Despite constituting around half of the population, the percentage of women MPs in the Lok Sabha is well under 15%; the scenario remains more or less the same in most of the state assemblies. The country has powerful women leaders like Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalithaa, Sonia Gandhi and a host of others but they are exceptions rather than rule. There have been intense politics around caste identity, linguistic identity, regional identity, religious identity and a lot of other identities that can be manufactured but there's hardly a whisper about the electoral potential of gender as an identity.
So far, all discourses about gender empowerment/welfare have by and large concentrated on legislations for the protection of women and rights/entitlements of women at par with men. But times have changed. Today, women have aspirations; they want respect and equality of opportunity in the social, political, cultural and economic spheres of the nation. Public spaces are becoming a lot more accessible to all, the walls of patriarchy are slowly but certainly crumbling and women are storming bastions that until not long ago were the exclusive domains of males.
Issues that are dear to the hearts of women are being noticed and the days are not far of gender occupying a pivotal position in electoral debates.
Political parties are gradually awakening to this reality, and the politics of the nation is on the cusp of a dramatic transformation. Issues that are dear to the hearts of women are being noticed and the days are not far of gender occupying a pivotal position in electoral debates. It's now no longer just a question of protection from sexual harassment, domestic violence, dowry deaths, female infanticide; nor is it limited to equality and property/inheritance rights. Gender aspirations have gone up a notch higher with contemporary women more concerned about participation in democratic process and in decision-making at all levels. Women want empowerment, not in symbols but in substance.
The NDA's defeat in the Bihar Assembly elections was not fallout of caste arithmetic alone - perhaps a female electoral wave in favour of Nitish proved to be its nemesis. Nitish wooed women voters with schemes that particularly aimed at their upliftment and empowerment, such as the bicycle scheme for schoolgirls and self-help group schemes for women. The inclusion of women in the democratic process was ensured in the state by reserving 35% seats for them at all levels in the panchayats and the municipalities thus facilitating their participation in decision-making at the grassroots.
The NDA's defeat in the Bihar elections was not fallout of caste arithmetic alone - perhaps a female electoral wave in favour of Nitish proved to be its nemesis.
Even after coming to power, Nitish did not forget women and in keeping with his promise, the state government reserved 35% seats for women in state jobs. Then there was the enforcement of prohibition, a move geared to benefit women. It was not an easy step to take considering kind of nexus that exists between the liquor mafia, law enforcement agencies and politicians. Prohibition is also likely to result in an annual revenue loss of approximately ₹4000 crore for the Bihar government. But Nitish understands politics better than most of his contemporaries. He knows that he can't match the social arithmetic of a Lalu or even a BJP and hence he must come up with innovative political strategies that are inclusive if he wants to succeed in his national aspirations. Prohibition has massive support among women as it is they who face the brunt of alcohol-induced violence at home and on the street. It is they who are unable to manage their households as their husbands fritter away earnings on drink. Nitish's strategy is already having as domino effect, with prohibition becoming a poll issue in Tamil Nadu. His intent to spread the no-alcohol movement in the states adjoining Bihar may make him even more popular with the female electorate.
Gender cuts across all identities and can prove to be the rallying point for the ushering in of more broad-based secular politics...
Gender cuts across all identities and can prove to be the rallying point for the ushering in of more broad-based secular politics, the space for which has presently shrunk. Isn't it refreshing when we see how Hindu and Muslim women are demanding entry into religious shrines and forging a commonality of interests when it comes to fighting the entrenched patriarchy within their communities? Muslim women's protest against practices like triple talaq, halala and polygamy and their approaching the judiciary has set alarm bells ringing in the minds of conservative sections of the community. Talking about a uniform civil code is still a blasphemy in our so-called secular polity, but Muslim women have shown the way. It is now up to policymakers to take up cudgels.
It's high time we talk about adequate gender representation. There's has been enough debate on caste and religious representation. Gender identity is unique in that it tends to have underlying currents of unity in the perspective on social, cultural and economic problems besetting the nation. Why is it so? Gender problems are often similar in all societies/communities and so are the yearnings and aspirations for freedom and equality.
[W]hat prevents political parties from giving one-third of their tickets to women? For this, they don't require an Act. Mere excuses and legislative logjams won't do.
Women constitute the oppressed lot within their societies, Hindu or Muslim. Giving voice to women and espousing the gender cause are acts that are very much in consonance with the democratic ethos of our nation. Perhaps, induction of more women in our decision-making architecture will lend some credibility to the institutions that have been ripped apart on caste/religious/regional lines in the name of social deepening of democracy. The Women's Reservation Bill providing 33% seats to women in legislatures is yet to see the light of the day due to the discredited social justice politics that seek sub-reservation for OBCs/Dalits within the Bill. This seems to be a sinister game plan of the patriarchal polity to manufacture division within the female rank and file. But all this is bound to fail. For the time being, let's ponder over what prevents political parties from giving one-third of their party tickets to women candidates? For this, they don't require an Act. Mere excuses and legislative logjams won't do.
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