We have grown up hearing that politics is a man’s world – we saw it over the years at countless parties, during festivals and other gatherings where the men would thrash out the politics of the day, and leave women entirely out of the discussion. If a woman dared to add her two cents, she would more often than not be berated for not knowing anything “on the ground level”.
But with a changing world, we must look at why women’s voices are still so few in number. And why for many, even if they break the chains of patriarchy that tether them to the home and to conventional roles of being a wife and mother, the path to joining the world of politics is fraught with minefields.
While answering the Facebook prompt asking for information about my politics, I wrote that I have nothing to do with politics; that I want nothing to do with politics. But why do so many young women fear entering politics? In my mind, I believed I would never fit in – something that has been ingrained in me over the years.
But I see so many young and intellectual women being denied entry into the political field. Why is this? After all, democracy gives equal status to all. Yet that status has not been translated to truly fit the political scenario of our country. India has had only one woman prime minister in the more than 70 years since we became independent. Women make up only 14% of the parliament, as of 2019 – that figure drops to 9% in some state assemblies. It blows my mind that in a country of 1.3 billion people, of which almost half the population comprises women, we are still so underrepresented.
From parliaments to ministries and governing bodies, they are all full of men. And when you think about why our voices are not being heard, it’s because our rights have been dependent on what the men who are part of such bodies choose to dole out or not. They get to decide what is right for women and what is wrong. And in 2020, the gender gap is still very much in place – parties must seriously introspect why they have failed to provide adequate representation to women.
Thousands of women are proving themselves daily in a male-dominated society that they too can do politics, but they are not listened to enough. Women who are members of a party may work hard to uplift it but, when elections come around, tickets are handed out to women celebrities or someone’s sister, daughter or wife.
For a common woman to enter politics, it’s a whole different ball game.
In my bid to figure out why there are such few women in politics and what holds them back, I spoke to several friends and young activists.
When I spoke with Bijaya Biswal, a writer and activist in Odisha, she said, “Politics in India relies heavily on the use of force and social networks. The popular image of a strong figure has been understood to be synonymous with a ‘masculine figure’. Since the framework of our elections is anti-feminist, to begin with, women lose out on it. Only women like Pragya Thakur, who abide by this patriarchal superstructure, or Vasundhara Raje Scindia, who are born into powerful families, get to survive. Also, men are absolved of domestic responsibilities and hence, can afford to organise and agitate. The same doesn’t hold for women.”
I also talked to Jolene, an activist presently studying women, culture and development. Jolene spoke of how the structure of political organisations has always been unfavourable to women. Worse, she said, women are not seen as human beings first but as someone’s sister, mother or wife.
Speaking about how women are left out of the political structure, she also said:
“The exclusion of women is apparent even in subaltern left and dalit politics. This keeps the most marginalised of women, who live on the furthest margins of society on the scantiest of resources, women’s whose resourcefulness and courage should be leveraged – out of the system.
Kanshiram and Ambedkar and for that matter even Gandhi believed in movements led by women and actively encouraged and involved women in their political endeavours. I hope the present crop of subaltern politicians realise the folly and absurdity of leaving women, the most marginalised from their communities, out of identity based political endeavours.”
I talked to Gurmeher Kaur, the author of Small Acts of Freedom, a deeply personal family history. A social activist, she took on the right-wing extremists targeting her, resulting in her being named by TIME Magazine as a ‘Next Generation Leader’ in October 2017. Kaur is currently pursuing a masters at University of Oxford.
“Women don’t go into politics because in our households we always imagine politics to be dirty, corrupt and we don’t quite see it as public service at all. For most of us non dynasts from regular middle class families, public service has always meant government jobs or joining the military. That’s true for both men and women, but the patriarchal structures that we live in heighten that sentiment for women. It’s the idea of ‘we don’t want good women in our good homes to go into a dirty job’,” she said.
The question we need to ask ourselves now is: what role do we play as constituents in voting for leaders who enable the sort of politics that excludes women?
More so, anytime a woman steps into the public arena, she is taken apart by trolls and has to face abuse most men could never even dream of going through, even in their worst nightmares. And all the while, society justifies it and amps it up.
This needs to change. And change lies with us. It’s time women work past the fear, if only to inspire a new generation, so that we can initiate revolutionary change grounded in equality.
Jagisha Arora has an MA in History and has worked as a freelance writer. She writes on issues of gender, caste and democracy.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty