The fact that 22 years have passed since the initial proposal for the Women’s Reservation Bill, and with no reach in sight, says a lot about the genuine motives behind it. The fact that there’s such a proposal at all, says a lot about our political system that, on the one hand, tom toms about women empowerment, and the importance of the girl child, and on the other, does scant to promote gender equality. This is the state of affairs in India, where nine out of ten legislators are men. Women account for only 11.8% of the Indian Lok Sabha and 11.4% of the Rajya Sabha (Inter-Parliamentary Union or IPU). India ranks fifth in women’s representation in government, in South Asia, with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal before it.
Patriarchy is a global institution, and while so many of the world’s nations try to wrap their heads around a female leader, India was the second country in the world to elect a woman Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Currently, in PM Narendra Modi’s government, women hold important portfolios such as Defense and Foreign Affairs. Still, the position of women, in India, generally, is bleak with crimes against women going up by a whopping 40% from 2012 to 2016. The crimes? A woman raped every 13 minutes, a dowry killing every 70 minutes, and gang rapes everyday in 2016 (National Crime Records Bureau).
The quota-for-women system has its merits… it allows women to achieve positions of power, and partake in key decision-making, and consequently act as role models for the next generation. If only the quota proposals were enforced….
Globally, though countries may seem free and equal , the situation isn’t that much different. Countries reportedly having the highest percentage of women in their parliamentary systems are Rwanda, Cuba, Bolivia and Grenada…the world’s largest economy, the USA, ranks 102, very low with around 19% of women in the US House and 22% in the Senate. China is 70th with a quarter of its legislators being women.
The World Economic Forum reports that the gender gap in politics, globally, will be closed in 99 years, at the present rate at which we are going. This picture looks bleak, but there is hope…
Ironically, countries with high representation of women in government, are not the best countries for women to live in, like Rwanda and Bolivia. The quality of life of women in such countries rife with conflict, is at cross purposes with legal frameworks that seem equitable. Nonetheless, the situation in Rwanda saw some positive outcomes when women were in government. A bill was put forward on violence against women. In Bolivia, good things happened too – bills for child rights, social affairs and bills on crimes against women in politics are being introduced. This is being done amidst the two countries in the world that face the worst kinds of human rights abuses – sexual crimes against women and children.
According to the IPU, the Nordic countries in Europe (Norway, Finland, etc) tank highest in terms of political representation of women. These countries, as well as France and Spain, have very progressive policies towards women’s rights in general as well. Tunisia, North Africa, is also a country that is rooting for progressive policies where women’s and child’s rights are concerned.
Improved gender representation is possible, but many hurdles remain, especially in countries with long histories of cultural and religious frameworks, largely created by men – patriarchs. If you think back, many institutions and laws we live by were designed by men… there was no female involvement at all. Quotas imply dedicated seats for women, again, decided and assigned by men. Instead, women should actively participate in politics in high numbers. Research shows that when women run for office, they have the same chances of winning as men and often work harder, if elected. Politics isn’t always black or white, and a key issue that women face is getting used to this, that all isn’t transparent…women tend to hold people accountable, say experts. This may not always be an accepted trait in a male dominated system. The strategy, then, would be to push for more transparency and paving the way for women’s entry into politics.
By Scherezade Mansukhani
Scherezade is a Clinical Child Psychologist, Part-time mother, blogger, French teacher and IATA teacher. She has worked with the differently abled, and now works on and off as a teacher.