By Lata Jha:Â
We believe our women have come a long way. We pride ourselves on the fact that we’ve had women Chief Ministers, a Prime Minister and even a President. We cite them as examples of a country that respects its women and puts them on a pedestal where they can make a difference. But it’s shocking, and not very pleasantly so, that even in a country like India which has been home to a lot of debates on gender equality and which cherishes the fact that women have been a part of its governance even before Independence, the percentage of women in politics is alarmingly low.
With women constituting only 10.8% of the total Lok Sabha and 10.5% of the Rajya Sabha members, we fare worse than our own neighbours like Pakistan and Nepal. Even China and Bangladesh rank higher. Reasons for this are quite a few. “The political reins of a male dominated country in the hands of women is still a farfetched idea. Many people think that women are weak, vulnerable and incapable of handling stress and taking appropriate decisions under pressure. You can’t blame the women really, they’re brought up in a society that limits their existence and identity to a home maker,” says Shreya.
It’s easy to say Sonia Gandhi is arguably the most powerful leader in the country today. But a handful of people like her and Sheila Dixit do not determine the rest of our destinies. “I don’t think women are given enough space to establish themselves in the present political structure, partly due to chauvinism, the fact that we believe our wives and sisters are meant for the kitchen. Which is why we never bothered to send them to schools, forget letting them attend rallies to make political decisions for themselves. And also due to the widespread socio-economic backwardness”, says Namita, a college student.
More importantly, even the fact that these few women leaders are who they are does not make things easier for people like us when we walk on the roads or use public transport or seek jobs. Namita adds that most female politicians till date have hardly been inspiring. Their work leaves a lot to be desired.
Truly, for women in whom it has forever been ingrained that they are incompetent, it is tough to even dream. “It’s true that women don’t take the initiative. But that’s also because politics is considered a ‘man’s’ job,” says Noor.
India today faces a crisis of leadership. Period. One can break this down to inequality of opportunity and the fact that the truly deserving are either too cynical or just don’t have the means to come up. Either way, the loss is ours. There’s no denying our women have come a long way. But there’s still a longer way to go.