Uttarakhand may have a large number of female voters, but things are not that rosy when it comes to women politicians and their contribution to women empowerment in the state.
Even after 13 years of state formation, the participation of women in mainstream politics continues to be relatively limited in the hill state, where women are known to have played a vital role in the statehood formation movement during the 1990s.
Even though 50% reservation in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) has increased the representation of women in rural local bodies, a glimpse at the state-level politics clearly illustrates the marginalised participation of women in the decision making institute.
Out of the 70-member legislative assembly, there are only five elected women MLAs. Talking about the current members of Parliament (MPs) from Uttarakhand, there is only one woman MP, BJP’s Mala Rajya Laxmi Shah from Tehri constituency. Ila Pant from the Nainital constituency has also been a former member of the Lok Sabha from Uttarakhand.
The existing women politicians believe that the participation of women in mainstream political activity in the hill state needs a major push amid the current scenario.
“Women’s substantial participation in voting and providing quota to them in PRIs may increase their visibility, but the only way to empower women is to include them widely in active politics,” said Congress MLA from Kedarnath Shailarani Rawat.
Ironically, the number of women candidates fielded by political parties is the hill state is generally much lower than that of their men counterparts, despite the fact that the womenfolk here were on the forefront of the statehood formation movement in the erstwhile Uttar Pradesh. Women are also known for their active participation in anti-liquor movements and fighting against deforestation.
Slamming the reluctance of political parties in fielding women candidates, senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushila Baluni said that women should form at least 50% of the political arena so that they could address women issues strongly and adequately.
“Simply creating women wings of the parties is not enough, assigning them strong responsibilities based solely on their political acumen (and not their gender) is the need of the hour. If the parties do not give them adequate representation, the politically-inclined women should unite and contest elections as independent candidates,” said former chairperson of the Uttarakhand State Commission for Women Sushila Baluni.
Sadly, despite managing to rise in the political echelons of the state, very few women in the history of the state have reached the top slots. Finance minister Indira Hridyesh feels that political parties in general are not serious about ensuring reservation for women within their organisations.
“Forget making women reservation bill in the legislature a reality, the political parties are not even serious about ensuring adequate representation of women within their own internal structures,” Hridyesh said. Calling limited women participation in state politics unfortunate, Hridyesh said, “Even those women who climb the political ladders arduously are not given priority at key positions many times.”
Commenting on the limited representation of women in the mainstream politics, a senior state bureaucrat said that politics in the predominantly hill state is not a level-playing field for the women who lack muscle power and have limited political reach and communication.
“Women in Uttarakhand, who are increasingly entering the PRIs through women reservation, are doing relatively well. But representation of women as MLAs and MPs are much lower in our state because of lack of organisational opportunities for the women,” said the bureaucrat, who wished not to be named.