Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Election 2014 : Are women going to gain anything out of it?

Are women going to gain anything out of this election? It’s a tough question and there is no real answer to it. Democracy gives you the rights. But it takes hard work for those rights to be actualised. Even something like a reservation bill for women – that is ensuring that all legislatures must have a certain number of seats only for women – is problematic. In gender fairness terms, women also have the right to vote for a man and people have the right not to have a candidate forced upon them.

But all arguments against affirmative action or reservations or quotas get stuck at the most important hurdle: what else can a society do to redress inbuilt, historical imbalances? Either way the road is long and tough. The only way women can get a fair deal is to demand it, speak up more and not get trapped endlessly in the arguments put forward by patriarchy.

We are still at the stage when women candidates tend to be related to some established male politician. Even Mayawati, a few times chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, had the backing of Kanshi Ram and his vision for the Bahujan Samaj Party. Mamata Banerjee is a rare example of a female politician who has risen to the top on her own strength Рand it is a formidable achievement whatever your views on her politics. But Banerjee sadly exemplifies that old clich̩: she is the exception not the rule.

But even if the road to elected glory is long and arduous, woman can and must assert their rights in as many ways as possible. They have to make their political voices heard even if it means defying family or community diktats about who to vote for. Many are more politically aware than they admit but do not always find the means to express their ideas. Actually, the secrecy of an election booth provides just that ideal opportunity. There’s no one with you and no one knows what you are doing.

The voting option may be obvious but it is no less significant for all that. The fight for universal franchise has been long and bloody worldwide and India is lucky that our Constitution makers saw the light before many other so-called developed nations.

Elections though follow a cyclical pattern and democracy is not just about voting. The fight for democratic rights has to be relentless. The only way out is for women to engage. Politics cannot and must not remain a male domain. Women will be taken more seriously only if they get more serious. Women’s issues are now limited to safety and security – which however vital often get mired in patriarchal concerns. But women also have a voice when it comes to non-female issues. Why should foreign relations or the economy or defence be part of the male discourse while women are contained within children, education and health?
There are no answers here. Only food for thought?

Ranjona Banerji
Senior Journalist