved remarkable growth, especially in the last two decades, which has been accompanied by very good human development outcomes.
The World Bank Report
The report—Scaling the heights: Social Inclusion and sustainable Development— highlights the role played by a committed state and bureaucracy, which has consistently innovated to ensure social inclusion and sustainable development and positive norms around gender which enabled strong participation of women in development programs. It categorically states that Sikkim stands before Himachal Pradesh in rural female labour force participation thereby giving the State a chance to add another feather to its cap. Corroborating the above claim, Sikkim’s lone Member of Parliament P D Rai in a statement said, ‘The Government of Sikkim, under the stewardship of Chief Minister Pawan Chamling, has initiated several initiatives in social justice, security and empowerment of women. The report is a validation of the great strides achieved by the State in the spheres of women empowerment and gender equality’.
Chandrakala Diyali, prominent social commentator, states that the socio-economic status of women in Sikkim is better than in the rest of the country. ‘In Sikkim, women constitute nearly 47 percent of the total population. Women are not secluded, while instances of infanticide or dowry related deaths have not been reported. And, interestingly, the number of women in government employment is greater than that of men,’ says Diyali. Growing number of rural women have involved themselves in income generating activities like trading of agricultural products, food processing and production of handicrafts and weaving of carpets, thus boosting the local economy and ensuring they are always a part of the mainstream, and do not remain on the periphery.
Pro-active State Government
With a view to improve employment opportunities for women, Sikkim launched a new scheme, Educated Women Unemployed Co-operative Society (EWUCS), administered by the Department of Co-operative Societies. The State Government also has a provision of 30% reservation for women in posts and services to be filled by direct recruitment under the State Government and public sector undertakings. To increase the representation of women in Panchayats, the State Government enhanced the stipulated reservation of one-third seats for women in Panchayats to 40%, and later to 50% in 2011. The percentage of women in Panchayats, which increased from 36% in 2005 to 42% in 2010–11, has gone up to 52% after the 2012 elections. Among other measures implemented by the State Government for the welfare of women include schemes for welfare of destitute women, hostel for working women, special skill development programmes and a widow remarriage scheme. The State Government also set up a Sikkim State Commission for Women in 2001 to safeguard the rights and legal entitlements of women in the State. In 2007, a State Diagnostic Expert Committee was constituted to study and examine critical issues of women’s education, health, environment, income, employment and socio-political participation.
Women in Sikkim have definitely benefitted immensely from the interventions and opportunities provided by the State Government. Their participation in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) increased signifi cantly from 38% in 2008–09 to 59% in 2011–12 and is much higher than the 33% participation mandated under the programme.
The State has achieved great strides in the field of education and health of women as well. The female literacy rate has gone up from 22% in 1981 to 76% in 2011–more than the national female literacy rate of 66%. The female infant mortality rate, at 27 per 1,000 live births in Sikkim, is lower than the national average of 44. Furthermore, a Maternal Death Review (MDR) has been implemented since 2010 with the constitution of MDR Committ ees at the State/district/ block level, with a view to check maternal deaths. However, as Diyali remarks, ‘Sikkimese women are a tenacious lot. They face a lot of trouble
to fetch water from dharas (springs) in vessels which they carry on their backs. Women from the Lepcha and Bhutia communities are known for their legendary skills in weaving and natural medicine. They have always been equal contributors to the growth of Sikkim’. The credit for Sikkim’s development is therefore their credit as much as the State government’s.
Vivek Ghatani is a freelance journalist based in Gangtok
This article first came out in Eclectic Northeast magazine March issue of 2015