Need to empower women in real sense


By passing the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha and hopefully in the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies, we  may be able to increase the numerical strength of women in parliament and assemblies. But this certainly will not be enough in attaining political empowerment in the real sense.

Since the enactment of the 73rd and 74th amendment to our constitution, women are elected to grassroots institutions and have been performing their roles since then. It was expected that the newly formed critical mass of women who have got power through reservation would be active participants in local governance.

Studies conducted so far on women in rural local bodies have revealed that women have been elected as proxy candidate to stand in for powerful men backers. It is also noticed that active participation and exercise of power by women of courage is often met with intolerance, intimidation and harassment. There have been instances of backlash from men by way of engineering no confidence motion against such women.

Similar incidents are reported at urban local bodies. The husbands and relatives of most women councillors do all the official work. Women have been reduced to mere rubber stamps. In the recent BBMP elections the husbands managed the campaigning and we could also see them addressing public meetings and the media on behalf of their wives.

Mere tokenism

The situation of women in political parties is no better. The few women at the helm of various political parties today only represent the elite. We must realise that it is nothing but axiomatic in India that the political parties see to that at least 1 or 2 women members are inducted at the highest decision making bodies. It is nothing but tokenism.
The irony is that the very political parties that voted for the passing of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha are reluctant to give tickets to women candidates. Many political parties in India do not have a democratic process for selection of candidates. The party tickets are not merit based. The grassroots party worker is ignored and party tickets are often given to wives, daughters and relatives of the party leaders.
Every party incorporates in their manifesto a charter of demands addressing the concerns of women, but once in power only a few schemes for women are implemented which give certain benefits but not opportunity for women to attain equality.

Moreover elections in India have become very complicated. Caste, money, and criminal factors should be managed by women in order to win the elections. Thereby making women misfits into the matrix of elections. Apart from these factors women occupy a subordinate position in the family. Their routine and normal duties of nurturing and caring for the family, performing both paid and unpaid work gives them very little time to participate in political activities. Also centuries of socialisation, which has shaped their behaviour makes it difficult if not impossible to rearrange their priorities and to take to public life. 

If real democracy has to be sustained, women comprising of about half the population have to be active participants at different levels of decision making. In this context it is critical to enhance the capacity of the women to fight elections and remove any such barriers that will encourage women to participate in the political process.

Political parties must see to that they will introduce internal party democracy and ensure that each time 1/3rd of their candidates are women who have genuinely worked at the grassroots level.

The parties must also possess proper organisation and offices. Only then reservation of seats for women at the parliament and assembly will be meaningful and political empowerment of women in the real sense achieved.

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