Ms. Rekha Sharma assumed the charge of Chairperson, National Commission for Women on August 7, 2018. If one takes a closer look at her style of working, the two distinct virtues that define her are leadership spirit and relentless will to keep doing good for women in need. If NCW is known for working round the clock for addressing women’s issues, it is because of her pioneering efforts to be ever ready and reachable for women across the country.
She has been associated with the Commission as a member since August, 2015 and held the additional charge as Chairperson, NCW with effect from September 29, 2017 before becoming its Chairperson on August 7, 2018.
NCW has been setting up new milestones under her leadership ever since she's been at the helm of affairs with the latest being the new helpline launched by the Commission on July 27, 2021 for providing 24/7 support to women affected by violence through referral by linking them with appropriate authorities such as police, hospitals, District Legal Service Authority, psychological services etc. Ever since its launch, the helpline has been functional round-the-clock facilitating integrated range of services for women affected by violence under one roof such as help from police, psycho-social counselling and access to One Stop Centres among other services.
She has been a vocal advocate of gender sensitization of police personnel since they are the first point of contact for victims. Keeping up with NCW’s efforts to sensitize police officials, the Commission signed an MoU with the Bureau of Police Research and Development for gender sensitisation of police personnel across the country and to bring attitudinal and behavioural changes in them. The programme is being fully sponsored by NCW and facilitated by BPR&D.
In continuation with the extraordinary work that the Commission did during the first phase of the pandemic, NCW was quick to rise to the occasion when pregnant women were struggling for medical aid in the second phase of Covid. On April 29, 2021, the Commission launched a Whatsapp helpline number, another brain child of Madam Chairperson to assist pregnant women with medical emergencies. The helpline which had started from a single tweet of Madam Chairperson calling all expecting mothers in need to approach NCW has helped over 900 women till date. The helpline also received huge support from doctors all over the country who came forward to give teleconsultation services to women. The helpline was well received among the general public as well, many of whom donated plasma to expecting mothers.
Madam Chairperson has been an ardent supporter of economic empowerment of women and in continuance with the Commission’s efforts to make women independent and self reliant, NCW launched a business and management course to support digital learning among 5,000 aspiring women entrepreneurs. Under the 'Empowering Women through Entrepreneurship' programme, launched on March 5, 2021, selected women entrepreneurs will be given a special chance to be mentored and incubated by knowledge and mentoring partner after completion of the course. The NCW has collaborated with the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and India SME Forum, the country's largest not-for-profit organization for small and medium enterprises, for the online training programme.
The Commission also launched the third phase of We Think Digital, a global digital literacy program run by NCW, Cyber Peace Foundation and Facebook with an aim to provide digital literacy training to 1.50 lakh women for effectively using online resources and grievance redressal mechanisms to women across states including, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Bihar. The programme has sensitized over 1,05,000 women in its second phase. In 2018, it was launched as 'Digital Shakti' campaign under which 60,000 women across India were imparted digital literacy and trained in online safety.
Madam has chaired a large number of Mahila Jan Sunwais/ Public Hearings in several states across the country and has addressed the issues related to female prisoners including improving the conditions of the undertrials. The inquiry committees chaired by Ms Sharma have been crucial in getting justice for victims of violence. It was under the Chairperson that NCW held the first ever jansunwai in Jammu where cases related to grievances of women were taken up and resolved by the Commission. It was after the Chairperson’s week-long visit to Jammu and Kashmir that the Commission created a separate cell to deal with issues in the region. The Cell will deal with complaints received from the two UTs and will look into the development activities related to women of these regions.
The Commission organizes consultations on a range of laws concerning women. Under her leadership, NCW has conducted consultations on Domestic Violence, Cyber Crime, Sexual Harassment at Workplace, Inter-state women migrant workers, and Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) to discuss the existing legislation and policy perspectives for addressing the problems.
NCW launched a project series, ‘Training Programme of Protection Officers in addressing Domestic Violence’ in collaboration with Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) to address the specific needs of Protection Officers in responding to survivors of domestic violence. The training will focus on the role of different stakeholders/service providers under the Act including police, legal aid services, health system, service providers, shelter services, one stop centres etc.
