With India’s independence and the grant of universal adult suffrage, our policy makers envisaged an egalitarian society where all citizens, irrespective of caste, class or gender would have equal rights in all spheres of life. More than 6 decades later, we have seen caste based politics, regional politics and communal politics. But nowhere in this maze of political strategies, has a strong policy empowering women emerged.
There are very many reasons of the casual ignorance towards women’s issues in India. The age old patriarchal system whose one point aim has been to keep women suppressed; the perpetually growing gender bias and female feticide & infanticide because girls even before being born are believed to be a burden. These are just a few examples of the social situation prevalent in India which have seeped into our economic and political lives as well.
The role of women in politics is one of immense importance and requires careful attention which has been neglected time and again.
Women have not been welcomed in the political arena , have not received equal opportunities and the women who did manage to make it to top positions in Indian politics have had political families and god fathers to back them up. Socio-economic conditions coupled with the custom that “politics is a man’s game” have so far proved to be effective in keeping women away from active participation in national politics. This has been backed with the recent statistics of women in national politics where we have 11% women in the Lok Sabha and 10.6% in the Rajya Sabha. In the annual analysis conducted by the Inter Parliamentary Union, India has ranked 108th on statistics of women members of parliament out of 188 countries. This, my friends is a very disturbing state of affairs.
Although a legislation providing for 33% reservation for women in local self governments which was passed in 1991, has impacted the growth of women entering politics, it has also brought with it, a set of disparities. A lot of women candidates fielded here have been mothers and wives of politicians and are therefore just titular heads being controlled by men. At the national level, a bill for women’s reservation in parliament is yet to see the light of the day.
In relation to voting patterns in India and the political strategies adopted by candidates, women have either been patronized with pressure cookers and “mangalsutras” as a bribe for votes in various regions or conveniently left out. Do we really want leaders who only see women as housewives and cooks in their houses? The political fraternity seems to be completely ignorant about the fact that women, who constitute roughly half the population of the country, can prove to be a political game changer!
Fundamentally speaking, women and politics have a profound relation which influences:
i) The socio-economic well being, health and reproductive rights of women.
ii) Protection of women against gender based violence.
iii) Strengthening decision making powers of women in issues that affect them directly or indirectly.
In order to improve the situation of women, we need to improve the quality of legislators and governors we choose. But along side with this, women must empower themselves and voice their opinions. Voice it against a political candidate who isn’t concerned with women’s rights, against a system that has virtually shut its doors to aspiring women leaders; voice it by casting your votes to elect your representatives. Because the kind of representative you elect, will have an impact on your daily lives in more ways than you can imagine.
In the end, I leave you with two questions:
How long can the Indian political fraternity afford to ignore or under represent half of its population that comprises of women?
And to all the women I ask: Do you want to leave the task of governing your country and lives to people who aren’t capable of enforcing your rights , or do you want to take a stand, choose your leader and go out to vote in the elections coming up in 2014?
About the Author
A patriot and hopeful change maker, Riddhima is a believer in the power of women to change the world. She has studied Political Science with special reference to the feminist movement, feminist theory and the position of women in Indian politics. She is currently pursuing Law and hopes to specialize in women related laws and work with an organization in a related field. She enjoys public speaking and is not afraid to speak her mind. Sharma is a quick learner and is keen to gain new experiences especially in the areas of public policy, politics and strategy.