J&K: 3 women out of 104 candidates contesting LS polls

Women wait in long queues to cast their votes at a polling station, during the 4th phase of Lok Sabha elections, in Kulgam district of south Kashmir on April 29, 2019. (PTI Photo)

Out of 104 candidates, who contested the just concluded Lok Sabha polls on six seats of Jammu and Kashmir, only three were women despite females constituting 48% of the electorate in the violence-hit Himalayan state.

Except for regional Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the three main parties – National Conference, Congress, and BJP – did not field any women candidate. The lone female candidate of PDP was its president and former chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, who is contesting from south Kashmir’s Anantnag Lok Sabha seat.

The other two women contestants are Ridhwana Sanam (independent) from Anantnag and Meenakshi, a Shiv Sena candidate from Udhampur constituency. There are 78,50,671 voters in the state, comprising 40,37,993 males and 37,39,951 females.

Rekha Chowdhary, who retired as Professor of Political Science in University of Jammu, attributes state’s “conservative society and conflict” responsible for fewer women joining politics. 

“Due to conflict and security situation, even men are reluctant to join politics in Kashmir. Most of the homes in the state have a dominance of men in decision making and women have a lesser role,” she says, adding there are some women in politics because of their political background.

However, Ridhwana, a doctor turned politician, gives several reasons for the negligible number of women candidates. “Women politicians don’t put in enough effort, to motivate more women to join politics,” she said.

“I want to become a spokesperson of people rather than a politician to highlight people’s issues,” she adds.

Meenakshi blames patriarchal structure of state politics as the reason for lesser number of women in politics. “There is an unwillingness among political parties to give tickets to women, and less awareness of electoral politics among women and the lack of family support,” she says.

Sociologist say there is an urgent need to bridge the gender gap in the state because no society and civilization can move forward without the participation of its half population. “The restricted engagements of Kashmiri women in public affairs, class, and caste restrictions have fed into the existing patriarchal practices, reducing the women to the domestic spaces,” they say.

In 2014 assembly polls, the NC had fielded five female candidates – two from Kashmir and three from Jammu while the BJP had given the mandate to three female candidates in the Valley. 

In 2014 assembly polls, only two candidates made it to the legislative assembly – PDP’s Asiya Naqash and NC’s Shamima Firdous. Later Mehbooba also got elected in by-polls in 2016.

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