There are many women-centric parties in the world and three such in India. The Indian ones are the Womanist Party of India, United Women Front and All India Mahila Empowerment Party. All three aim to work for the betterment of women in India.
However, in the current political context, what is needed is a party whose raison d’être is amelioration of the condition of women in our country. A political party which does not divide women into caste and religion but espouses the myriad issues which confront women exclusively. Too often, the mainstream political parties in India tend to ally themselves with the causes and concerns of the majority constituents. Their agenda is limited by the exigencies of conformity and their manifesto reflects the promises which will benefit the majority.
In all this, women and issues they face are at best, relegated to the background and at worst, ignored and sidelined. There just aren’t enough women to form a vote-bank on their own, it appears. Despite constituting 48 percent of the total population of India, according to the Census of India 2001, women and women’s issues do not find adequate representation and espousal among existing political parties.
Recently, Congress General Secretary and Uttar Pradesh party in-charge Priyanka Gandhi announced that her party will reserve 40% tickets in the UP assembly elections for women. This has focused the spotlight firmly on women in politics. Some have even claimed that the pronouncement has brought to the fore the under-representation of women in the state legislature and also thrown a challenge to political opponents to rise above tokenism in fielding women in electoral contests.
Priyanka Gandhi also said the move is to make women “full-fledged partner(s) in power”, is aimed at empowering every woman who wants justice, change and unity in her state and is also against efforts to divide them into caste and religion, which is stopping them from emerging as a force.
This is easier said than done. There are obstacles galore on the path towards women’s political, social, psychological empowerment. The most prominent one is the most obvious — their gender, the fact that they are women and all that entails. Although South Asia in general and India in particular is notorious for gender disparity and downright gender exploitation, it is a fact that the condition of women is not idyllic in any nation around the world, regardless of its economic status and ‘First World’ pretensions.
But women in India face an altogether-different level of abuse, exploitation, violence and misogyny. It is visible from the very first moment a female life comes into existence, as an embryo. The practice of secret gender determination tests, although banned, is an indication of how unwelcome a female baby is generally considered to be. It then extends into the female child’s menarche, which is usually treated with disgust and disrespect, almost as if such a natural biological bodily function somehow makes women ‘impure’ and consequently ‘inferior’.
The next stage is education, which is again imparted with a distinct bias and reserve. Then comes the most defining and most poignant moment of a woman’s life — marriage. This too, is rife with an exploitative undercurrent, since ‘beti ki shaadi’ (daughter’s marriage) is still considered a cross to be borne by families and ‘settling’ one’s daughter is considered a huge ‘burden’. The rest of the stages of a woman’s life in India are marked by a distinct influence of patriarchy, from the one exerted by her husband to that extending to her son.
And if you happen to be a divorced woman or a single mother, the so-called ‘stigma’ you face is so overwhelming that it renders you completely ineffective and without control over your own life and life path.
Given this reality, a women’s party which serves the needs and demands of women exclusively becomes almost mandatory. A dispensation which does not relegate them into neat and ineffectual divisions such as caste, religion, financial standing. A party which recognizes that women are not just another gender but a vote-bank in their own right, with problems, concerns, issues and pre-occupations which are exclusive to them because of the very fact that they are women.
The need of the hour is a party dedicated exclusively to addressing issues faced by women, in all spheres of life, from the job market to the uncertainties of marriage and motherhood. Such a party will need to exist solely for the purpose of making things better for women, from the moment a girl child is born till the time she becomes financially-independent and autonomous. A party which devotes itself to working for women as a vote-bank, the same way as religious minorities and ethnic minorities are considered vote-banks. Where the entire point of the existence of such a party is to work exclusively for women by resolving issues they face, in general and by formulating policies which empower women, in particular.
There is hardly any evidence to indicate that any other approach will result in the long-term amelioration of women’s condition and tangible female empowerment. Most of the current political parties in India are either overtly patriarchal or covertly discriminatory. And one of them — the Aam ‘Aadmi’ Party — does not even attempt to hide the fact that it considers women dispensable entities in its scheme of things.
From the BJP to the Congress, from the NCP, SP, BSP, TMC, AIADMK to AAP and the National Conference, all major political parties are either controlled by or remote-operated by deeply patriarchal dispensations. They have proved futile in changing the condition of women because there is inadequate representation of women in politics, in the first place and secondly, because women’s issues and concerns are not a priority for male stakeholders.
Lasting, visible and substantive change can only occur when all the stakeholders are in consonance with the short-term objectives and long-term impact of policies formulated and schemes introduced by mainstream political parties. Anything less and we can assume that the clock will be turned back to the Dark Ages and women’s condition will remain stuck in a misogynistic status quo.