Close to a thousand women gathered around Mandi House in New Delhi today and marched towards Jantar Mantar while shouting slogans of “Azaadi” and “Halla Bol” to demand social and gender justice, right to education, safety to walk freely on roads at the time they decide to walk, visibility in key positions, public space and freedom from discrimination on the basis of gender. The march took place just a week before the General Elections begin on April 11.
Why are women marching
Women have queued up in larger numbers than men have outside polling booths in the last few years which has also been the most significant development in the Indian democracy. The female voter turnout has gone up to up to 66 per cent—up by nearly 19 percentage points in 2014 which is up from 47% of the total women voters in 1962. While in the same time period male voter turnout has grown only by five percent. There is an even more prominent growth in state election where for the first time in Indian history, women voter turnout has been more than men in elections which happened between 2017-2018.
Every national crisis that we have seen like demonetization, farmers crisis, undermining of parliament, etc. women are the worst affected so this march is a call out to politicians to stand up for women’s rights.- Shabnam Hashmi
“The condition that we the women of the country are in today particularly the fact that our constitutional rights are under attack, is something that we are suffering from adversely in the last few years. Every national crisis that we have seen like demonetization, farmers crisis, undermining of parliament, etc. women are the worst affected so this march is a call out to politicians to stand up for women’s rights,” Shabnam Hashmi told SheThePeople.TV. She is one of the core members who has planned the march across the country.
Women activists said that this march is a way of telling our political leaders across the country that women of today will not be oppressed and they will vote wisely to eliminate those in power who have chosen not to act in favour of gender and intersectional equality.
Women from all communities including the marginalized groups—transwomen, Dalits, adivasi, Muslim and other minority religious and caste groups, sex workers came together to unanimously raise a voice against dual discrimination which is a reality for a lot of the women.
We stand against discrimination and violence and we want justice as we are tired now. - Rituparna Borah
Rituparna Borah, an LGBTQIA+ activist said, “We stand against discrimination and violence and we want justice as we are tired now. It was extremely difficult for us to decriminalize homosexuality and now with bringing up the Transgender Rights Bill which is a horribly formulated bill and now we want a proper implementation of rejection of criminalization on the basis of gender.”
Women from lower-income groups also joined the march in large numbers and their major issue is that they want freedom from domestic violence, safety for their girl child and freedom to work out of their homes. While many of them did work, they feel that they still have to go back to highly patriarchal homes, which puts them under added pressure. “Ladies ki koi azaadi nahi hai isliye hum aaj nikle hain… har jagah pratadna jhelni padti hai… humari ladki betiyan, bahuyein bahar nahi nikal paati kyunki ched-chaad bohot hoti hai jisse humko aaj tak nijaat nahin mila hai… (Women don’t have any freedom that’s why we have come out today.. we have to face discrimination everywhere… our daughters cannot walk outside safely because of fear of harassment and we have never got freedom from it),” said a woman walking in the march.
Another woman, Shabnam, said, “Gharelu hinsa aur betiyon ko janam lene se pehle hi maar dena ye dono behad sangeen maamle hain jiske liye hum nikle hain aaj. Ab jo mahilaon ke hit mein baat karega vote use hi jayega. (Domestic violence and female foeticide are the two very serious issues which is why I am marching today. Now our vote will only go to those parties that show their vision for women’s empowerment.)”
Domestic violence and female foeticide are the two very serious issues which is why I am marching today. Now our vote will only go to those parties that show their vision for women’s empowerment. - Shabnam
The agrarian crisis has hit women and men farmers alike. But often women are not recognised as farmers even though 65.1% of the female labour force is dependent on agriculture. A majority of women in farming belong to dalit and adivasi communities. The lack of concern for women farmers is evident in the paltry 8.5 per cent of the agriculture budget allocation for women in the sector. Women continue to work as family labour under increasingly difficult circumstances of agrarian distress as investments have flown to agro- business corporate ventures.
"MAKAAM is supporting Women March for Change rally across various states. The past five years have been particularly hard for women farmers. Farmer suicides continue unabated, the latest Supreme Court judgement severely impinges on the rights of our forest dwellers who are being evicted from their homes and lands. In the midst of this, our women farmers are not even recognized as farmers in their own right. This means they are unable to access their rights to land, natural resources and cannot even apply for the existing social security schemes, limited as they are," said Gargie Mangulkar, National Coordinator of MAKAAM.
Women farmers are unable to access their rights to land, natural resources and cannot even apply for the existing social security schemes, limited as they are.- Gargie Mangulkar
There are several cases of gender discrimination across various sectors and women came together to address those. Different women had different issues but what binds them together is the fact that they all face injustice because they are women. This year, there is a huge focus on women’s position in parliament and some political parties are fielding if not equal then at least 33% women candidates. Regional parties like All India Trinamool Congress and Biju Janta Dal have stepped up and fielded 40% and 33% women respectively. When women are represented in politics, their voices will also reach the parliament.
Picture Credit: STP