In a first-of-its-kind initiative by the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly, one day – September 22 — has been set aside for women legislators to speak and raise women-centric issues in the House, which convenes on Monday for the five-day monsoon session.
This was decided at the all-party and business advisory committee meetings on Sunday. The move comes at a time when the Opposition is all set to raise the issue of women’s security in the state in the backdrop of the recent incident of alleged rape and murder of two Dalit sisters in Lakhimpur Kheri.
“On September 22, we will give an opportunity to the women MLAs to speak. This is something which no other legislative assembly in the country has done… The time after the Question Hour will be reserved for discussion by the women MLAs,” Assembly Speaker Satish Mahana told mediapersons on Sunday.
There are only 47 women MLAs in the 403-member UP Legislative Assembly, and out of which 22 are first-timers.
The concern that women legislators are hesitant to speak in the male-dominated Assembly was raised by them during their interaction with the Speaker as part of an initiative to “develop a better rapport” with the MLAs and for “better functioning” of the House.
About a month and a half ago, Speaker Mahana had launched an exercise wherein he would interact with group legislators according to their professional degrees, gender and legislative stints for exchanging ideas and experiences without the constraint of party whips and ideologies.
“When I met women MLAs and listened to their issues, I realised that some of them become uncomfortable when male members start speaking. I had then assured them to set aside a day for women legislators to speak,” Mahana added.
According to a senior official, the Question Hour would be taken up as usual on September 22 since the questions are set aside for each day. “After the Question Hour, the remaining of the day’s proceedings will be for women legislators and women issues… In future too, one day could be dedicated to one group of MLAs or issues in this manner,” the official added.
Welcoming the decision, women MLAs said they were eager to see the response of their male counterparts and how they react when they raise issues.
“It is a constructive step towards women empowerment… While Assembly is a place to raise issues of our constituencies, many women MLAs raise the issues, while some could not. Therefore, this arrangement will give an opportunity to all women MLAs, who are small in numbers in this huge House, to raise the issues of their constituencies,” Minister of State (Higher Education) Rajni Tiwari, who is a BJP MLA from Shahbad constituency in Hardoi, said.
Speaking with The Indian Express, Dr Surabhi of Apna Dal, an alliance partner of the ruling BJP, said: “I feel, this is a great opportunity and will set a precedent for other state Assemblies to follow. I have decided to raise the issues of my constituency’s women. While the government is taking several steps for women’s security, I have a vision to set up electronic and digital classrooms at Kasturba Vidhayalas for girls and strengthen other women-centric institutions.”
“There is a desire to up the bar for a healthy debate, which others might follow,” she added.
Congress MLA Aradhana Mishra, who had also interacted with the Speaker during the group meeting, said: “We welcome the step. We are going to raise the issue of women’s security so that incidents like what happened in Lakhimpur Kheri or Banda are not ignored as they raise a serious question mark on the claims of the BJP government about women’s security.”
Later in the day, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath told BJP legislators that the “unique step” to set aside a day for women members should be emulated in the Legislative Council and asked Parliamentary Affairs Minister Suresh Khanna to make a woman member the “presiding officer” in both the Houses during the special session.
He also asked women legislators to speak on the steps taken by the government on empowering women, especially under “Mission Shakti”.