On August 15, 2020, NCW launched a campaign with the National Legal Services Authority on empowering women through legal services. The campaign aims to legally empower women especially hailing from remote corners of the country. It was launched in eight states with the help of a detailed chain of District Legal Services Authority and the campaign material will be translated into vernacular languages to reach as many women as possible.
During the extraordinary times of the first wave of COVID, when the country was put under a lockdown, NCW under her leadership stood apart with its quick measures to address the new challenges faced by women. The Commission in her guidance has launched a one of its kind WhatsApp helpline number for women in addition to the robust complaint registration system already in place. She was also the pioneer in setting up a special Happy To Help taskforce during the pandemic to help the elderly stuck at home alone in the lockdown helping them with medical emergencies and for procuring essential needs such as groceries and medicines.
Ms Sharma believes in molding the perspective of the society for effective redressal of women’s issues and therefore the Commission regularly organises state and national level competitions on women related laws for students and general public to bring them closer to the concept of gender equality. The Commission under her leadership has also developed legal awareness programmes in collaboration with Kendriya Vidyalay Sangathans for students of Class 11th and 12th and also for the students of central and state universities.
When the Supreme Court of India recently held that Hindu women were to be joint legal heir in their ancestral property at par with men, it was also a victory for her untiring advocacy for equal property rights for women. The Commission under her leadership has reviewed some important laws related to women such as Property Rights of women. NCW has also reviewed the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act and the guardianship rights of mothers following which the recommendations were sent to the ministry.
NCW also organized a consultation on policy formulation on ‘Women & Children in disasters’ as women and children are the most adversely affected in cases of a disaster 48 representatives from civil society, State Commissions for Women, National Disaster Management Authority, National Disaster Relief Force, National Institute for Disaster Management, NHRC and NCPCR participated in the deliberations.
She has worked extensively for the welfare of the north eastern women conducting outreach programmes for students to equip them of their rights and the legal recourse to combat crimes targeted against them. She had conceptualized and organised a mega webinar on issues concerning women from north eastern region living in metropolitan cities which saw the participation of important officials from ministries, NGOs and other civil society organizations. The Commission has also held review of laws related to inter-state women migrant workers and the challenges faced by them.
She held a meeting with 30 police chiefs and representatives for ensuring quick redressal of cases related to domestic violence in the times of COVID along with emphasis on other issues such as problems faced by women migrant workers, cyber crime against women etc.
Ms Sharma has played a pivotal role in the inspection of Swadhar Grehs, functioning under the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The Commission has evolved a comprehensive proforma which was sent to 404 Swadhar Grehs (SGs) across the country, to get information on the different aspects of their functioning.
The National Commission for Women has also reviewed the proper execution of women-centric schemes of the government under the Aspirational Districts announced by the Niti Aayog. The Commission members visited these districts and made a compliance report on the effective implementation of women-related schemes of the Centre.
The Commission in order to inform people about the issues related to NRI marriages had conducted a National Seminar in collaboration with Punjab School of Law and National Women's Centre, Punjabi University, Patiala on the topic to spread awareness on the effectiveness of legal remedies available for Indian women trapped in abusive NRI marriages.
After she took over as Chairperson, the Commission is working in close coordination with its State Commissions organising programs for increasing their efficiency in dealing with cases of crime against women. NCW had organised capacity building workshops for State Commissions for Women at Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, Uttarakhand on issues such as Gender Equality, laws related to women and challenges faced by Women and Child Commissions.
Under her, the Commission prepared a proforma for inspection of prison and prepared a report which was shared with different ministries and prison authorities asking them to file an Action Taken Report. She also led the scrutiny and analysis of information received from prisons and the recommendations were later sent to the respective Superintendents of the Prisons with a direction to file an Action Taken Report.
She has frequently conducted inspection of psychiatric homes across the country. The Commission led by her has also recommended bringing in some pertinent changes in the working of psychiatric homes such as counseling for female inmates, informing their family members of the free medical services available and the compulsory involvement of family members of female inmates during the entire course of their treatment, among others. The Commission has organised consultation on Assisting Women Led Enterprises in association with Ministry of MSME to improve the potential and productivity of these MSMEs through measures such as skills training, technology, financial assistance and market access to building infrastructure.
She has constantly advocated for economic empowerment of women and has been organizing seminar around women-led entrepreneurship in collaboration with different universities with an aim to break gender stereotypes in the society.