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Empowering women for nation building

Socio-economic justice sans political power is a myth, says Dr Paramjit Kaur.

india Updated: May 30, 2007 13:18 IST

Aristotle, the father of Political Science had said that state is a "union of families and villages". Family is the basic unit of society, which is the foundation of state itself. Happy families create a healthy society and healthy society is a pre-requisite of strong political order in democratic societies.

A woman is an architect of society. She establishes the institution of family life, builds the home, brings up the children and makes them good citizens. Her strength in totality contributes in the making of an ideal family, ideal society and an ideal state.

The question is as to how secure a woman is in her family and society (I'll talk of Punjab) and what is her socio-economic and political status. The position of women in any society is the indicator of health of the state.

The Census data of 2001 reveals that the society has closed its door for the birth of female child. The declining ratio between male and female child is ringing a warning bell and is a serious threat to Punjabi civilisation. The wave of liberalisation from the West is playing havoc with the dignity of Punjabi woman. Her identity and honour is getting lost in the consumer culture of globalisation. The culture of free media has reduced a woman to be a commodity.

The increasing incidents of domestic and social violence, eve-teasing, rape and kidnappings, selling off our daughters to foreign-lads, costly state of education and marriage of daughters and drug addiction in Punjabi youth is a serious threat to the fair sex.

It is evident that women in Punjab are deprived of social, economic and political justice. The principle of gender equality has been incorporated in our Constitution (Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Duties and Directives principles) while the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution have provided for the reservation of seats for women in local bodies. National Commission for Women is also working in this direction since 1990. Much has been provided for by our Central ant state legislatures in this direction.

After 60 years of independence, the desired goals have still to be achieved. The ground realities still seem to be hostile to them. It has become essential for women to be politically empowered to achieve socio-economic justice.

It has rightly been said who holds the purse holds the nation. As the women are better half of the nation, they deserve better share in political power. The male-dominated political parties and legislatures in the country do not bear with their equal number in representative institutions.

The male Parliamentarians have not allowed the Women Reservation Bill to be passed of Parliament for many years. The women in Parliament bought over by promises of giving adequate representation to them in elected bodies without reservation but when the elections near females are kept at bay.

A glance at the performance of women in Punjab Legislative elections shows that it's not a child's play for them to get political power. Only 55 women could jump in the arena to compete with more than 1,000 men of whom only seven could make it to the assembly.

The criteria made for their selection is not their merit but political background of their fathers, husbands or brothers. The annual results of school, college, university or competitive exams show that girls always outshine the boys. Punjabi women like Kiran Bedi might have earned name and fame at international level in administration but in political field women are considered as an unfit lot. Working women might be given equal pay and perks in jobs but top positions in administration and politics are meant only for men alone.

During elections the leaders may dig the death wells of unborn daughters (like Patran near Patiala) but at normal times no government official takes note of them. Declarations like "Shagun Schemes" for poor girls may not bring life long amenities to them but these are good sops to woo votes.

What we lack is "political will" to understand the importance of women's role in nation building and all avenues open to them to get political power.

If we look at the representation of women in the Parliament since independence, the inequity will be more than evident. It seems there is a long march ahead for them in political arena. In 1952 only 4.4 per cent of women could make it to the Lok Sabha. Similarly 5.4 per cent in 1957, 6.8 per cent in 1962, 5.9 per cent in 1967, 4.2 per cent in 1971, 3.4 per cent in 1977, 7.9 per cent in 1980, 8.1 per cent in 1984, 5.3 per cent in 1989, 7.2 per cent in 1991, 7.2 per cent in 1996, 9 per cent in 1999and 8.2 per cent in 2004 women could get representation in this apex body of our country.

The story is much the same in the Punjab Legislative Assembly. In 117 members House, their number could never reach in two digits. The history since 1967 shows that their representation was just 1.92 per cent in 1967, nil in 1969, 5.77 per cent in 1972, 1.17 per cent in 1977, 4.27 per cent in 1985, 6.84 per cent both in 1997 and 2004 and 5.98 per cent in 2007.

Why is it then that women in India in general and Punjab in particular are unable to make a mark in politics? Are they not capable of their own to compete with men? Are they not politically aware? The reason is that our social set-up does not allow them to show their capability. The political environment has gone so dirty that politics is no more considered to be a noble profession. The educated women burn midnight oil for years to be doctors, engineers and executives but politics is not considered to be the area meant for them. It does not matter that they are not interested in politics or whether they are politically aware or not.

In Punjab elections, heavy turn out of women voters has shown that they are politically much more vigilant. A large share of 48.23 per cent of total votes polled in Punjab was of women voters. There is a dire need of educated women to come in forefront to cleanse the political environment of the state.

As per Census of 2001 Doaba belt has the highest number of educated women. In elections too they have proved to be forerunners. In district Nawan Shehar, 50.7 per cent of total votes were of female voters. (The district is also known for improving its male -female ratio since 2001.) Hoshiarpur district was placed at the top in number of educated women in Census 2001and the women in seven constituencies of total eight have outnumbered the men in making use of their right to vote.

Similarly Jalandhar district came second in 2001with 72.93 per cent educated women. In six out of 10 constituencies of the district women were ahead of men in polling. Kapurthala district of Doaba too did not lag behind. In Bholath, Kapurthala and Sultanpur Lodhi constituencies 53.48 per cent, 50.65 per cent and 50.18 per cent share in total votes polled was of women.

In four constituencies of Gurdaspur district of Majha area too, women outnumbered men in making use of their right to vote not as a right but as duty. Thus women in Punjab have given ample proof of what they deserve in politics. Political power is must for them to survive, grow and compete in this male dominated society. No one can get anything done without money or influence in this corrupt society.

Perhaps the unborn girl child becoming the victim of greed before birth also needs political shelter to save her from the clutches of doctors committing the crime of female feticide. That is possible only with the adequate representation of her community - woman in Indian Parliament and state assemblies.

The solution lies in educating the girl child. Each debate and discussion in favour of women empowerment in seminars, in print and electronic media leads to the conclusion that the plight of women cannot be improved without political will. If the number of educated women increases in legislatures there is more possibility of better implementation of laws passed in their favour.

In a report 'The Vision 2020' released by Punjab Government in June 2006 in regard to the state of higher education in the state shows that only 69.95 per cent of the youth gets higher education. The Census 2001 shows that 65.55 per cent women are educated in Punjab. A UGC report indicates that only 14 girls go for education against 100 boys in India in 1950-51but the number has increased to 66 in the year 2001-2.

Much more needs to be done in this direction. Political parties should increase the number of educated women in the primary membership of their parties. More and more educated women should be given party tickets to contest elections. The women too should not hesitate anymore to jump into the political field.

They should not search for the role models but try themselves to be role models in politics. It would be of no use giving equal share in parental property unless the social set-up is changed. That can be changed only by sincere implementation of laws made for women. A woman is shakti, the natural energy. The most ancient scriptures say that without the female power, it is not possible for humankind to survive. The female power has been the force behind all the great leaders of the world. Therefore, they must be politically empowered. The writing is on the wall - the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.

Dr Paramjit Kaur is a lecturer in Political Science at SD College, Hoshiarpur in Punjab. She can be reached at paramjit001@ gmail.com.

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