New-Age Women Seek Larger Space In Politics
A pretty woman in her late 20s recently asked Kendrapada Member of Parliament (MP) Baijayant (Jay) Panda to guide her as to how she could join a political party and make a career in politics. Unlike in the past, many youngsters without any exposure to the world of politics currently want to make a career in politics like any other profession as they feel they can do better for themselves as well as for the country than our present-day politicians.
“I am keen to join politics and make a career in it. Recently, I visited the office of a political party to find out the procedure to join it. A few men were inside the office and were gossiping away. They were very ugly in appearance and looked at me in such a way as if they would outrage my modesty there itself,” said the woman in black trousers and a black shirt. “I got scared and came out without enquiring anything. Mr Panda, can you please advise me as to how I can join a political party and which one I should choose,” the woman asked the MP at a seminar organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in Mumbai.
The otherwise prompt as well as articulate Panda, who was speaker at the women empowerment seminar, fumbled and tried hard to answer the question. He said the current political set-up hardly has any space for independent and educated women like her. And politics was yet to emerge as a career option for the youth. “I consider myself as an outsider in politics. Really, I don’t know what to advise you. The time is yet not come. We need lot of level playing field; we need reforms in politics, to enable large number of women like you to join political parties as career politicians like any other profession,” the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP said. He advised the woman to join movements linked to politics something like the Team Anna or join in constituency management so as to get first-hand exposure into political parties and earn a living as a career politician.
This is the reality in Indian politics despite four political parties being 100 per cent controlled by women—Sonia Gandhi of Congress; J Jayalalitha of AIADMK, Mamata Banerjee of TMC, and Mayawati of BSP. In a male-dominated world of politics, women find the doors shut or have to make heavy compromises to join and come up in the hierarchy. The very few holding positions are either relatives of politicians or rubber stamps just propped up by vested interests to circumvent the electoral laws and rule through proxy.
Politicians who have been harping about giving equal rights and opportunities to women are actually hypocrites and have not done enough to improve the lot of women in politics. And the numbers prove it. In 1950s, the number of women in Indian universities and colleges was 12 per cent of all students. Now this number has increased to 40 per cent across India and in places like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) women constitute 52 per cent all students, making the men a minority at this prestigious institution.
In sharp contrast, today after 65 years of Independence not even 10 per cent India’s elected representatives in the Parliament and state assemblies are women. This is despite the 33 per cent reservation policy being propounded for women in India.
The corporate sector is now employing more and more women due to various reasons. Several departments are full with women while the percentage of women in decision making positions, which is currently lacking, would be in double digit figure during the coming decade as the process for women’s emancipation in India has already gained ground.
Ten to 15 years ago, most companies used to employ women as a token. Ten years later they hired more women to make their workforce diverse and to enhance profitability. Now 20 to 30 per cent women are in middle management of companies and so in the next 10 years, their number will be in double digit, said Apurva Purohit, CEO, Radio City at the seminar on “The New Indian Woman” organised by the CII.
According to Jay Panda, the position of women in many sectors is changing fast and it has already made a difference. “It is changing in rural Odisha. When it will reach a critical mass, I don’t know,” said Panda.
He said that women have already made an impact in certain professions which include the banking industry, law and judiciary, medicine and social activism.
Even in the film industry the penetration of professionalism has helped many women assume larger roles. Once completely dominated by men, the film industry has now women working in each and every department.
Director Kiran Rao who is married to actor Aamir Khan says that when she began 14 years back, it was unthinkable for women to make a film.
She was not sure whether she could be on a set. “There has been a sea change since then in the film industry and today women are practically in every space from the studio floor to post production,” she says. According to her, women get attracted to spaces that are professional, safe and where they would be judged not as a woman, but by their skills.
The thought-provoking actor and director Nandita Das feels that the change is really slow and much needs to be done. “The cinema where I find less hierarchy and more democratic space as a woman is regional cinema. When I started doing regional cinema, at some level the journey was somehow different,” she says.
However, film actress, social activist and former Rajya Sabha MP Shabana Azmi feels that the new Indian woman has already arrived and she is here to stay. “She has found a voice and is speaking out. She is asking for her place in the sun without fear and at all levels. This new Indian women deserves more strength and needs to be supported,” she says.
With this, the new Indian man with a changes attitude will emerge and together the two would transform the society. They will change notions of power so that power does not remain about oppressing the powerless but of sharing power for the benefit of all.
Statistics say that 70 per cent of the extremely poor in the world are women. Fifty per cent of all women in the world and 60 per cent in South Asia are illiterate.
The wind of change is gripping every filed, but a lack of will by the political class is depriving women to get their fair share in power and once this attitude fades away, we will all be in a better world.
By Jully Acharya from Mumbai