This week was significant for women with Theresa May becoming the second woman Prime Minister of U.K. and if Hillary Clinton does manage to get elected as the President then there will be two very powerful women in USA, Ms. Clinton and Ms. Yellen, in charge of the White House and Federal Reserve respectively along with their three dominant comrades in Europe, spearheading UK, Germany and IMF respectively.
Back home Congress very cleverly named Shiela Dixit who quickly proclaimed herself the bahu of U.P. over the much loved beti Priyanka Gandhi. U.P. already is blessed with a behenji Mayawati and now the other desirable roles have also been taken up with maybe the exception of Amma (mother).
Women at the forefront would indicate that perhaps U.P. is doing better as far as closing the gender gap and improving the conditions of women is concerned but no as per a recent IndiaSpend analysis of social indicators and demographic data of Indian states, Bihar, UP and Rajasthan are the worst states in India to be a woman. Even minus the survey the pathetic situation of women in the state can be judged as the images of girl’s gang raped and hanged from a tree still haunt our minds along with the “boys will be boys” statement of the state’s popular politician Mulayam Singh, in context of awarding capital punishment to rapists.
Let us briefly analyze what keeps women away as voters and leaders, gender issues away from taking center stage in party manifestos and elections and voters away from voting for women, if and when there is a candidate:
- Playing to the Stereotype – The first reason in my opinion is that their appeal to public lies in their categorization as a bahu, beti, behen or maa. A woman’s identity thereby in politics becomes invariably and intrinsically tied with her family connections, a powerful male mentor or to her on screen image in the entertainment industry. This has been established by the fact that majority of women who have held clout in Indian politics have done it with the help of their dynasties or basis of their popularity as a film and television star. Therefore, there is an evident and obvious disconnection between the privileged few and the struggling, down trodden majority.
- Women issues are not populist – Elections where identities have been built for years around caste, class and communal issues, there is little emphasis on and space for less volatile gender issues. All political parties have a masjid or mandir to fight about, each has its share of divisive representatives giving hate speeches to polarize and a myriad of castes to pick and choose from, but women’s issues like healthcare on the contrary mostly unite rather divide hence they do not generate much furor and are thereby mostly put on the back burner. Even the goriest gang rapes are easily forgotten during election time.
- Women leaders are “less likeable” – The age old “image” problem is associated with women leaders. They are under heavy scrutiny, from their wardrobe to their shoes, weight and hair, there is much to be loathed. No matter how corrupt, immoral or deranged, public does not fill a male politician’s report card with as many red marks and rude, disparaging comments. “She needs to be more assertive” to “she is too assertive”, voters act very difficult to please. Recent attacks on Smriti Irani are a case in point when she was trolled extensively for her “perceived” demotion.
- Less representation – Fewer women candidates are fielded by political parties. Women in Indian parliament are even more underrepresented than our neighboring Bangladesh and Pakistan. Quotas also do not result in true empowerment as it is mostly the man who dominates and woman often acts as a dummy not daring in most circumstances to digress with her lord and master. And sometimes they are just used as escape goats to save other party heavy weights.
- Less female voters – Women are not considered a significant vote bank for politicians. From safety issues to violence that they face especially girls of so called lower castes in remote, rural areas discourages women from going out on election day and voting compared to male members of her family. Even if she does, like I mentioned there is little or no room for dissent from the patriarch hence there is much skepticism around her independence of choice.
- Faulty Nominations – Parties giving tickets to candidates charged with rape and other crimes including violence against women discourages participation of women as candidates and volunteers in elections. It further sends a message that they do not care about issues affecting gender rights. This has a deep psychological impact as well scaring many into submission or towing the party line.
Therefore, as this former beti of Delhi dons her new bahu avatar there is little hope for change.
By Twisha Twisha