Mirage of Emancipation – position of women in elections

By Mrgya V

Emancipation of women has become a mirage for every woman of the 21st century.

We live in an illusion that they  women are free, working on the basis  their expressing their free will and enjoying freedom to the utmost level. The concept of women empowerment and feminism is not very old as the first phase of feminism took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, emerging out of an environment of urban industrialism and liberal and socialist politics. ​The goal of this wave was to open up opportunities for women, with a focus on suffrage. ​At the same time the concept of woman empowerment was introduced at UN`s third world conference on women in Nairobi in 1985, which defined it as​ redistribution of social and economic powers and control of resources in the favour of women​. In India, this concept was made known around the early nineteenth century only. In all of this, one thing that stands out markedly is that none of the above discussion centres around real political rights or real freedom of choice, whether we talk about being voted for or voting in an election. 

These challenges can be seen in our domestic setup as well. We have reservation at panchayat level but not at the level of state assembly election or at parliamentary elections. What does this reflect? Are women needed at panchayat level only or they deserve empowerment upto this level only? The recent picture of the first phase of Bihar elections portrays the above:

First phase of Bihar election conducted on 28 October in 71 constituencies. Around 1000 candidates contested in this phase in which around 113 were women. Leading parties fielded 27 candidates in the first phase assembly elections. RJD has fielded 10 candidates in the first phase. JDU, BJP, LJP has fielded 5 each whereas Congress and HAM-S has fielded one candidate each. This is the story of leading political parties, regional parties are not very different. So the overall women participation in the election is around 15 to 20%. On the voters side the number of women using their right to suffrage is remarkable. The female voter turnout has been increasing since the last few elections. The number of women getting elected to Bihar assembly has been fluctuating as at the same time it was not more than 10 to 15%.

The increasing female voter turnout has become a vote bank for the political parties. Majority of them is less educated and less aware about the politics and the long term reforms needed for them and their state. They vote either on the order of their family member or on the advice of their family members combined with their own intellect seeking their short term benefit. For those who are educated or belong to economically and socially better off families these orders take the shape of the advice.  This implies that this 50% voter is not enjoying their right to vote actually as they do not have their own opinion about politics.

If we look at these contesting candidates most of them are either from political families or they are already renowned in their own field which is different from politics. We can take example of few female contestants participating in the current Bihar election. Pushpam priya, daughter offormer JDU MLC , Shreyasi singh, gold medalist in commonwealth games and Arjun award winner, Manorama devi, wife of Bindeshwari prasad yadav.

This is not the case with Bihar only, but with whole of India that the political standing of women is like this. At the centre , the percentage of women ministers is not even 5%. Female MPs are also not more than 10 to 15%. This is the data when nominated one`s are also included.

If we talk about the statistics of women at the highest level of hierarchy the count may reach zero.

This poor situation of female political representation is when the probability of winning an election for a female candidate is almost 80 to 90%. Political parties give the reason for the winnability factor for their reluctance to give tickets to female candidates.

The two things which can be derived from Indian politics are – one, women representation in politics is low but the number of female voters is increasing continuously, and two – the women who are participating in politics either as voters or as contestants are enjoying their illusionary political rights(freedom).

This situation can be improved either by government intervention of positive discrimination or by women on their own realising and recognising their true freedom. Gandhi’s idea of Satyagraha was a derivative of female tolerance. Now there is need for a few more satyagraha for the independence of the other half of India.

Real empowerment starts from freedom of thoughts, to have one’s own opinion and space given by others for these opinions. When a woman is free to think and act accordingly without any conformist tinge in their thoughts, it will be their real emancipation.

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