Is 14% Female Representation In The Lok Sabha A Cause For Celebration?

14% Representation In LS Does Not Mean 100% Reformation

There was a lot of social media buzz about the 17th Lok Sabha showcasing the highest number of women MPs. Which is in-fact a meagre 14% of the total seats. Further in the Rajya Sabha out of the 241 seats only 26 are occupied by women, which amounts to less than 11%.

In a country, that statistically (as of 2011) recorded an average of 48% female citizens, women are expected to celebrate a meagre representation of 14% in a house, that will make policies to govern our present and decide our future. Further, in my opinion, besides a handful of the already meagre representation, majority of the candidates wouldn’t display even the basic education, acumen, experience or exposure to speak for and represent the concerns of women in India as a whole.

The Swedish Government Has An Annual Budget For Gender Equality

If we dissect this further trying to investigate the representation of say, Dalit women or Muslim women in today’s Government, it paints a picture so grim, that thinking about our future sends a chill down my spine. To see what a Government should look like, I’ll share an example of Sweden. Where, as of 2015, women constituted 52% of the political representatives in the Swedish Parliament. Women furthermore made up 43% of representatives in local legislatures. While there are no legal quotas for female candidates in Sweden, most parties have internal policies to promote the participation of women.

Some political parties have voluntary quotas. Explanations for levels of women’s political participation include that women’s organisations and community activists have been instrumental in pressing for greater female representation. Further, Sweden has a dedicated Department for a Minister for Gender Equality. The Swedish government allocates money specifically to gender equality in the annual budget. In 2014, the Swedish Government allocated 252 million Krona for gender equality. Swedish political parties across the political spectrum commit to gender-based policies in their public political manifestos.

Let alone a separate department for gender equality, we are still debating the Women’s, Reservation Bill. Which if passed, would reserve a 33% seat count in the Lok Sabha for women candidates. Gender inequality and intersectionality can only be fought if the people representing the country belong to every section of the country and in an equal count. Otherwise, we will simply have endless debates on policies, that are pointless at best and regressive at worst.

Just as the Delhi High Court turned down the plea to declare marital rape as grounds for divorce. Stating that, “this was the mandate of the legislature and the judiciary was not entitled to pass an order on the same.” Only a Government, that dedicates resources towards research, studying real-life cases and understanding different perspectives (of all genders and classes) in a diverse society like ours, can manage to make policies that will ensure equality and justice.

If our government, was to look closely into marital rape, they would see the dichotomy between the perspective of a male and female victim. While women suffer from lack of agency and are mostly victims of physically led sexual assault, even when it is within the marriage. Some men, are victims of emotionally and mentally-led sexual assault by their wives.

However, in both cases, there is lack of a legislative and legal system in place to help these victims. Not to mention an inadequate capability to eradicate the socially constructed shame associated with rape. It is the responsibility of our political representatives to understand these perspectives and create policies in line with what the citizens need, irrespective of their sex. Here, I have limited my argument to the issues of heterosexual citizens. Not oblivious to the fact that our Government hasn’t even begun to understand the needs of Homosexual, Bisexual and Gender Dysphoric citizens.

A Salary For Housewives?

Another example is the debate on a suggested policy according to which a husband would be required to pay his wife (housewife) for the household chores carried out by her. Though this policy never really saw the light of day, the debate has resurrected albeit in hushed discussions. While the birth of this idea at a discussion level seemed to be well-intentioned. The thought of turning unpaid labour, naturally associated with women into a means of earning a living, at the first glance may seem like a worthy discussion. However, when discussed in depth it consists of more pitfalls than benefits.

  1. Assigning a salary to the housework done by the wife/mother would instil the idea of her being the hired household help or ‘maid’. Doing this will imply at-least two things. One, that she is employed by the husband to serve him and his family. Which will further strengthen her secondary status within the hierarchy of an Indian family. Second, it would increase her answerability towards the jobs she is made responsible for, because of her sex, and not her choice. Further increasing the thanklessness, that men usually show towards the mundane tasks done repeatedly by women. Making it easier to take them for granted, now justified by a few thousand bucks at best.
  2. Assigning a monetary value to household chores associated with women will more likely further strengthen the association of these chores with the sex, female; striping men off any responsibility, now even legally.
  3. It will reduce marriage to a contract between man and woman, where the wife, amongst other issues, will now, also be hired under the contract of marriage for taking care of the man’s needs, including feeding, cleaning and caregiving.
  4. Needless to say, this would further reduce a woman’s professional autonomy. If being paid for household chores is seen as a means of empowering her financially, there would seem to be an even lesser need for her to go out and build a career, even if she so desires to.

This is just another example of how a lack of the right kind of representation leads to wasted efforts. What if this effort was spent focusing on devising means to disassociate household chores with a particular sex. Or towards building a culture in which skills such as cooking, and cleaning were to be viewed as life skills and as a gender-neutral skill set. Or, on undoing the association of feminine qualities with nurturing one’s own offspring and removing the masculinity attached to earning a living or building a career.

Only with the right representation, will the Government realise the need to invest resources into studying the patriarchal disparities across the country. While on one hand, we are still facing regressed issues such as child marriage and domestic violence for dowry in large numbers. On the other side, we are also dealing with working women fighting for equal pay. While there is a group of women suffering due to the inability to pursue their dreams and ambitions after marriage, at the same time there are women balancing between successful careers and household chores that, they are alone responsible for, even after returning home from a day of work.

In the same country, we have women fighting for their girl child’s life alongside women who are asking for their right to choose motherhood and access to a safe and nonjudgmental environment for abortion. The disparity is frightening, but each fight is equally relevant.

We don’t need policies like ‘pay for household chores’ which are nothing, but temporary cover-ups birthed from a man’s perspective. What we do need, is the correct kind of political intervention in order to create a system that offers cultural and social education at various levels, to students, parents and teachers.

A multifaceted system to create the disassociation of sex with unpaid labour. Consider this example: In a recent case, the man and woman both were working professionals. The man earned more than double of what the woman earned, yet she had the sole responsibility to not only perform the household chores but to also, financially provide for their children. Leaving her with no finances to cater to her own, individual needs. Being aware of such diverse, real-life cases is the only way to understand the patriarchal disparity in our country.

If we celebrate 14% representation, then we must not expect a 100% reformation. Since the focus will never truly shift towards the issues faced by the 48%+ of the unrepresented citizens. Taking from women’s political participation in Sweden, we can learn to actively work towards a fairer representation in our own parliamentary houses. All we need to do is begin working together, encouraging and supporting women political leaders, not just on the bases of their sex and gender, but those women, who have the capacity and capability to represent us in our diversity. To celebrate their bold decisions and blatant honesty, to stand by them when they fight for an egalitarian country.

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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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