Neelam Gorhe, Shiv Sena MLC and intrepid campaigner, is known for her study of women’s issues and consistent activism for gender justice. Here she talks about continuing low representation of women in the electoral field.
Despite all the talk of the last two years about women’s issues, the average number of women contestants is more or less the same as in previous elections. Why has this happened?
It’s a complex answer. A part of this has to do with the fact there are other considerations to select a candidate: the mass base he/she enjoys, resources and network. On these parameters, the winnability of women is still seen as less than that of men. Another part is to do with the fact that politics represents the secondary status of women in the society itself.
This could be addressed by giving more tickets to women. Your comment.
In a way, yes, but there’s a three-tier system in most parties. At the local level, a number of women participate in the political process, address issues of social justice including gender justice. At the second level of district or zilla, things get a bit more complicated and an atmosphere is created that their winnability is low; perhaps women also don’t put forth their candidature forcefully. As a result, at the top party level, though the intent is there to encourage women, there aren’t enough of them around.
Are you saying the political system and structure of parties is to blame for the low representation?
To a large extent, yes. Though women are doing good work at the grassroots, their work is seen as social work. The same work done by a man is seen as political work and he’s able to build on it to get the attention of the party leadership, and then perhaps a ticket.
Parties have to change within. Why isn’t it happening in your party?
Any change is slow. Social change, especially to do with women and caste, is especially slow. But in Shiv Sena, many women have become floor managers, gat netas (group leaders) in corporations and are doing well. A few of them are now contesting the Assembly election. There are women office-bearers and spokespersons in parties, including ours. So, women’s roles are increasing.
Would the 33% reservation in Assembly and Parliament help?
It would. Uddhavji has included a number of programmes to do health, technology and education, legal changes for women in the party’s Vision Document. The sensitivity is there.