Women Taking On The Challenges Of Politics Are Changing India’s Future
- The world’s largest democracy has been an utter failure when it comes to women representation in the parliament.
- Empowerment is not just in the reservation, but in evolving from the archaic- feudal-patriarchal mindset.
- A non-gendered perspective could truly offer us a more inclusive way of thinking about our collective future.
Politics is a man’s world! Not my words, but by men themselves. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “If women want to be in politics, they need to grow skin as thick as a rhinoceros.” Like Roosevelt, many have observed that politics is a world inhabited by diplomats, soldiers and civil servants, most of whom are men. Feminist-IR theorist like Tickner also reveals to us that we are socialised to believe that war and power politics are more effectively managed by men while women are ascribed roles in reproduction and homemaking. When contributing in the workplace their role is often discounted as well.
All You Need To Know:
- Typical male characteristics have, throughout history, been those most valued in the conduct of politics, particularly international politics.
- Feminist theory, aims to understand the nature of gender inequality by examining women’s social roles.
- The world’s largest democracy has been an utter failure when it comes to women’s representation in the parliament, let alone those wishing to be a significant part of the ‘game’.
- The plight of the women leadership is frail in Arunachal, just like the other North-East states. It has only two female leaders in the sixty seats assembly today.
The affinity between Gender and Power: Masculinities and Politics
Masculinity and politics have a long and close association. Typical male characteristics have, throughout history, been those most valued in the conduct of politics, particularly international politics. Violence and the use of force, has been applauded in the name of defending one’s country. RW Connell points out this stereotypical image of masculinity does not fit most men. Connell suggests that what he calls ‘hegemonic masculinity,’ a type of culturally dominant masculinity that he distinguishes from other subordinated masculinities, is a socially constructed cultural ideal that, while it does not correspond to the actual personality of the majority of men, sustains patriarchal authority and legitimises a patriarchal political and social order.
Typical male characteristics have, throughout history, been those most valued in the conduct of politics, particularly international politics. Violence and the use of force, has been applauded in the name of defending one’s country.
Feminists’ and their movements’ started to attempt to break these norms – notably the women’s suffrage movements of the 19th and the early 20th century. A second wave championed legal/social equality in the 1960s. The 1970s and 80s saw further developments with the UN decade of women, raising the individual consciousness of women and stirring a change in power dynamics, in both private and public spheres. This continued in the 1990s as the third wave, as a reaction to the perceived failures of the past. For the first time in the history women’s rights were considered human rights!
Feminist theory, which emerged from the movements, aims to understand the nature of gender inequality by examining women’s social roles and experience whilst recognising biological gender differences. Therefore, in its simplest understanding, Feminism seeks Gender Equality. It is a multidisciplinary approach understood through various social theories and political activism. These theorists claim that, “Those who are oppressed have a better understanding of the sources of their oppression than their oppressors.” Simone de Beauvoir‘s highlights that male superiority derives from a misguided satisfaction from driving a male agenda to the detriment of the welfare of women and children. She concluded that traditional concepts of national security being delivered through armament and military action were outdated and ineffective and driven by male perceived aptitude in this area. This can also be seen in the personal arena: social constructs are designed to align to the perceived capabilities and interests of men to the detriment of women and children and manifest itself in family violence which must be seen in the context of wider power relations. It occurs within a gendered society in which male power dominates at all levels.
Feminism seeks Gender Equality. It is a multidisciplinary approach understood through various social theories and political activism.
Where are the women leaders in the world?
Cynthia Enloe questioned, “Where are the women?” referring to the meagre 18.6% of the women in world’s political office years back. However, according to the UN Women, pictures still look bleak for women with only 22.8 percent of all national parliamentarians as women as of June 2016 and as of October 2017, only 11 women are serving as Head of State and 12 are serving as Head of Government today.
The sad Indian story
The world’s largest democracy has been an utter failure when it comes to women’s representation in the parliament, let alone those wishing to be a significant part of the ‘game’. India is sadly at the 103rd place out of 140 countries with a mere 12% representation. Among the Asian countries, India stands at the 13th position out of 18 countries while countries like South Sudan, Saudi Arabia have fared well in bringing women to parliament than India.
The world’s largest democracy has been an utter failure when it comes to women representation in the parliament, let alone those wishing to be a significant part of the ‘game’.
