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.
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.
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.
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.