To mark International Women’s Day, the GNLU Centre for Law and Society conducted a panel discussion with Mr. Saurabh Anand, Ms. Saira Gori, Ms. Bindu Vijay, Ms. Prabhavati Baskey, Mr. Tarun, Ms. Esha Meher, Mr. Sujoy Sur, Mr. Ambrish Tewari and Ms. Esha Tomar offering their insights on the Role of Women in Contemporary Indian Politics.
The discussion brought up many vital issues prevalent in today’s political context, but it also offered individual and sometimes conflicting perspectives to the approaches to be adopted in combating problems faced by women in politics.
The session began with Mr. Tarun setting the agenda and the guidelines for the discussion and then giving the floor to the other panellists.
Ms. Esha Meher advocated a comprehensive approach and looking at problems with feminism at large. The issues with empowerment do not lie so much with how many people have voting rights but more so with how many people are able to exercise those voting rights. There should be a focus on how socially and politically aware a woman is. When she casts her vote, the questions we must ask ourselves is whether she cast that vote of her own free will, making an informed choice based on personal and individual political ideations, or if she was coerced into doing so by her husband.
Another issue she brought up was that a number of successful women in the political arena are women who have emerged from political dynasties. Having a family of male politicians bodes well for an Indian woman who wants to enter politics. However, breaking into the system should not be so dependent on nepotism.
Ms. Esha Tomar brought up the success of women in NGOs and how social workers who though do not play a direct role in politics, do help in raising awareness and other forms of social empowerment.
Ms. Saira Gori emphasised the rural -urban divide in empowerment and how that needs to be an area of focused change. Mr. Saurabh Anand raised the issue of despite there being reservation, the power to effect change is still frustrated when the top posts are held by men, and society and families are inherently patriarchal. Men need to stop being the only ones holding the reins and women need to be heard.
Mr. Sujoy Sur argued that women should not be given political identities as women but rather, as able politicians. Recognising her contribution based on her gender and not on her merit is not giving her full credit. There should not be a separate assimilation of gender identity in politics.
Ms. Esha Meher offered a different opinion on that subject. She believed, to ensure that there is empowerment, a woman should use her gender identity. She cited the example of Jayalalithaa, who created the “Amma” identity, intrinsically tied to her image as a motherly and caring figure. Women have something special to offer as a separate gender and that has to be identified and utilised.
Ms Prabhavati Baskey, promoted reservations as a solution to the problem. However, they have to be effectively implemented. She pointed out that often, seats reserved for women lie vacant as there are no competent candidates to contest elections The issue lies not with no woman being able, but rather, no able woman wanting to contest the seat. That is for reasons inherent in politics. Women are hesitant to join politics because of the way the nature of the political arena has degenerated into corruption and unfair practices. For women, a trend of dirty politics has to change before they enter politics. Ms. Esha Meher concurred and added that that applies equally to both men and women. No educated, decent human wants to devote their lives to practices and politics devoid of ethics.
Mr. Ambrish Tewari believed that the problems lie with societal misconceptions of what a politician should be – because of stereotypes on how an ideal politician should meet certain parameters, able women are not elected to power.
Ms. Bindu supported the ideas of evaluation of parties in terms of the levels to which they empower women and reprimanding them for failures. Furthermore, the government must focus on effective implementation of existing schemes for empowerment.
Mr. Sujoy pointed out that subtle changes need to occur. Even the language we use could promote a subtly patriarchal mindset and reinforce gender prejudices. To sum up he proffered suggestions – to educate both men and women about empowerment and the contribution women can make to politics, and to ensure upward political mobility among the labour force. Ms. Esha Meher added that we need to start ensuring there is economic empowerment of women as political change would appear incidental to that, and we need to acknowledge biological differences between sexes and concomitant differences in ability.
The discussion posed some thought provoking questions- questions that can only be answered individually, but it was a significant mark of the day. A fitting testament to the progress and change women have made and have the potential to make.
Report written Samira Mathias, Member, GNLU Centre for Law and Society)
(Image courtesy: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/About)