Sunday, February 8, 2015

We the Women

‘It is impossible to think about the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is impossible for a bird to fly on only one wing’ - Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda would not have imagined that even after a century we will still be talking and debating about gender inequality and women empowerment. It has taken centuries of struggle for women to break the glass ceiling, to be relevant and to be counted in different walks of life, but sad reality is that gender equality is still a far cry. It is a shocking fact that female infanticide is higher in urban India than rural India, defeating the argument that urbanization and education enables gender equality.

Challenge of gender inequality indeed arises due to a huge gap in participation of women in Social, Economic and Politics space, even though women to some extent have broken the glass ceiling in the Social & Economic space, India has seen a decline in participation of women in Political space.

With women reservation bill gathering dust, the percentages of women in Parliament and Assemblies across states are reducing and the gap is only getting wider. Some states might have made a 50% reservation for women in local bodies (Municipality/Corporation/Panchayat), but women are more co-opt by a male relative and is not necessarily a genuine attempt to provide opportunity for women to be part of the political discourse.

Excluding few well know women politicians like Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Sushma Swaraj, Jayalalitha who have utilised the opportunity and have risen to be strong mass leaders, women in politics are selected or co-opted. Majority of women who have made it to the Parliament and Assemblies are either relatives of male politicians or achievers in their own fields who are parachuted by various political parties for electoral gains and mere representation.  

Fewer women are joining political parties as primary members or taking to political activism, working their way up and surviving the heat and dust of Indian politics has less takers. What is even more worrying are the results of a study conducted by Centre for Social Research and UN Women which found that women in politics face high levels of violence, fear character assassination and emotional abuse, and adding to it, women who are young, poor and first generation politicians found to be the worst affected.

Indian politics over the years has indeed become more of money, machismo and muscle, has this change kept women away from active politics? Whatever may be the reason, lesser participation of women in Politics and in Governance is not a good sign for our Democracy and the Nation at large. Women are 49% of Indian voting population, but a meagre 11% of the Parliamentarians are women.

Bringing in women into politics is indeed a chicken-egg situation; will the political parties create a women friendly atmosphere to enable women to take to politics actively or will they encourage more and more women to take up party membership who will thereby bring the change in the political structure remains an eternal question.

Rahul Gandhi while addressing women party worker rally pointed out that the rally had more men than women and the same is reflected in his party offices too. PM Modi speaks about saving the daughters and empowering women, unfortunately percentage of women in his party also do not add up. Aam Admi Party that has galvanised the youth and re-energised interest in politics also lags behind when it comes to giving tickets to women candidates.

Every party recognises that larger participation of woman in Politics and Governance is good for the Democracy. Sadly cutting across party lines the one common factor that makes all of them look equal is that the percentage of women in the party and percentage of women who are given tickets to contest elections.

But it is also important that women break barrier and take to political activism, if one waits for the all signals lights to go green, it will never happen. More women participation in Politics and in Governance is a critical step towards closing the gap, the gap of gender inequality. Let’s face it, any substantial change that impacts India happens only through our Parliament and Assemblies, and if women are not part of the law making process it raises very serious questions. It is also true that without a large talent pool of women political activist just parachuting women into Parliament and Assemblies indeed makes the men who have worked their way up in the political system disgruntle.

Irrespective of the party or ideology one chooses, women need to become part of the political structure and political discourse of this country. As a third generation political activist I do agree that politics is a tough place, but so is everything else. Women reservation bill even if it becomes law will not change much unless women step out of comfort zones and voluntarily identify themselves with a political structure and work towards becoming lawmakers. A change can happen for women only by women, and what India needs is a mass movement lead by women to become equal partners in political discourse, governance and law making.

As one more International Women’s Day nears, let us not just restricted it to celebrate womanhood and pat our back on our achievement, but constructively work towards gender equality in Social, Economic and Political space.

As Hillary Clinton aptly said ‘It is past time for women to take their rightful place, side by side with men, in the rooms where the fates of peoples, where their children's and grandchildren's fates, are decided.’

- Kavitha Reddy