I opened a session titled Womanifesto recently with this provocative line, “A woman’s place is in the House”. The audience held its collective breath and some of them who know me, watched with puzzlement. Before they could recover and organise a lynch mob, I quickly went on to add, ‘of the People’.
Way back in 2015, I had mulled over the idea of pushing for a more open discussion on this topic ; I even had a few graphics run up.
But I never got around to actively pushing it out, and so when Shruti Kaura asked me to moderate the programme on April 24, I accepted with alacrity. The following are my statements at the programme. For a detailed report on what other speakers said, read Citizen Matters.
“This is an apolitical forum, notwithstanding our personal political beliefs, to encourage all parties to put up more women on their own right, and who are the actual representatives. We would like to get more women candidates and more credible women candidates.
Karnataka was the first to introduce reservation for women in Panchayat Raj, keeping 25 per cent of the seats for women, way back in 1983. After the 73rd and 74th amendments to the constitution, three levels of Panchayat Raj institutions, more than half of the members of gram panchayat, taluk panchayat and zilla panchayat are women.
But when it comes to representation in Legislative Assembly and Parliament, it is a very sorry set of figures.
Let’s look at numbers. Karnataka’s population is 6.1 crore out of which men are 50.7 percent and women are 49.3 percent. But when it comes to representation in the state assembly, the percentage of women is just 2.6 percent. Of the 225 seats in the 14th Karnataka Legislative Assembly, there are just six elected women and one nominated. Out of 70 ministers in the Karnataka cabinet, only 2 are women. For the upcoming elections, the candidates of major political parties are predominantly men.
The worrisome fact is that not only are fewer women contesting, fewer women are winning. 175 women contested in the last Assembly elections in 2013, out of which only 6 won, 159 of those lost forfeited their deposits. (In the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, 21 women contested in Karnataka, and only one won).
Do female candidates ‘lose votes’?: A study on the experience of female candidates in the 1979 and 1980 Canadian general elections concludes that, ‘It does not seem, then, that the relative failure of women in federal elections can be traced directly to voters’ sentiments. Rather, it appears as if the limited success of women in federal politics in Canada largely originates in their difficulties in securing nominations to contest seats which they have some reasonable prospect of winning.’
The Women’s Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, is a lapsed bill in the Parliament of India which proposed to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. The seats were proposed to be reserved in rotation and would have been determined by draw of lots in such a way that a seat would be reserved only once in three consecutive general elections.
The Rajya Sabha passed the bill on 9 March 2010. However, the Lok Sabha never voted on the bill. The bill lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.
Is there hope on the horizon? As women in India are getting more mobilized than ever before over issues of safety, sexual harassment and human rights, could this lead to more political mobilisation?
Can all women’s groups and women’s wings of political parties agree to lobby for the passing of The Women’s Reservation Bill It should be a non-negotiable agenda, cutting across ideologies and affiliations. Be it a women’s wing of a political party or an Inner Wheel Club, in the next Parliamentary elections, all women should refuse to vote until all political parties agree to pass this bill.
A study by Politico.com says that America has a shortage of female politicians because, to put it simply, women don’t want the job. What about Indian women? Are we up to the job?”
More about me: I have always been interested in politics; I studied for a Master’s degree in political science, and I was at the periphery of student politics as class mates and friends were involved in the students’ union. The major part of my career as a journalist was spent covering Karnataka politics.
It was years later that the irony struck me; that while in college, students could win votes based on their capabilities without gender being an impediment, the equation seemed to change in the real world of adults. For many impressionable young women, the fact that we had a woman Prime Minister was a matter of great pride. I has secretly treasured with shy pride the family lore that, when I was very young and while on a tour of the Parliament, I had climbed on to the Prime Minister’s seat. Childhood games of pretend that I played with my older sister consisted of me playing the role of Indira Gandhi.
The sad reality is that the poster women of Indian politics Indira Gandhi, Mamta Bannerjee, J Jayalalithaa, Mayawati could have played a bigger role for the cause of women. Their triumphs are more personal than a victory for the sisterhood. One of Karnataka’s most successful politicians told me in an interview that politics is a man’s world. A change has got to come!