Let’s do a quick exercise, you and I. Think of the word “politician” and the translation of that word in whichever language you speak. My mother-tongue is Hindi, so for me, “politician” in Hindi means “neta.” But a "female politician" in Hindi? Nothing. Does your language have a specific word for a female politician? (Hit that 'Reply' button and tell me, in case you do!)
The objective of this exercise is to make a small point. Of course, you can argue that a politician is just a politician — whether it’s a man or a woman — so why should there be a different word for women in politics anyway. But when we have specific words for a female actor (“abhinetri” in Hindi), why not for a female politician? What does it say about our rajneeti that when we say neta, we think of a man?
“Where are the women in Indian politics?” is an old question that keeps popping up like that ad-jingle you can’t get out of your head. (“Kya aap Close-up karte haaaaainnn...”) The question came up again when Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products free for anyone who needs them. The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by, no surprises there, a woman! Labour MSP Monica Lennon who has been campaigning against period poverty since 2016. The legislation was cheered by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, who tweeted that this was “an important policy for women and girls.”
This is not to say you only need women in power to make decisions which are great for women...but more often than not, you do! If you haven’t paid a bomb for something as essential as sanitary napkins yourself, it might be tough to understand why period poverty is an urgent issue. (Just look at the stats on period poverty in India, for example)
Clearly women can change the world. (Duh!) But they need power to do so. So what’s holding them back? Especially in India?
First, the good news. The 2019 general elections saw 78 women MPs being elected to the Lok Sabha, which is the highest ever. This means that 14% of the Lok Sabha is now women. Compare that to 5% women MPs in the first-ever general election in 1951. Basically, we’ve come a long way.
But, not long enough. Cue the bad news! 14% is not proportional to the number of women in India, nor is it anywhere near to the representation of women lawmakers in other countries like the US (32%) and Bangladesh (21%). The problem starts at the party-level in India. Political parties in India don’t give enough tickets to women politicians over fears of “winnability.” But as data shows, women can win elections, and have been winning ‘em for a while now! In fact, in every single Lok Sabha election since 1952, women have won at a greater rate than men, as per Election Commission statistics.
TL;DR: Women can win elections, and we need more women politicians to make our voices heard.
So what can you do to ensure we have an Indian-equivalent AOC or Kamala Harris or Jacinda Ardern to cheer for?
First off, vote. The 2019 general elections closed the gender gap in voter turnout, but women need to assert themselves more to say “Hey, we are here, and you better listen to us!”
Two, find out more about political parties. Which parties are giving how many women tickets? Do they have an internal policy for giving women tickets? For example, here is a party-wise breakdown from 2019 to give you an idea on which party is walking the walk.
Three, support those that have broken these glass ceilings. Goddati Madhavi is a 27-year-old MP from Araku Lok Sabha constituency in Andhra Pradesh, making her the youngest MP in the state. Chandrani Murmu is a 26-year-old MP from Keonjhar in Odisha! Who says politics is for the old? Find out about these young women politicians, educate yourself on their work and their journey.
Four, educate yourself on the Women’s Reservation Bill which seeks to reserve 1/3rd of all seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women. Where does your MP stand on the issue?
In any democracy, power comes from the people. The question is, are we ready to give power to some badass women?