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Only 6% Women Make Up Elected Political Strength In Bihar: Equality Much?

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A meagre 6% of women constitute the elected political strength in Bihar. 61% of women in Bihar lack access to mass media, supposed to be the primary medium of the election campaign for the upcoming state elections. Bihar’s sex ratio (918 for each 1000 male according to the 2011 Census) is below the national average.

The same Bihar has the highest youth population in the country, yet lacks the parameters of employment and education infrastructure, the two primary needs of the youth. To address such issues in Bihar, and the nation as well, the Women’s Reservation Bill was introduced to encourage the women in the country to join politics.

A Panchayat in session. Representational image.

In 1993, a constitutional amendment in India called for a random one-third of grassroots-level positions— village council leader, or pradhan— to be reserved for women throughout the nation. Bihar, one of the states that increased this quota to 50%, did so through the Bihar Panchayat Raj Ordinance. This initiative, at that time, was exclusive not only to India but globally as well. We will explore how this ordinance broke ground to initiate women into active politics.

In a survey, conducted with the aim to recognise the change brought in by this ordinance, it was revealed that it had a positive impact on women in general. Antenatal care, post-delivery care, immunisation of children showed incredible positive results after this ordinance came into action. “Majority of the antenatal care indicators have increased compared to the baseline status in 1998-99, except full ante-natal checkup,” the survey states.

“The top panel in Table 1 presents the coverage of antenatal care (ANC) in Bihar during 1998-2008. The coverage of any antenatal check-up has increased by almost 30 percentage points (29.7 to 59.3) during 1998-2008.” Table from Political Decentralization, Women’s Reservation and Child Health Outcomes: A Case Study of Rural Bihar by Santosh Kumar, University of Washington and Nishith Prakash, University of Connecticut, IZA & CReAM.

Not only did the women turnout increase to an extent that it outnumbered the male turnout but also a record 34 women made it to the Bihar Legislative Assembly that has a strength of 243 in 2010, the highest in 48 years. The number of women qualifying for state government services has also increased over the years according to government numbers. These, along with female-centric policies and schemes by the state government, I feel made women the ‘silent force’ responsible for the re-election of Nitish Kumar to power. Women constitute 47% of the voters in Bihar and played a significant role in the election of the Janata Dal to power.

The increased representation of women in grassroot politics can be said to have led to an increase in political discussions among women, and made the female population, as a whole, more aware of the political scenario in their state.

Bihar registered more women voters than men, with 59.92% women, against 55.26% men, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, it is ironic that just 9% of the total candidates contesting from Bihar were women. In the end, only three women out of the total 40 MPs won the elections. A primary reason for this upset in logistics could be that political parties have a Mahila wing (women’s wing) but they are often denied a ticket in mainstream party politics.

Also, experts have pointed out that the migration of men to neighbouring states in search for work could be a reason for greater turnout for women. Besides, researchers warn there may have developed a system of proxy where women hold formal power but the actual authority is exerted by their male relation.

The unjust policies that continue today can be attributed largely a result of the under-representation of women in positions of decision-making, which essentially leads to the misrepresentation of their demands and needs for public policies.

Women at a special Gram Sabha. Representational image. Image source: Flickr/UN Women

When the first phase of the Coronavirus-related lockdown was imposed across the country, the sanitary pad manufacturing industry was shut down. It was later allowed to function only after a public outcry by activists and journalists on social media demanding that the product should be included in the list of essential products.

Fallacies like these in the decision-making process put under the spotlight the need for women in positions of power. Women-centric issues are easily sidelined as the people whom it affects often don’t have a say at the policy-making table. Right from the grassroot politics, to state legislative assemblies, and the central government, there is a need for women-centric issues to be heard and recognized. This will happen only when women become a stronger force in politics.

How then do we ensure that women not only become active participants in politics but also exert their political power to influence important decisions? Many NGOs and organisations have been working on a solution by actively making efforts to mobilize the women in the state to take up active participation in the election process.

Though there has been a positive increase in women’s turnout in the elections and the growth of the nascent female political sphere in the state is noteworthy, the overall picture, in terms of female representation in Bihar politics, is still dismal and has a long way to go to achieve gender equality.

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  1. malvika

    Presently, there are 3 women out of the total 40 seats for Bihar in Lok Sabha and 1 woman out of 16 seats for Bihar in Rajya Sabha. That makes the percentage of female MPs from Bihar 6.875%

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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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