Shift the burden; push parties to pitch women

  • Smruti Koppikar, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 11, 2014 11:16 IST

There are no prizes for guessing if political parties, headed into the state assembly election that’s round the corner, will generously give tickets to their women workers.

Till such time that the 33% representation in legislatures and the Parliament is not made mandatory, they will be happy to make all the right noises on women’s representation and leave it at that. All the canvassing and grass-root work by women’s organisations would have yielded little.

The robust campaigning thus far has been to reserve one- third of all seats in state legislatures and the Parliament for women. The women’s reservation bill has routinely made it to many manifestos in the past few elections and has received attention – some of it unwelcome (who can forget Sharad Yadav’s phrase “par kati”?) – in the Houses. But, it has not been made into a law.

Perhaps, we have been pushing the wrong end of the argument. Perhaps, the effort is better re-directed at passing legislation that puts the onus of reservation on political parties by mandating them to issue 33% of their tickets in all elections to women.

This would ensure that the elected legislature would have a substantial number of women anyway, even more than one-third of its strength that the Bill envisages.

It would also take away the “stigma” of a reserved seat, not randomly unseat two-thirds of elected representative men and restore people’s right to choose from among a set of candidates who have not been determined only by the yardstick of gender.

Parties would have to weigh in the gender factor into “winnability” – so far the over-arching criterion they presently use to decide candidates – at least for every third seat they contest.

Over time, this could draw in a larger proportion of women into electoral politics, and not all of them will be standing proxy for husband/father/brother.

Making it mandatory for parties to have at least 33% of their candidates as women would also ensure that they take go beyond the political correctness that they are now prone to on this subject, Yadav and his kind excluded.

Some of these suggestions were made in an analytical paper authored by, among others, Yogendra Yadav and Madhu Purnima Kishwar for the redoubtable Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and Loksatta.

Incidentally, both are now in a position to put the ideas into action in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) respectively.

In Maharashtra assembly, the average representation in the state legislature since the first election has been a paltry 4.6%, better than the national average of 3.9%, but well below states such as Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, according to the paper.

The data analysis, surprisingly, shows little or no co-relation between education and status of women in a state and their political representation in that state.

“Women elected in reserved constituencies will be contesting against other women only, and will lack the legitimacy and opportunity needed to prove their ability and acceptability. Leadership acquired in such a manner will be seen as unnatural, ar tificial and foisted… women will not be able to nurse their constituencies,” explained the report.

Snehal Ambekar, Mumbai’s new mayor, is a case in point. Her party leader, Uddhav Thackeray, apparently decided that she would occupy the position because all the right boxes were ticked off in her case, the least of which was that she was a woman.

She may surprise us all with her ideas and work, but her electoral merit was that she had the right gender for that seat in the 2012 election.

Women as proxy candidates have brought about some positive change in the political arena, but getting elected on merit will deepen the feminisation of politics. Between the four major parties, they gave tickets to only 35 women in 2009 state assembly election.

This election provides parties a chance to go beyond the rhetoric, but chances are they won’t. Pity.

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