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Which Way Will The Women Vote In This Bihar Election

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By Jai Prakash Ojha for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

In this cauldron of identity politics, gender has not yet made its statement forcefully. Identities have been built around caste, religion, language and of late, class i.e. middle class. But now things are beginning to change as the walls of patriarchy crumble, women are more visible in public domain and the traditional bastions of male supremacy are threatened. The participation of women with 59 percent voting in the 1st phase of Bihar elections was much more in comparison to men with 55 percent. The gender issue has entered the political discourse, gender budgeting has begun and the political parties are not averse to woo female voters as has been evident in the upcoming Bihar elections. The new found confidence and assertiveness of women in urban India and even in some rural parts point towards a new shift in Indian polity. But the conditions, I am afraid, are not yet ripe in Bihar where the Mandal parties like RJD and JDU have been the strongest opponents of the Women Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha along with the other socialist cum Mandal icon Mulayam Singh Yadav. In fact, they advocate the division of women on caste lines, rather than taking women as a whole, which is what their mentor Lohia wanted. The main parties of the state have given 10-15 percent of the tickets to women candidates which are not enough. Women constitute about 50 percent of the state population and it’s high time they are given representation commensurate with their strength.

women voters india
Image source: Wikipedia commons

 

How Nitish Empowered Women In Bihar

The previous LS elections in 2014 in Bihar recorded a higher female voter turnout of 58 percent as compared to 55 for males. Compared to NDA and RJD, women voted in larger numbers for JDU. The reasons are not difficult to conjecture. Law and order situation improved during the tenure of Nitish and women found confidence to step out of their houses onto the streets and gain some visibility in public spaces. Nitish provided 50 percent reservation to women in panchayats which was path breaking in the direction of women empowerment at the grass root level. Provision of free school uniforms and bicycles for girls, micro financing of women through self help groups and 50 percent reservation for women in the appointment of teachers were steps that greatly enhanced the stock of the JDU leader in the eyes of female voters. In the upcoming Assembly elections, his promise of providing 35 percent reservation to women in state government appointments and ban alcohol consumption in the state, if re-elected, was made keeping the women voters in mind.

Blurred Gender Issues

But despite all the magnificent work done by Nitish, the BJP need not despair. The spectre of RJD coming together with JDU may alienate the women voters away from the grand alliance due to fears of lawlessness on the streets. The 2004 and 2009 Assembly elections were contested by Nitish led NDA on the plank of development in which the role of women was solicited, but things may not turn the same way in this 2015 Assembly elections as the divisive caste agenda and the so called right agenda of the grand alliance and the NDA respectively tends to relegate the gender issue to the background. The female electorate may be torn asunder on caste/religious lines doing a great disservice to the cause of gender empowerment. Under the charged up circumstances, it is quite likely that women may vote the same way as men do. The new lows in vocabulary and intemperate utterances have greatly vitiated the entire atmosphere. Issues like safety and opportunities for women in education and jobs are not been adequately addressed by the parties in this volatile atmosphere. The politicians think that lowering the price of essential commodities might fetch them more women votes as it had happened in the past. Can anyone forget how a state election was lost by a ruling party in Maharashtra just because onion prices soared? This time too, the price of pulses has gone up and the grand alliance wants this to be an election issue.

Sad State Of Empowerment At Grass Root Level

Despite increasing urbanization levels, the population of the state is predominantly rural. For anyone living in the state as I am, it is crystal clear that the rural women of Bihar are not getting opportunities to explore their passions. The rural social structure and concomitant male supremacy tend to reduce the role of women in decision making and confine them to their homes. In the course of my visits to the rural hinterlands of the state, I have often come across dedicated women panchayat members who can’t take their own independent decisions because of patriarchy. Whether it is Bihar or UP, the sight of Pradhan Patis or Pradhan Pratinidhi is common in the meetings of panchayats. Empowerment at the grass root level has been mere superficial without altering the gender power equations.

Gender issues like equal opportunities for women in public employment and education, their economic empowerment and material well being etc. do come up in rhetorical speeches but in this divisive shrill election campaign, it remains to be seen if any political party is listening to the women voters. The real issues that are dear to women are hardly present in the core of present electoral discourse. Though Rabri Devi of RJD ruled the state for a considerable period of time, the seeds of women empowerment were not sown. It has been men all the way. Even at present, there is hardly any female political heavy weight in either camp that can espouse the cause of women effectively and set gender agenda.

Bihar Elections With Ojha’ is part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s special coverage of the Bihar 2015 elections.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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