The Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill which is to provide for increasing women’s representation in local government bodies was passed a few days ago. The legislation saw light despite the bedlam in the Parliament with several strong objections being levelled by MPs of the Joint Opposition. Whether the 25% increase of members in each local government body allocated for female members will be used in a fruitful manner will have to be seen in the days to come.
True democracy in President Abraham Lincoln’s words is a ‘government of the people, by the people for the people’. Whether all democracies mirror equitable gender participation in governance is questionable. Women’s participation in decision-making is crucial for true democracy to reign, especially at local government level, because as ‘home-makers’, their voice best echoes the pulse of the communities. Richa Shanker from Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, India in ‘Measurement of Women’s Political Participation at the Local Level: India Experience (http://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/Mexico_Nov2014/Session%206%20India%20paper.pdf) states that, “the presence of women in local governments serves as an encouragement for other women to enter diverse professions and leads to breaking stereotypes of women’s roles in society and public space. People had gained confidence in women as good public administrators and local government representatives after seeing women making a positive difference in other people’s life. The society acknowledges the sincerity and commitment of women to their duties and their resistance to criminalization of politics.”
Vindictive political fabric
While in neighbouring India’s central government, women comprise around quarter of the cabinet, holding hot seats such as external affairs and also being significantly represented at local level of politics, we can claim less than 5% of women in politics. According to the data compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the basis of information provided by National Parliaments in 190 countries by 1st December 2015, we occupy the 136th position with only 4.9% female representation in politics.
(http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm) Interestingly, Rwanda records the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide with 63.8% in Lower or Single House and 38.5 % in the Upper House or Senate. Rwanda is followed by Bolivia with 53.1% and Cuba with 48.9% .
Having taken strides in in education, health and human development, we still remain a ‘role model for Asia’. With a literacy level of above 90% and having produced the World’s First Woman Prime Minister and a Woman Executive President and a Woman Chief Justice, women’s ratio in our politics still remains painfully low. Women’s aversion to governance could be attributed to the political culture replete with violence, abuse and corruption.
The patriarchal political set up prevailing in the country leaves behind women at the crucial policy-setting level and increased representation of women, sans petty partialities to ‘family politics’ is urgent. As Chulani Kodikara in ‘Sri Lanka: where are the women in local government? (2011) observes, “to be considered a ‘winnable’ candidate, money and muscle are important, as is the active involvement in maintaining and supporting the chains of patronage between the party and the constituency. Most women lack both money and muscle power and are passive ‘clients’ on the margins of these networks…(https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/chulani-kodikara/sri-lanka-where-are-women-in-local-government)
Enhanced female political representation is also crucial to have discrimination-free policies in place at every level of governance. It is also imperative to shape a gender-friendly framework for every realm in society. Lobbying for enhanced female political participation is not about feminism, it is about championing a right society where the dignity of each individual is upheld. Recognizing the need for enhanced female political representation is therefore a progressive step in the right direction. However, there is an onus on the party leadership to assure that the increased allocation for female political representation, the new law validates is free of ‘family politics’ and ‘soap opera’ faces. Such progressive thinking is the want of the hour in the best interest of the nation. It will be interesting to wait and see as to how many competent women with a true passion for better governance would grace the local government bodies, in a political fabric where ‘money and muscle’ talk above anything else.