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India Needs More Women In Parliament, And We Need To Act Now

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“With more than 50 years having passed since the inauguration of the nation’s first female prime minister in 1966, maintaining its global top 20 ranking on the Political Empowerment subindex will require India to make progress on this dimension with a new generation of female political leadership” stated the 2017’s Global Gender Gap Report.

In 2017, India fell 21 places in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index. The decline was largely attributable to a widening of its gender gap in Political Empowerment (India ranked 118 out of 144 countries on the criteria of women in Parliament). As per the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the country ranked 149 out of 193 countries in terms of women’s representation in the lower house of parliament – even countries like Pakistan (90) and Bangladesh (92) rank much higher than India.

But now it’s time to set things right. Since, in 2019, Indians will vote to elect a new Government for the next five years, we need to make sure that there will be a substantial number of women in power in the coming years. Having a critical mass women in decision making roles in the Government is extremely necessary if India has to improve its gender statistics and make the country a better place for women to thrive in.

For that, we need to act now – by ensuring there are enough women even running for elections. Currently, only 11% of seats in the Lok Sabha (62 of 545). This number is largely a consequence of the small number of female candidates who even ran for Lok Sabha elections in 2014

  • BJP gave only 38 of 428 tickets to women candidates
  • Congress gave 60 tickets to women
  • Bahujan Samaj Party fielded 21 women
  • Communist Party of India nominated six women,
  • Communist Party of India (Marxist) fielded 11 women
  • Nationalist Congress Party gave tickets to 4 women

But political parties will have to recognise that if the Parliament does not reflect the current trends of more women getting educated and achieving excellence in varied fields, they will face a crisis of credibility. Especially in the light of the #Metoo movement, politicians cannot ignore the lack of representation of women in the decision-making process for much longer.

The private sector has begun to take actions to be seen as “women-friendly” – and consequently proportion of senior roles held by women in India has increased from 14% in 2014 to 20% in 2018. Now the spotlight is on the Government to show its commitment towards making India a better place for women.

Globally, 2018 has seen several countries take big leaps towards addressing gender gaps in political leadership:

  • A “Pink Wave” has swept across America, with more than 100 women winning in the mid-term elections in November – larger than ever before. This was a direct consequence of a record-breaking number of women candidates running for governor, U.S. House and U.S. Senate positions. Americans are calling 2018 “The Year of the Woman.”
  • Brazil elected a new Parliament in October in which the number of women elected jumped 5%.
  • Ethiopia elected its first female president – Africa’s only female head of state.

Research suggests that more women holding political power are good for the country:

  • Studies show women legislators are more likely to advocate for changes that promote the interests of women, children and families and support public welfare in areas such as health care and education.
  • Data also shows a positive relationship between women ministers and confidence in national governments.
  • Specifically for India, research shows that women legislators raise economic performance in their constituencies by about 1.8 percentage points per year more than male legislators.

How Do We Get More Women Into The Indian Parliament?

There are two ways of getting more women into political leadership:

(1) Legislated ‘reserved seats’ that regulate by law the gender composition of elected bodies or

(2) Party quotas (voluntary or legislated) regulate the gender balance of candidate lists by individual parties

The Women’s Reservation Bill in India, which proposes reserving 33% of seats for women, is very unlikely to get the pending clearance from the Lok Sabha before the next elections.

So, the only other way to make sure there are enough women Parliamentarians in 2019 is by imposing voluntary Party quotas, as is done by parties in more than 50 countries.

Gender quotas are numerical targets that stipulate the number or percentage of women that must be included in a candidate list. To date, gender quotas have proved to be the single most effective tool for ‘fast-tracking’ women’s representation in elected bodies of government. Studies confirm that quotas in electoral lists increase the number of women elected. The quotas will make sure women get a fair chance to campaign and qualify for their candidature, as they otherwise face challenges stemming from low levels of encouragement and access to financial resources.

For the benchmark, parties could give at least 30% of total tickets to women candidates, since the UN Economic and Social Council has recommended that at least 30%  of every Parliament should be represented by women.

Party quotas themselves will not be enough – it is just the first step. To ensure more women get elected into Parliament, individual parties will have to show commitment to women in public office and make sure women run from seats that could get them elected to parliament positions. The Parliament itself will have to become a women-friendly employer.

And we, citizens of India, will have to give our full support and vote for deserving female candidates.

But, getting more women to run for elections is a very vital first step to ensuring we have more women in Parliament.

Bringing more women into India’s Parliament in 2019 should be our priority.

For Step 1, I have initiated a petition to request Presidents of all National Parties to ensure they have a fair gender balance when giving out tickets to candidates for the 2019 elections.

If you feel strongly, please support and share the petition (here)

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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