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Why Are Women Still Grossly Underrepresented In Indian Politics?

Elections are the biggest political carnival celebrated by most democracies all over the world. India, the largest democracy in the world, awaits the arrival of general elections in May this year. Elections play a vital role in fulfilling the desires and aspirations of many people in India. Most Indians feel that their votes would make a difference in the system of this country. But, what about women? The situation of women in this country and the unfulfilled poll promises of politicians election after election only point to the fact that this nation and its leaders have not lived up to the mark when it comes to women.

Under-representation In Politics

India has been a patriarchy since time immemorial. Male domination is paramount in our society. The Indian political system reflects the same where men largely dominate the political scenario.

The Women Reservation Bill still rots at the table of Lok Sabha since 2008. The bill introduced by the UPA government allows 33% reservation of seats for women in Lok Sabha. Though there are many women who occupy positions of power in politics like Uma Bharti, Mayawati, Mamta Banerjee etc., but the number is still awfully low.

A part of this problem stems from the adverse sex ratio among electors. Women are more likely to contest elections in states like UP and Bihar, but since the sex ratio is skewed against them, they only emerge as an electoral minority compared to men. This implies that average Indian voter is a male and women are less likely to win elections in such areas. Women only satiate themselves by casting votes.

Political parties often fail to nurture women leaders, which is quite evident from the composition of their party itself. During the 16th Lok Sabha elections, the largest party BJP gave only 38 out of 428 tickets to women candidates. While the Congress gave 60 tickets. Similarly, other national parties like Bahujan Samaj Party fielded 21 women and Communist Party of India fielded 6.

Equal participation of women and men is not only a prerequisite for justice and democracy, but is also an inevitable condition for harmonious human existence. That is something everyone should pay heed to and understand why women have been fighting this for years.

Education

In India “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” is the most ironical yet empowering slogan. Young girls with lofty career dreams are staring at an uncertain future. According to UNICEF, the proportion of girls who attend school in India still remains low in comparison to boys of same age, only 70% girls attend primary school, as opposed to 76% in boys. The situation is lot worse at upper primary, where only 40% girls attend school. There are many factors behind this disparity- poverty, social and cultural beliefs that discriminate against girls, large scale distances from schools, lack of toilet and most importantly lack of safety!

Safety

The threat of violence against women is real and, it is not surprising that there are many contributing factors to this issue. After the dreadful gang rape of 2012 in Delhi, large scale protest forced the government to pass the stringent Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill in 2013. However, the problem did not end here. India still ranks low in regards to protecting against women violence. India is the most dangerous country for women according to Thomas Reuters Foundation Survey, 2018. And in 2018, history repeated itself through the infamous Kathua gangrape.

Apart from punishing the guilty, what women require is a safe environment. Women must feel safe inside their homes and in stepping out of their homes as well and punishing the guilty will not solve this problem completely. Women would still be unsafe to venture freely. Isn’t it? The women protecting the laws do nothing in order to ensure the safety of women, they only promise a redressal to the grievances of women in future.

SANITATION

The Akshay Kumar hits ‘Padman’ and ‘Toilet, ek prem katha’ revealed another obstacle for women in this country: sanitation. In the past 5 years, India has seen an array of movements aiming to educate women about menstrual hygiene and sanitation. From not touching the pickle, to not stepping into the temples, India has menstrual taboos and beliefs which have crippled its women with chronic diseases. About 82% of women in India still don’t know what a sanitary napkin looks like.

Lack of toilets in rural areas puts health and safety of women at risk. Women have gotten used to holding their bladders and bowels, being stalked by wild boars and hyenas, watching out for snake in rainy season.

Women have always been oppressed in India – politically, economically and socially. While women are gradually fighting their battles, their desires and aspirations could use a little boost from the upcoming 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.

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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