By PARVIN SULTANA
With the Feminist Movement of the 1970s, there has been an upsurge in looking at issues from a gender perspective. While Feminism was gaining momentum as an international social and political movement, the united Nations declared the year 1975 as International Women’s Year and organised the first World Conference on Women in Mexico city during the summer of 1975. Later 1976-1985 was declared the UN Decade for women. This highlighted the need for equal women’s rights.
Taking cue from such movements, countries across world have gradually starting accepting the need for gender equality. And India was no exception. India crossed a milestone by reserving 33% seats in local self government for women. In some states it has been increased to 50%. Women comprise almost half of the population. Historical disadvantages in a patriarchal society made it crucial that women are given sufficient support to empower themselves. Gender budgeting was introduced and countries started initiating policies which specifically targeted the needs of women along with earmarking separate funds for such policies.
Despite all, not enough has been done for women. They seem to be facing problems at different levels. At times the problem is unavailability of funds, at others the problem is with faulty policies. Corruption and leakages also ensures that the actual beneficiaries are left out. As a result there continues to be a need to place demands to our political representatives to look into women related issues. With the Assam legislative assembly around the corner, similar demands are being raised. While the problem of low representation of women in elected bodies continues, various NGOs, women’s organisations raise the fact that most political parties don’t focus on women related issues. Their manifestos rarely reflect a gender just character.
A number of civil society associations have appealed to political parties to include issues ranging from trafficking and witch hunting to sexual assault, rape and limited women’s participation in workforce, besides measures to achieve empowerment of women. The North East Network, an NGO, with collaboration Barak Human Rights Protection Committee, Northeast Social Trust, the Ant, Matribhumi Block Mahasangha and Archana Sharma, a Professor in Gauhati University has prepared the Women’s Manifesto focusing on equality and social justice.
This manifesto urges political parties to stress on the role of women in six major subjects – economy, education, health, institutions, women’s representation in elected bodies and safety, in their respective poll manifestos. Stating that women’s role in economic activities in Assam was declining, the manifesto said a majority of working women were engaged in unorganised sectors and were not getting proper wages. Their pay was much lower than the minimum wage rate. While women performed well over 50 per cent in all agricultural activities, less than two per cent women hold titles to land deeds. The manifesto said although women’s literacy in the state was better than the national average, issues such as child marriage and school dropouts of girl students were still a concern.
It said the health policies had neglected significant women health issues such as anaemia, access to safe abortion services and addressing emergency transport in rural areas.Women’s low representation in politics was a concern and only two of the 14 MPs and 14 of the 126 MLAs are women.It expressed concern over increasing violence against sexual abuse in the workplace, trafficking for monetary gain, violence after labelling them as witches and absence of gender-sensitive mechanism to address them.
It said 37 per cent women (2005-06) have faced spousal, physical or sexual violence in the state, which is higher than the national average. The political parties have to fill the gaps by ensuring proper implementation of the pro-women schemes and legislation.The North East Network in a statement mentioned that they are trying to create awareness at the grassroots level about elections vis-a-vis women’s issues and good governance with the other organizations. It also stated that they were involved with the advocacy of political parties so that their agendas reflect the demands added in the women’s manifesto.
The woman’s manifesto put forth certain demands which will be crucial in addressing the gap in gender justice. The demands are as follows: Follow the Women’s Reservation Bill and project one-third women candidates in the 2016 assembly elections. Autonomous councils should maintain a 50% reservation status for women. A proper, well maintained and functioning helpline for women in distress should be immediately started. Keeping in mind the often witnessed insensitivity of police officials towards sexual assault victims, the manifesto demanded that issues like domestic and sexual violence should be handled by a separate cadre of protection officers.
There is a need for achievable and time bound gender sensitive livelihood policies to be adopted in place of vague goals. PDS management and the management of other fair price shops should be given to women and self-help groups. This will go a long way in economic empowerment of women. A community based monitoring system to check child marriage and other social evils should be started. Appointment of sports teachers should be made with 50% reservation for women.
Taking cognizance of the pathetic condition of most PHCs, the manifesto demanded that proper antenatal care system and safe abortion facilities should be made available in public health centers. Gender budgeting should be encouraged both at centre and state level. Adequate women’s Reservation should be ensured in all public committees from the grassroots to the state level. These are some of the highlights of the demands placed in the manifesto.
What the political parties’ manifesto holds for women becomes important as a manifesto goes a long way in giving a blueprint of what the respective political party will do after coming to power. Voters can decide what kind of government they want to choose based on these manifestos. They can also hold political parties accountable for the promises made in the manifestoes. As such the Woman’s Manifesto is a unique initiative which will force political parties to be more gender sensitive. Political participation goes a long way in empowering women and giving them their due rights. As such focusing on women centric issues during elections, one of the crucial markers of democracy can be a crucial step towards empowering them.
Political parties no doubt include policies in manifestos which promise better representation to women and other facilities. But when it comes to implementation there is a lack of political will which excludes women in multiple fronts. The Election Commission in Assam have taken an interesting initiative of setting up few all women polling stations. This is being seen by many as a crucial step towards empowering women and bringing them at par with the men. In such a scenario, it will be apt if political parties also show strong commitment to their promises mentioned in their respective manifestos and work towards a gender just society.