The onset of the General Elections 2019 in India, has brought with it a whiff of fresh air with the increase in the number of female politicians taking centre stage. Priyanka Gandhi took the country by storm with her unexpected entry while older stalwarts like Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and others are now looking at cementing their position in the next Election as forerunners for prime posts. Others like Priyanka Chaturvedi are working towards increased political participation, but the essential question posited now is: “What about the young female voter? In the large stock of vote-banks, why is the Indian female voter, the last in line to be reminded of her role in the society once every five years?

Key Takeaways:

  • Why is the Indian female voter, the last in line to be reminded of her role in the society once every five years?
  • She-preneurs’ are also considered as a secondary support to a family’s annual income which further undermines her role by restricting her to micro-managed household enterprises.
  • A reservation of 33% for women is meaningless unless they are egged on to take their rightful place in the mainstream societal decision making.
  • The road to development starts with an aware woman, a sensitised society and leaders who inspire them to move ahead with confidence.

Promises by major political parties in their pre-election manifestos which range right from ‘Save the Girl Child’ to ‘Women’s Empowerment’ remain clichéd and are quite conveniently forgotten after the hustings. One is forced to ask difficult questions, Why are women, a soft target during the elections only? How does a woman follow up on failed promises and more importantly, how does she claim her rightful space in an otherwise politically charged atmosphere?

How does a woman follow up on failed promises and more importantly, how does she claim her rightful space in an otherwise politically charged atmosphere?

As far as the Big two are concerned namely, the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janta Party, (also the current incumbent government), one just has to have a look at the Party manifesto to complete their fact check. While the BJP has been riding high on the concepts of, “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao,” along with an increase in the numbers of women entrepreneurs, which was also cited as the answer to the country’s malady of unemployment, one look at the current statistics will tell you otherwise. According to the Sixth Economic Census, women comprise a meagre 14% of the total number of entrepreneurs in India. The average employment in these women-owned enterprises is a marginal 1.67. For a more inclusive society that warms up to the idea of having working women as a part of the work narrative, it becomes quintessential to figure out new opportunities which is not as simple as it is made out by political stalwarts and newbies alike during election season. It must also be noted that these ‘she-preneurs’ are also considered as a secondary support to a family’s annual income which further undermines her role by restricting her to micro-managed household enterprises that usually hire not more than two people per unit. This by extension means that we are not contributing to the creation of jobs, the way it was once postulated.

According to the Sixth Economic Census, women comprise a meagre 14% of the total number of entrepreneurs in India. The average employment in these women-owned enterprises is a marginal 1.67.

The second important agenda for young women is their role as individuals and as a collective in decision making when it comes to education, health and even business. In terms of politics, yes the numbers have risen from a mere 4.4% in the first Lok Sabha that convened in 1952 to a reasonable 11% in the 16th Lok Sabha almost seven decades later. Suffice to say that these numbers are not representative of the demographic dividend of the country. India needs balanced, gender-friendly legislations in place and a mere reservation of 33% for women is meaningless unless they are egged on to take their rightful place in the mainstream societal decision making. What is the use of a vacant seat? Our women have to be encouraged to go forward and claim the position they are fit for. For the Big two, this would be an interesting place to start if they want to woo their female voter and win them over. We have noticed an unencumbered presence of women in the corporate sector but with the caveat that they are relatively lesser paid and are generally the ones entrusted with the larger chunk of the workload at all levels. This needs to be studied in greater detail to find possible working solutions.

A mere reservation of 33% for women is meaningless unless they are egged on to take their rightful place in the mainstream societal decision making.

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While the Indian National Congress under the aegis of the current President Rahul Gandhi, has promised the concept of Minimum Income Guarantee, we are yet to understand how this would help the Indian female voter. Right to Health is another important legislation that needs to find its way into the political arena. Exorbitant amounts are literally extorted in major private hospitals across the country for maternity care and prenatal/ postnatal care for mother and child. Access to quality health care must be a right freely given to mothers.

Another important need of the hour, is flexible work policies for women. Women-centric workspaces are few and far between in the country but with the rise in health issues and advancement in technology, perhaps India could do well to augur to its female population by providing young women with better job security.

Another important need of the hour, is flexible work policies for women.

This brings us to the final most important point that could work well both for the women and the parties with pre-defined agendas, Mental health and women. The current work-life balance is erratic bordering on insensitivity when it comes to a lot of young women at workplaces. Irregular work hours, stressful internships with miniscule remunerations and the denial of a fair work policy in various companies till the said individual has completed probation has contributed to an almost mid-life crisis for women in their early – 20s. India has actively ignored the silent pleas of young working women and housewives even, who need regular counselling and spaces for relaxation.

The current work-life balance is erratic bordering on insensitivity when it comes to a lot of young women at workplaces.

Optimal productivity is the outcome of a mind that is healthy and a body that is charged up on a regular basis to meet the challenges of the day. This is one area of focus that is equally important for men and women and it must find its way as an inevitable part of society if we are looking at catering to the world’s largest youth population in the near future. While patriarchy looks down at working women with disdain, it is perhaps an opportune moment for us to look at gender sensitization to be introduced vis-a-vis adult education in various parts of rural India. While a significant number of urban women can claim their right to work, patriarchy has created a structural issue for women to be a part of the larger scheme of things. This has to change!

While patriarchy looks down at working women with disdain, it is perhaps an opportune moment for us to look at gender sensitization to be introduced vis-a-vis adult education in various parts of rural India.

Despite being the oldest and one of the richest countries blessed intellectually, India even today bears the tag of being a developing country. The road to development starts with an aware woman, a sensitised society and leaders who inspire them to move ahead with confidence. The fine line of developing to developed can be crossed with one more enlightened, passionate and progressive woman.

Katherine is an English Teacher with a degree in Literature and Law, currently pursuing Journalism from the British College of Journalism. She is the author of four novels including Every Sunset Has a Story. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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