Women councillors don't get their due

Patriarchal and abusive behaviour of male colleagues worrisome

It has been a year since the municipal corporations in the city reserved 50 per cent of their seats for women. But women councillors themselves think the outcome — in terms of empowerment, breaking stereotypes and making an impact on the functioning of the civic bodies — is far from what is desired.

The elected representatives among women say the increase in their numbers has not made life easier and they continue to battle gender stereotypes and discrimination at work.

“One of the biggest problems which I faced while at work is the patriarchal and abusive behaviour of male colleagues. Male colleagues try to bully female councillors, stating that they know nothing and can’t work. The truth is that female representatives are more responsible,” says Ishrat Jahan, first-time councillor from Ghondli in east Delhi. She is also one of the youngest councillors across the three corporations.

Ishrat contends that even their achievements are brushed aside due to a stereotyped mindset. Recalling the responsibility her party gave her during the student union election last year, the councillor says some people attributed that to her looks.
“If a male representatives gets such responsibility, people say it was merit which got the person the assignment,” she adds.

Veterans echo similar sentiments. “Even officials face an insecurity complex. They are not willing to take directions from a woman. Apart from that we face several other stereotypes on a daily basis. If we spend too much time with colleagues, we will be linked with them,” says Rekha Gupta, education committee chairperson in North Corporation.

In the year gone by, female councillors have officially complained about harassment at the workplace. In January, councillors protested against the alleged misbehaviour of a male councillor with a female colleague during the House meeting of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation.

After that, the North Corporation mayor decided to deploy marshals outside the House during every meeting.

Official intervention

Similarly, councillors in east Delhi asked Lieutenant Governor Tejendra Khanna to open a special cell in the civic body office to register their complaints of misbehaviour and sexual harassment by male colleagues.

Women councillors also complained of being tagged as ‘fronts’ for their male relatives.
“One cannot deny the fact that some women were forced to take a plunge into politics straight out of their kitchens. However, it doesn’t mean that they are dumb and are always being monitored by their male relatives. At the end of the day, it is the councillor who has to attend the House meetings and other meetings with officials,” says outgoing North Corporation mayor Mira Aggarwal.

“During my tenure, I have seen the transformation in first-time councillors. Initially, they were uncomfortable in their new role. By the end of my tenure, I saw them raising their issues with confidence and equal ease,” she adds.

The councillors, however, say parties should promote women who are active in politics and want to make a career of it.

“Such women are more aware about the issues of their area, as well as the nuances of the system,” says Ishrat.

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