Women’s empowerment is a real necessity of time
PM Modi launched the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign when he assumed power in 2014. As a result, the BJP-ruled states were motivated to launch numerous initiatives targeting women
New hopes were sown a few days ago during the Women’s Premier League (WPL) bidding process. Twenty professional women cricketers joined the crorepati club. Smriti Mandhana received the most significant sum, ₹3.4 crore. Several young players in the Indian Premier League do not receive this much money. Even Babar Azam, the cricket captain of neighbouring Pakistan, doesn’t receive as much money. These are undoubtedly positive early indications.
Opportunities for women to reach new heights are also fast expanding in other professions. But how enthused are women themselves about such change? A study published this month answers this question. According to the study, eight out of 10 urban Indian women use the internet in some way or the other. Without the internet, it is impossible to progress in the 21st century. Of course, the situation in rural India is not ideal right now, but as a forward-thinking country, we should strive to see the glass as half full rather than half-empty.
Half the country’s population will not get its due without equal political participation. The latest election in Nagaland exemplifies this. Two women — Hekani Jakhalu and S Krause — have been elected to the Nagaland assembly for the first time. In the state, which values tribal traditions, only 20 women have run for the Lok Sabha elections. Of these, Rano M Shaiza won the state’s lone Lok Sabha seat in 1977. However, things began to change last year when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sent S Phangnon, a Naga woman, to the Rajya Sabha for the first time.
Neighbouring state Meghalaya has a matrilineal system. Among ethnic tribes, such as the Khasis and Garos, the lineage is traced through the mother’s name, and ownership right on property is also with her. The youngest girl in the family has the natural right to inherit the property, according to their customs. This is why women in Meghalaya have held key political positions for many years, but there was a paradox in these elections. Only three women were elected as Members of the Legislative Assembly in Meghalaya, while nine were elected in Tripura.
In other parts of the country, the situation is somewhat better. The current Lok Sabha has 82 female members, representing half the population. Twelve were elected from Uttar Pradesh and 10 from West Bengal. Last time, the Congress gave women the largest number of tickets (54), while the BJP gave roughly the same number (53). The upcoming Lok Sabha election may substantially boost the proportion of women in the House.
The rise of women in politics began with Independence. Sucheta Kriplani was the first woman to become chief minister of the country’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, and Indira Gandhi was elected prime minister in 1966. After that, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Rabri Devi, J Jayalalithaa, Vasundhara Raje, Sheila Dikshit, Anwara Taimur, and others carried the tradition on. India’s current first citizen — Droupadi Murmu — is a woman. Before this, Pratibha Patil held the distinction of becoming India’s first female President.
So why couldn’t this process progress despite the initial general acceptance of the right to gender equality in the Constitution and the involvement of half the population in politics? One reason could be that, with a few exceptions, all women who have achieved high political positions come from a specific lineage.
Let us go to an economically backward state such as Bihar, where much has been done to empower women. The Bihar Panchayati Raj Act of 2006 was the first to introduce 50% reservation for women in local bodies, heralding a revolutionary change. Following that, the Manmohan Singh government attempted to implement it across the country in 2009; only 20 states have adopted it so far. Regrettably, some northeastern states, such as Nagaland, remain apprehensive about it. Why?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign across the country when he assumed power in 2014. As a result, the BJP-ruled states were motivated to launch numerous initiatives targeting women. New avenues have also opened for girls in previously taboo areas of the Indian Navy, Indian Army, and other security forces.
Women’s empowerment is unquestionably a necessity of the time. Still, it won’t proceed at the required rate until the gender ratio of the population represented in state legislatures and Parliament is matched. These legislative bodies are authorised to enact legislation. Women’s participation will open the door for innovative and practical thinking. Women’s equality is just a half-truth without this.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal