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Parties still shy of big ‘ticket’ change for women in Bihar

By Arun Kumar, Patna
PUBLISHED ON OCT 01, 2020 05:37 PM IST

As Bihar’s chief minister for 15 years, Nitish Kumar has indeed taken a slew of initiatives for women, but their political empowerment, particularly in the context of assembly elections, remains a concern even today.

Initiatives like cycle scheme for girls, 50% reservation to women in panchayats, primary agriculture credit societies, cooperative societies and school teachers’ recruitment, or even total prohibition in Bihar have found favour with women, which manifested itself in their turnout during 2019 Lok Sabha election, which was 60% compared to 55% male voters.

But their representation in the state assembly remains low.

The present assembly has just 28 women, which comes to mere 11% of the House strength of 243.

The high point was the 2010 assembly polls, when 34 women (14%) made it to the Assembly, the highest representation in the last six decades.

The year 2010 also witnessed the highest number of women in the election fray at 307, which dropped to 272 five years later.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections also, only three women could win from Bihar. The 17th Lok Sabha got 78 woman MPs, an increase of 16 from the 16th but it was still just 14.31%.

With another Assembly elections round the corner, the issue of woman representation has again started drawing attention, as it depends on how many tickets mainstream political parties actually give to women. Most political parties shy away from giving tickets to women citing the winnability factor in the male-dominated electoral politics.

Shakti, along with 120 grassroots organisations, has very timely appealed to all political parties in Bihar, national and smaller parties, urging them to field 50% female candidates.

Tara Krishnswamy, co-founder of Shakti, said, “The last 68 years of elections in Bihar show that men have 90% reservations in the Assembly, which implies that voters have no choice. Shockingly, if we add up all the women who have ever been MLAs in Bihar, it adds up to only 277! Just a little more than the size of the Assembly.”

“How can Bihar become a glorious state by leaving 50% of the talent untapped for state governance? We are putting public pressure on the parties to be fair, and field 50% women candidates. It is the only democratic thing to do,” she says.

Dr Maya Shankar Prasad, historian and retired professor, department of history, Patna University, says, “21st century should be a gender equality century, especially when it comes to representation in the Parliament and state assemblies. It would be a good gesture on the part of our leaders to offer them at least 33% to start with.”

Earlier this month, an endeavour to groom woman leaders by a social organization ‘Netri Foundation’ and involving experts from World Bank, UN Women, Indian School of democracy and other organisations also got underway with the support from all the mainstream political parties to prepare woman leaders for 2020 polls.

“We have trained over 250 women in UP and MP for panchayat politicians, but this is the first time we doing it for assembly elections. The objective is to let women themselves champion the cause of gender in politics, which remains largely neglected. The response has been very good,” said Netri founder Kanchi Agarwal, adding the programme ends on October 3.

Congress MLA Amita Bhushan too pitched for at least 33% reservation for women in the legislature. “Rest they can do themselves, as they have amply proved with whatever opportunities have come their way. It is high time all the political parties came forward to give women the representation they deserve and stop rhetoric. Women today are ready to take the mantle, but they are being denied their rights,” she says.

RJD MLA EjyaYadav said it was for the woman to take the initiative to make a place for themselves the male-dominated field. “They need to have the leadership quality and family support, as politics requires a lot of sacrifice. Things are gradually changing, but it will take time, as nothing comes easy,” she says.

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