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Bringing ‘Personal is Political’ back in vogue

Jul 04, 2008

Despite social movements in India throwing up new band of educated, sincere and hardworking women as leaders, their participation in electoral politics is quite limited, says Dr Vibhuti Patel, of SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai. Increasing criminalisation and corruption deter women from entering mainstream politics, she feels.

…Let us enter politics, continue our struggle and take leadership. Can’t put up with patriarchal power any more, O, Venubai, why do you remain repressed? Come out and join our rally.

This song sung for the first time by “Toiling Women’s Liberation Movement” members in the late seventies represented the gusto of a newly formed mass organisation of tribal women of Dhulia district in Maharashtra.

It represented the new understanding of ‘politics’- politics as not only electoral politics or membership of political parties, but also as collective action of women against oppressive patriarchal power with a long term goal of social transformation that ensured women’s liberation from exploitation, degradation, injustice, subjugation and superstition, casteism and communalism.

The slogan ‘Personal is Political’ popularised by the western women’s liberation movement appealed to many city-based women’s groups who realised how individual cases of violence against women were not merely personal problems, but an outcome of socio-cultural, historical, political and economic realities in which Indian women had to survive.

The slogan ‘Personal is Political’ popularised by the western women’s liberation movement appealed to many city-based women’s groups who realised how individual cases of violence against women were not merely personal problems, but an outcome of socio-cultural, historical, political and economic realities in which Indian women had to survive.

As a result, the issues which affected women and treated as personal problems such as rape, family violence, dowry-murders, harassment at the workplace were put on the ‘public-political agenda’ of the women’s movement.

Decision-making process

In 1992, the 73rd and 74th Amendments in the Indian Constitution made a million Indian women  “elected representatives” in the rural and urban local self government bodies by granting 33% reserved seats in Panchayati Raj Institutions.

But when it comes to women’s reservation in Parliament, we witness tremendous resistance from the patriarchs.

It is interesting to note that our neighbouring countries Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh have provided reservation of seats for women in their respective parliaments.

Many regard women’s reservation as one step forward in broadening their base of political participation.

Contrary to this perception, some feel that given the country’s socio-political context where mass illiteracy prevails along with the style of politics that encourages growing violence, mafia politics, character assassination of candidates and opportunism, reservation of seats has a limited value.

Most of the women face tremendous opposition from family, community and the male political leaders if they decide to enter electoral politics or public life.

Most of the women face tremendous opposition from family, community and the male political leaders if they decide to enter electoral politics or public life.

Though, social movements have thrown up new band of educated, sincere and hardworking women as leaders, their participation in the electoral politics is quite limited.

Increasing criminalisation, corruption and compromises required to sustain one’s political career deter women from entering mainstream politics.

Women who stick out their necks have to create their own safety nets - financial security, gainful employment, credit-worthiness and self-sustaining life-style.

Yet Indian women have come up on the political agenda of the country through various techniques – collective actions, programmes of consciousness-raising, petitioning and lobbying.

Women elected representatives are taking active interest in using budgetary allocations for promotion women’s education, safe drinking water and sanitation.

To scrutinise budgetary provisions in favour of women’s empowerment, it is very important for the elected-woman representative to be aware of legal provisions, developmental schemes, tax structure, revenues and expenditure, programmes targeted for women and marginalised sections of society, labour relations and processes in her constituency.

International Association of Feminist Economics (IAFE) has 550 members working in 31 countries. Women leaders with mandated power should interact with the women economists of IAFE as they can provide "insights into the relationship between gender and power relations in the economy.

Need to increase awareness

Indian women have become more aware of their rights but the level of political information among women voters is low.

In this regard, many NGOs in Ahmedabad, Pune and Bangalore have prepared women’s manifesto. They conduct educational campaigns, organise ‘know thy’ candidate programmes and issue leaflets concerning women’s issues.

The manifesto considers issues such as fundamentalism, family laws and development. Political education of the masses on violence against women, sexist media, rural and tribal women’s survival struggles need to be carried out and the candidates should be answerable to constituencies on these issues.

At present, gender sensitisation of state and central government, management and trade unions, mass organisations, educational institutions is one of the topmost priorities among the development-oriented organisations.

In the last two decades, women who have held important positions have had positive experience whenever they have done thorough homework and have played a role of problem shooters diligently and fearlessly.

In the last two decades, women who have held important positions have had positive experience whenever they have done thorough homework and have played a role of problem shooters diligently and fearlessly.

At the same time, in several places they have faced tremendous male hostility and physical violence. Competent women in the public life who have promoted the ethos of distributive justice have managed to get popular support.

In addition they have produced well-researched documents and obtained greater media visibility for women’s issues.

Women need to see themselves as change-agents and not as beneficiaries of the welfare departments of the government structures and private foundations.

In Maharashtra, Mahila Rajsatta Andolan, a network of women elected representatives in the local self government bodies in the state, is mentoring aspiring women candidates for contesting elections along with executing constituency-area development programmes.

In the public life, women need to create their own support-structures for safe night-halts, safe transport and clean toilets. Constant up-gradation of skills and knowledge base is a must for each and every woman decision-maker to survive in a public life for a long term.

The twenty-first century is going to unfold an era of partnership between men and women dedicated to the cause of liberation of humankind, which will ensure social justice, safe environment and peace and harmony in the world.

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