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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 15, April 8, 2023

Gender equality - how near and far are we as a largest democracy | Girija K S

Saturday 8 April 2023


By Girija K S *

"Where women are full participants of politics or economy, societies are more likely to succeed – former US President Obama”

At a time when we are celebrating another women’s day it becomes essential for us to revisit the lives of women within the country as well internationally. And this year’s theme is "#from equality to equity". When we have not yet defined what we mean by equality, we have to think about equity too. This is the paradox.

India is a growing largest democracy in the world and the entire universe is looking at India for various reasons today. However internally when we see the conditions, how far have we been able to function as a democratic country. How close are we in achieving gender equality which is one of the important criteria for development and democracy. The recent suicide of Dr. Preeti, a doctor by profession has made the conscious section of society to think about this incident and relook into the very perception on which women’s lives are designed and structured. Such incidents occur daily and as per NCRB every 18 minutes a girl / women is sexually abused. Dowry deaths and domestic violence too have been on the rise. Amongst them, downtrodden women are the worst affected. The socio-cultural taboos that are associated with their lives hampers their upliftment as well as their well-being.

Since every girl child born in this country has got the right to be free from exploitation and deserves to reach her full potential, gender inequalities have hindered her progress and has put her at a disadvantaged position. Take for example the political representation in the parliament and in state legislative assemblies. The numbers are very very disturbing and negligible. India has not been able to elect more than 15% of women to the parliament and in Karnataka not more than 6% (all-time highest). The present government had only 7 members and one with a portfolio. The local bodies have fared better since there is 50% reservation. However, over the years we have seen a decline in women getting elected to parliament and state assemblies. Even when she is elected she generally doesn’t get an important portfolio (exceptions are there). When this is the case of political apathy, how can we bring women into national and state politics or what is it that is hindering women from being a part of larger political scenario. Since elections are in the offing (both for Karnataka state assembly probably in May and for lok sabha in 2024) will the national and regional parties give sufficient seats for women to contest or will it remain for propaganda is the question that has to be seen. The basic question which I would like to ask these parties is why not women ? The reasons I diverse and far more than we can comprehend since the ideas are deep rooted in patriarchy and a man who is also a politician often doesn’t like to work under a female member. Even Indira Gandhi was, for that matter rediculed and told " she was the only male member in the cabinet". Again our present president had to face such discriminatory treatment from the ruling party members, not taking into consideration her position as the first citizen of the nation. Finance minister Nirmala Sitaraman was again in news not for all the wrong reasons not just presenting her budget but the saree that she wore.

When Mahuo speaks in parliament on any issue, she is branded. And no other politician has been condemned than Sonia Gandhi for all the wrong reasons.

I ask again why such statements - just because are they women?. Have you seen at any time a male politician undergoing such treatment.

Probably such practices within parties and in parliament may have stopped women from entering into politics which again needs to be addressed appropriately. The most important reason for women not entering politics is is doesn’t win and she cannot openly go about distributing liquor and money, as is normally done by male candidates. As the saying goes, "the winning horse gets the highest chance to bet" women are considered not a wining horse. This attitude of the parties needs to be rectified.

Our society believes that women are to be soft spoken, sober and will have to take care of the family, politics doesn’t give room for such ideals and hence may be away from political participation. With all these limitations and mindset, it still becomes pertinent for us to focus on women’s political representation as we are far behind many Asian and European countries when it comes to political participation of women.

Also we need to look at countries which have given women more power. They have not just brought about changes internally but are playing an important role in international politics. Countries like Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan have adopted such policies that make women active members of society and in all spheres.

In our own country in the local governments women’s participation and functioning is laudable though with limitations. Hence let us give more power to women in politics and make them active members of this largest democracy. Let us hope that in coming days the women’s reservation bill is passed and we can see more women in parliament and state legislative assemblies. Let’s wake up as a nation and she’d patriarchy from our minds. Let’s see a new dawn in coming days and see a gender just society.

* (Author: Girija K S, Assistant professor, Department of Political science, University College of Arts, Tumkur University, Tumakuru)

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