ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Women’s Representation in Politics

The culture of political opportunism and hyper-masculinity fails the cause of women’s representation.

The intention behind the demand for an increase in the representation of women in electoral politics has been to not only ensure the physical presence of women in the political arena, but also influence a change in the dominant political discourse rife with opportunism, sexism and, hyper-masculinity. Incidents like Priyanka Chaturvedi’s move from Congress to Shiv Sena, however, bring to attention a tragic irony. Chaturvedi, who left the Congress on grounds of inaction by the party on sexism and lumpenism against her, instead, chose to be co-opted by a political party that can hardly boast of a bright record on gender justice. While justifying her “move up the ladder,” Chaturvedi also reiterated her commitment to women’s rights. 

Such a move, though not in the least isolated, brings to focus the “new” normal of politics: a naked careerism bereft of principled or ethical stands, commitment, and guilt. It is important to interrogate this normality. This incident also reflects how parties may end up looking at their members as employees on a payroll, whose job is to market the party’s brand and image. Such members could, however, not be considered politicians inasmuch as they are not expected to have any deep connect with people or even with the party’s core beliefs and ideology. This also makes a switch between parties normal as it is in a corporate culture. 

What is also problematic in incidents like these is the use of the language of women’s rights and feminism in a very limited and instrumental sense. Between an easy acceptance of the corrupt and misogynistic practices of politics and putting up a struggle against these, what is chosen implies how feminism is understood. A true understanding of feminism enables a possibility of a voice of departure and a different language of politics. This has been precisely the expectation behind the demand of enabling the increase in numbers of women representatives in legislature. Will the attitude of women politicians that they must “be like men to survive or progress,” make any dent in the masculine political culture that is making it difficult for women to survive in the first place?

To ensure a presence of women representatives in the political arena, reservation for them is important. It gets highlighted by the fact that in the last Parliament, only 11% were women, with only one woman representative for more than 9 million women. Reservation also gains significance as the candidature of women by political parties remains limited. Parties tend to bank on celebrity status and “star value” of women candidates or their dynastic links. Most political parties neglect the women workers who work closely with communities and instead choose candidates on other bases of electability. Even if women get tickets, the odds are heavily weighed against them in elections, as they face a hostile, lecherous, and dominating male cadre, are caricatured and minutely scrutinised, or are sexualised and glamorised. It is important, however, that women are able to break free from such a reduction of their personality themselves. 

Even when women do get elected and gain political power, this power may not necessarily translate in their substantive participation in politics. This is quite evident in the fact that even parties headed by women leaders are not able to invert the entrenched misogyny. However, studies have also shown that increased representation of women at the local level of governance has brought about a change in the agendas and approach towards political work. It is an important question to ask: When women get elected, do they think differently, do they work differently to bring about substantive changes? Even though reservations can provide for the presence of women in the legislature, it is important for them to take the next step: the attempt to alter the dynamics of power in politics. 

The number of women voters has been increasing. There is need for representatives who can raise and articulate their precise demands and create spaces for growth of a new political culture and groups. These representatives, for instance, can raise issues like the declining workforce participation rate of women and the two crore missing women in the electoral rolls, as these issues have a direct impact on women’s representation in politics. They need to broaden the understanding of “women’s issues,” which are as much about the issue of polarisation of society as about the issue of gas cylinders. 

To be truly representative, the voices of women from different constituencies and backgrounds are needed, as they make space for a different mode of politics and new sensibilities. In addition to “lived experience,” what is needed is a belief in as well as the practice of values of democracy and feminism, and the posing of questions to forces that spread aggressive masculinity and militancy. A mere lip service to feminism or using it to enhance one’s image will not be of much help in ensuring change in attitudes. While increased presence of women can affect attitudinal changes, the effort should also be to resist enacting the same power culture in order to survive in what is considered to be the “hardcore man’s domain.” 

Updated On : 22nd May, 2019

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