Women in Politics
How often does a young woman yearn to blend into the political fabric of India? And what are the basic hindrances she might face in her journey of active political participation?
With a plethora of organizations and their nuanced positions on women’s participation in politics, it is hard to see any uniformity in how women have managed to navigate their way through the ideologies which these institutions practice. The kind of belief system that a far-right-wing Sadhvi female politician from a somewhat rural/pastoral locality of India will have is bound to be completely unacceptable by a leftist second generational migrant to a metropolitan city. While one might find her dignity in conforming to the disciplines of submission by women, the other is bound to bring in more agency of herself in her politics.
Yet, between these two far ends of the spectrum, women experience similar tales of harassment, exploitation, gendered discrimination, and deep-rooted distrust in their merit at some point in their political journeys.
Despite the positive upsurge in women’s activism over the last decade, it is often observed that women are denied agency over their political decisions. It is substantially evident that on local levels, women get ‘token’ candidature in seats reserved for them.
And the harassment! We have come a long way to legally provide aid to women against harassment, rape, outraging of their modesty, and abuse. Yet judicial proceedings on these matters are cumbersome, subjecting women to further distress with no clear empathy from the system (until it’s an absolute necessity).
This inadequacy of our legal system prevents women from getting equal opportunities to work and live with dignity. This fact got highlighted in the case of Bhanwari Devi (Vishaka v State of Rajasthan), which paved the way for the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act in 2013. Notwithstanding shortcomings, this Act claims to be a pioneer in many ways as it mandates awareness against harassment in workplaces through educational workshops, asks for a women majority Internal Complaints Committee at all levels and branches of the workplace, and protects the confidentiality of the identity of the complainant.
Nonetheless, is this Act at all suited to be adopted by political parties in India? What are the existing provisions available for ensuring the protection of women against harassment within a political party?
The Peoples Representation Act of 1951, mandates for all the parties that they must include in their constitution, “shall be true to the principles of socialism, secularism, and democracy and would uphold the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India”. The very Act also bars the candidate from asking someone to vote on the name of caste, race, religion, community, or language by appealing to religious and national sentiments. But no one can suspect a violation of any of these categories in the macho masculine appeal of “Chhappan inch ka Seena”
The Act is tranquil about the systematic exclusion faced by women in Indian politics. If a women’s reservation bill ever passed, can it make any change in the existing state of affairs, without checking on this gaffe?
When the voice of women is so underrepresented in the People’s Representation Act itself, can a political party that takes pride in its gender-neutral environment, get away with enacting Internal Complaints Committee under sexual harassment at the workplace within its party?
In workplaces, employees and employers don’t have any accountability towards raising the morality of the society, moreover, in such places, the sole objective of their union is to earn profit and procure means of livelihood. In such a space, ICC may look like a boon to the women who can keep their confidentiality and demand equitable treatment without compromising on their means of livelihood.
But when it comes to political parties, and especially progressive political parties at that, they have a moral responsibility of prohibiting such acts of harassment, discrimination, and abuse. Not just within their ranks and file, but be a tool of such a change in society at large. Thus, the occurrence of such an instance in any party does not only call for justice to the survivor but comes out as clear evidence of the sheer failure of any party to protect its women. It depicts the same callousness of systematic exclusion of women leadership, along with its apparent break of the promise made on gender issues.
Consequently, an ICC formed in any party can serve more to hide this failure as a party, than to benefit the survivor. The only protection an ICC provides is to the name and reputation of the party. Which (a) could not stop happening of such instances in their party, (b) could not reach out to the police after the communication of complaint, and (c) now would imitate doing justice according to their whims.
For that reason, the question emanates that, how can any political party provide a safe and secure space for young and vibrant women’s leadership? What are the incentives for bold women leaders to work for a party, and deal with the phenomenon of gender-biased distrust towards their merit and leadership?
Can’t political parties address this issue within their parties by the same tools that they suggest to transform society? By discussions and dialogues, by vigilant identification of gender-biased behaviour in their own cultures and constant corrections of the same? Can any party come out in the open and show how many discussions they had on gender issues in their own party meetings and conferences? What are the beautiful social experiments for the 21st century that they have incorporated within their parties as an attempt to be a little more gender-neutral space?
Thinking aloud, these experiments could be anything ranging from reserving seats for women in all units of the party to defining the ways a woman could be talked to in party WhatsApp groups. From recognising the contribution of wives and mothers of party members, to making of youth wings under the compulsory leadership of young women. But until and unless parties are not ready to debate the patriarchy in their political culture, they will continue to lag far behind the popular opinion about the gender discourse.