The Modi tenure has been one of considerable politico-economic restructuring – from demonetisation to the 124th Amendment Bill- and social change has been one of the largest claims to fame for the BJP government. Yet the 108th Amendment Bill, for 33% reservation for women in the Parliament and all Assemblies, has been given the short shrift and has remained pending since 2008. Despite central appeals that they are attempting to garner the requisite support to pass the Bill, its affirmation does not seem to be on the cards anytime soon.
Or does it?
There’s a new kid on the block, the National Women’s Party, that is making it harder to sideline women’s issues and its agenda centres around 50% reservation for women in the Lower House. Officially launched in December 2018, under the leadership of Dr Shweta Shetty, it has been registered since 2012. It aims to contest 283 seats in the general elections, exactly half of the total seats in the Lok Sabha, a pointed reminder that governmental structures must be representative.
The goal to create an equitable governing structure, grounded on principals of gender parity, is especially important considering the 2018 Economic Survey that illustrated that while women were 49% of the population, the percentage of women in Parliament was only 11%.
The idea is to make women more autonomous and free them from ‘the husband raj’ in local bodies, Assemblies and Parliaments. The core idea behind the NWP is that mainstream political parties pay insufficient attention to the needs of females, bolstered by the severe dearth of women in Parliament.
The goal to create an equitable governing structure, grounded on principals of gender parity, is especially important considering the 2018 Economic Survey that illustrated that while women were 49% of the population, the percentage of women in Parliament was only 11%. This is a stark difference and when juxtaposed with statistics that display a 60% incumbency rate for women in nations like Rwanda, is even more disturbing.
The Party per se is not opposed to electoral alliances with likeminded units, as its recent solidarity with the All Indian Women’s United Party has demonstrated. The two have joined hands to contest the upcoming elections and both are all women parties.
Unlike common perception, the role of men in making gender parity an effective reality is realised – the Party has openly stated that they are not opposed to male members who support their
NWP has also spoken of initiatives to release a Mahila Rakshak App for women’s safety, and state wise Youth Parliaments which would encourage women to become a part of active politics. The importance of having first rights holders discuss matters that affect them, and shape policies based on those experiences, also has the concomitant effect of inspiring more women to become a part of what has always been called a man’s field.
Given the repression women face in the name of religion, to say the sentiment was disappointing in a female centric party is an understatement at best.
However, there is a need to be cautious in heralding the NWP as the sole focal point of progressive change for women. Describing itself as a ‘party of mothers’ is dangerously close to emphasising the role of women as homemakers, implicitly, and primarily mothers explicitly. Though they encourage participation from working women, and a large body of their contenders are NGO workers, the phrase appears to highlight the stereotypical dichotomy between male and female, rather than re-appropriating a traditional typecast. When questioned on issues like
Despite this, we cannot undervalue the vital importance of the NWP in bringing some much needed attention to the women’s rights. It is a breath of fresh air on issues of gravity that are pushed to the backburner given the patriarchal structures and chauvinistic subversion of ‘women’s issues’ in most mixed-member political parties. Whether NWP becomes a game changer, and what direction it takes given its ambiguous ideological stands, is yet to be seen but it one must emphasise, and commend, the bold tasks the Party has on its agenda, even if its contours are undefined.
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