A detailed article titled, “Glass Ceilings in State Cabinets”, in ‘The Hindu’ studied and reported on the status of women’s representation in the ministries; it is low, and often restricted to certain portfolios. “With all state assemblies put together, 360 of the country’s 4,120 MLAs — or nine per cent — are women.” The Hindu’s analysis of data compiled by Bhanupriya Rao, an open data campaigner and an RTI activist, shows however, just 39 of the 568 Ministers in State governments, or less than seven per cent, are women. Fewer still are Cabinet Ministers. “Two States and one Union Territory — Nagaland, Mizoram and Puducherry — have no women MLAs at all! Quite a shock isn’t it? “Four additional States — Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Punjab — have women MLAs, but no women Ministers. Nearly 12 per cent of Punjab’s Assembly comprises women, while Telangana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh have close to 10 per cent women MLAs, yet none of these States have a woman Minister.”
Why do we ‘celebrate’ Women’s Day every year? Mere compliments, messages and flowers are not the marks of Women’s Day and the celebration will be real only when we have understood and achieved its meaning. Just to remind you readers about the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill- which is a lapsed bill in India now, had proposed to reserve 33 per cent of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. The Upper House Rajya Sabha, passed the bill way back in 2010 but as of February 2014, the Lower House Lok Sabha has not yet voted on the bill! Can we ask why? As the 2019 General elections are nearing, we will not be surprised to hear from all the political parties about the reservation- women empowerment and other rhetorics. But soon, they shall fade too.
Empowerment is not just in the reservation, empowerment isn’t in ‘giving’ the seats, but in evolving from the archaic- feudal-patriarchal mindset, which I believe is a long way to go. Some of which have been well displayed in the assembly itself – the most exemplary one is that of JDU leader Sharad Yadav, who, when opposing the Women’s Bill, said that the bill would only benefit the well-off in the cities, describing well-off women as, ‘‘Par Kati Auratein’’ (women with short hair). Similarly, men are not very happy when women are ‘Loud!’- Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam to BJP MP Smriti Irani: “It’s only four days of your entry into politics and you have become a political analyst” and “Aap toh TV pe thumke lagati thi, aaj chunavi vishleshak ban gayi” (You were shaking your hips on TV, and now you have become a psephologist).
Empowerment is not just in the reservation, empowerment isn’t in ‘giving’ the seats but in evolving from the archaic- feudal-patriarchal mindset.
Women taking on the challenges of politics in Arunachal Pradesh
The plight of the women leadership is frail in Arunachal, just like the other North-East states. My state Arunachal has only two female leaders in the sixty seats assembly today. The state goes to vote next year, will we see more women or resort back to nil?
My state Arunachal has only two female leaders in the sixty seats assembly today. The state goes to vote next year, will we see more women or resort back to nil?
The term empowerment is rhetorically comprehended, let alone advocated in our state, Arunachal, where vices like polygamy, child marriage along with the culture of ‘bride price’, however diminishing still persists pervasively, the social representation of women is and has been a sad affair for a very long time. And the political and economic empowerment is strictly bleak or minimal, along with the primary concern of education for the girl child. As per the 2011 Census, the literacy rate in Arunachal Pradesh is 66.95 percent, with male literacy at 73.69 percent and female literacy at just 59.57 percent. Not to forget the contention of the right to proprietorship – to which many women rights activists have spoken widely about along with the other unveiled issues. Here, women are still considered a secondary gender and are often perceived as the shadows of their husbands, like in the rest of India.
As per the 2011 Census, the literacy rate in Arunachal Pradesh is 66.95 percent, with male literacy at 73.69 percent and female literacy at just 59.57 percent.
“Electoral politics is still a far cry for women in Arunachal Pradesh,” says Jumyir Basar, an Assistant Professor at Arunachal Institute of Tribal Studies under the Rajiv Gandhi University. An assessment of women’s political status could be made through studying the role of women in rural politics, through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act-promising but not effective. According to Nirupam Bajpai, the director, Columbia Global Centers, South Asia, “Not only is the political participation of women in the North-eastern States very low, it is actually an all-India phenomenon. Across political parties, the total number of women candidates account for less than 10 percent of all those contesting the 2014 parliamentary elections.”
The recent episode of ‘forcing women politicians to compromise’ is another grim reality of the status of women leadership in Arunachal. According to the Kani Nada Maling, the former Legal Advisor, Arunachal Pradesh State Commission for Women (APSCW), “The recent appointments made in the APSCW clearly indicate that women are being victimised at the hands of male political leaders who feel threatened at the leadership of women. Whenever a woman is ready to take up a strong political role, is a threat to the existing power structure, it so happens that she is adjusted in the APSCW” ( The Arunachal Times, March 21, 2018)
I, an educated woman of my state, and many like me, would like to envisage and attempt to break such establishments and propose the idea of a society and state that is universal for all of us. And it cannot be achieved until the oppressive gender hierarchies that operate to frame the way in which we think and engage in politics are dismantled. A non-gendered perspective could truly offer us a more inclusive way of thinking about our collective future-a future in which women and men could share equally in legislations and decision making- towards the construction of a safer and more just world.
Feature Image Credit: PTI