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A ‘man’s Parliament’ striving for an inclusive India

  • Category
    Society
  • Published
    29th Jun, 2022

Overview

  • What is Women Empowerment?
  • Need for Gender inclusivity in Politics
  • Hurdles for Women’s participation
    • Social factors
    • Cultural factors
    • Historical factors
  • Division of labour in society
  • What are the steps required for women participation

Context

Despite the share of women legislators in the Lok Sabha peaking at 15.03% as of April 2022, India is still worse than 140 countries in the representation of women in Parliament.

Background

  • The 21st century has inherited the unfinished agenda of globalizing democracy in a more vibrant form.
  • In many instances there is a feeling of unease about the achievement of representative democracy because of the ongoing tendency of democratic nations to exclude or marginalized large sections of society.
  • This is particularly the case for women right across the world, and especially India.
  • The global average for the share of women parliamentarians stood at 24.6%.
  • Rwanda has the highest proportion of women in Parliament (over 60%).
  • India ranks 148 out of 191 nations.
  • For democracy to be truly representative and inclusive all citizens must have equal opportunities to participate within democratic processes.

Analysis

What is actually mean by ‘women empowerment’?

  • Ideally, women empowerment is not about giving several ministerial berths in a government or giving 33 per cent job reservation.
  • It’s about enjoying equal rights and having the freedom to choose and prioritise their lives, which will enable them to:
    • feel safe, be it in their homes, office or streets
    • hold important positions and lead the society
    • contribute to society and have people respect them for their capabilities

An Enlightening Example

  • Recently, Droupadi Murmu, a tribal politician, has got herself registered as the candidate for the forthcoming presidential elections.
  • The 64-year-old former teacher, who comes from Odisha (Orissa) state, has spent decades with the BJP and had a stint as a state governor.
  • If elected, she would be the country's first tribal leader in the top post.

Why we need more women in politics?

  • Reflecting the overall sex ratio- For a country whose sex ratio is tilted towards women (NFHS-5), it cannot cater to the majority of its population if the ratio in Parliament is not the same.
  • Women centric policies-More women in Parliament would mean more women-centric issues could be raised. For a country like India, where women's safety is one of the biggest issues, perhaps more attention and empathy at the top would have an enormous impact.
    • For example, in parliaments or during the process of policy-making, there are not enough conversations about menstrual health. There is a dire need for better solutions like tampons and menstrual cups to reach rural areas, too, but the lack of information and access is a stark contrast to the urban population. Even in a slum area of Delhi, families still use cloth.
  • Doing away with the discriminatory laws-For centuries, women had been discriminated against, but as society developed, women could get to the table and raise their voices against the atrocities they faced. A broad representation of women in politics would allow the reformation of discriminatory laws against the gender too.
  • Providing will to report crimes- Political representation of women led to higher rates of crime reporting. Also it is observed that women are willing to report crime in villages with female representation in the council. Moreover, the police force is more responsive to crimes against women in areas which have gender-based affirmative action policies.
  • Women leaders’ investments led to improved human development outcomes and women’s entrepreneurship.

Barriers to women's participation

  • Patriarchal Politics: Politics is often seen as a male bastion, and women are discouraged from entering it on the pretext that it is not a 'feminine' profession.
  • Gender stereotypes -The biggest hurdle for women in politics is the gender stereotypes in society and a discriminatory attitude in general. Even though India has had a few prominent female political leaders, most have not been put on the kind of pedestals that males in similar roles have enjoyed.

South Asia has had the largest number of women heads of state — including Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Indira Gandhi, Khaleda Zia, Sheikh Hasina, and Benazir Bhutto — of any region in the world till recently.

  •  Stigma attached with politics-Even in the 21st century, politics is still considered dirty. The norms and perceptions of our society still want women to be saints, and saints don't tread muddy paths. Hence, politics is not considered the right choice of work for females.
  • Social Conditioning-In India, the scales of household jobs are still tilted toward women, and hence, the disproportionate setting does not enable women to fully take over in their professional space.
  • Patriarchal mindset-Under the canopy of patriarchy, women face a myriad of problems including backlash from family members, political parties ostracizing women candidates, character assault, harassing women on the basis of their clothing choices, etc.
  • Language still not gender neutral—After 75 years of Independence, and ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, Parliament often refers to women in leadership positions as Chairmen and party men. In the Rajya Sabha, the Rules of Procedure continue to refer to the Vice­President of India as the ex-officio Chairman, stemming from the lack of gender­neutral language in the Constitution of India.
  • Less political will: The bill to reserve 33 per cent seats for women in Parliament and state legislatures was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010, but it was never introduced in the Lok Sabha.

How to create an inclusive political space led by women?

  • Women inspire women-The first step towards encouraging more women to join politics is to have more prominent female personalities at the top and decision-making levels in parties. A more inclusive society, in general, would see a ripple effect in politics, where women would be able to take center stage.

Honouring women

Paintings of Draupadi, Sita, Razia Sultana, Akka Mahadevi, Ahilya Holkar and other women from India’s mythology and history are likely to grace the walls of the new Parliament building being built as part of the Central Vista redevelopment project.

  • Education not literacy- Education and not just literacy would go a long way in creating an inclusive political space. At the moment, an institutional degree does not hold weightage in politics, but education allows individuals to be more broad-minded, secure, motivated, respectful and empathetic.
  • Safe political environment-For women to feel safe in a political environment, their co-workers must be sensitive, and there has to be a level of respect at all times. Educated individuals would perhaps bring that to the table.
  • Enhancing inclusivity -To encourage inclusivity, women must have easy access to public infrastructure and facilities. There has to be a clearly-defined pathway from entering a political party to making it to the top.
  • Social awareness campaigns: Long held prejudices against women need to be dismantled through concerted social campaigns with help of educational institutions, media, religious leaders, celebrities, political leaders etc.

Citizen activism like Shakti – Political Power to Women, National Association of Women’s Organizations (NAWO) and others, exert public pressure towards policies requiring half the election tickets to be accorded to women or arming the ECI with disciplining capabilities.

Conclusion

At the macro level, there is a need for policy initiatives to empower women and tighter implementation of existing ones to reduce the gender disparity in India. But small steps also count. Higher representation of female leaders can be a source of inspiration for others to pursue their dreams and aspirations.  A concerted effort between the local and national levels can drive change. Discriminatory attitude and gender stereotyping is the result of many years of social conditioning which can be broken with inspiring examples and political support.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q1) While more women than ever are being elected to parliaments around the world, equality is still a long way off. Comment.

Q2) In the light of the evolving trends of gender-neutrality in the law making bodies in India, suggest some measures to make Indian parliament more gender neutral.

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