#GenderEqualityElectionWatch: Manifest(o) Misogyny: The INC Manifesto for the Himachal Pradesh 2017 Assembly election

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Election Manifesto 2017

In Himachal Pradesh, the Congress is seeking re-election so their manifesto opens by asking: Why the Congress again in 2017? The answers are not very persuasive, the content repetitive and the language weak. But never mind, because this is a gender audit and what we really want to know is what the Congress is promising to women and what its approach is to gender issues. On that note, in the introduction we are told that with the UPA, schemes have been introduced and implemented for the welfare of every section of society including women. They have gone, we are told, beyond the promises of their last manifesto. The introduction reassures us that women will be provided with respect and safety.

The Congress manifesto has a section “For Women” in which it promises:

  • Academic support to meritorious girl students.
  • Hostels for working women in cities.
  • Pension schemes for orphaned girls, girls and women with disabilities and widows.
  • Appropriate justice and administrative measures to fast track cases of harassment and misdemeanours against women.
  • Access to credit for self-employed women.
  • Self-defence training centres in every district to train women.
  • Women’s police stations in every district.
  • Anganwadi Centres in every village to take care of women and children.
  • Expansion of the free ambulance service for pregnant women.
  • A ‘Woman Safety Application’ will be operationalised for women’s safety.
  • Women’s organisations will be strengthened in every way.
  • The grant given for the marriages of the daughters of widowed women will be expanded.

Under the category of health care, it is promised that more women will be trained as nurses.

Overall, there is less text devoted in this manifesto to women (as compared to the BJP) but women for the Congress are students, workers and entrepreneurs. They are professionals—police and nurses. Their health-care needs, at least as mothers, are addressed. Self-defence and safety are addressed here, rather than the patriarchal attitudes that lead to violence, but the tone is less paternalistic.

Talking gender equality at election time (1)

Going by the Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist however:

  • Again, the numbers of candidates are low.
  • It is not clear how much support they are getting.
  • Misogynistic speech is a non-issue.
  • There is no promise to end impunity or to bar those who are charge-sheeted for crimes against women.
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#GenderEqualityElectionWatch: Manifest(o) Misogyny (1): The BJP manifesto for Himachal Pradesh 2017

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What does the BJP manifesto for Himachal Pradesh‘s 2017 Assembly election promise? More importantly, what does it reveal about the BJP’s gender politics?

Called the “Golden Himachal Vision Document 2017,” the document opens with a listing of ten ways in which the Modi government has strengthened the foundations of Himachal Pradesh; sixth and seventh on this list are the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana under which 1,80,829 accounts have been opened and the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign for which Rs. 49 lakhs have been mobilised for this state. The seven health developments listed do not include women’s health measures.

In the list of promises, women follow youth and farmers and precede senior citizens, government workers, army veterans and weaker sections. This tells us that women are considered an important vote-bank, though not as vital as youth or farmers.

The section on women is titled “Empowered woman, equal rights” (Sashakt Nari, Samaan Adhikaar). The BJP states that it is necessary to take steps to ensure that women are equal partners in development, and that respect and safety for women is their highest priority. Development programmes should be gender-sensitive and they would take measures to improve women’s health and livelihoods.

The Empowered Woman Yojana will have a special allocation which will enable the setting up of an ‘Empowered Woman Centre’ (Sashakt Stree Kendra) in every gram panchayat, which will fully empower women and make them independent. The word ‘empowered’ is repeated throughout this document but we do not know what ‘empowerment’ means. Today in India, it is as if repeating ‘women empowerment’ (forget the ‘apostrophe s’) will transform society. In fact, it acts as a smoke-screen that protects patriarchy.

The Empowered Women Centres will generate new job opportunities for women, and support women entrepreneurs, farmers and self-help groups. Women will be offered legal help in the centres and an ‘Empowered Woman Official’ (Sashakt Stree Adhikari) will be appointed for the implementation of the 2005 Domestic Violence Act. (Twelve years later, should this even be a promise?) The Centre will allow women to be a part of decisions made at the Panchayat—a right that the Constitution gives them. The Centre will host (Sashakt Stree Sabha) Empowered Women Assemblies where elected women Panchayat representatives will meet other women and take forward issues, demands and recommendations to the state government level.  Funds will also be allocated towards building the capacity of elected women representatives. The Centres will also be responsible for administering nutritional schemes.

Considering cleanliness to be a fundamental right, the regular cleaning and maintenance of public toilets will be undertaken, the BJP promises. Facilities essential to women’s health and reproductive care will be provided for in public bathrooms—presumably, this refers to sanitary napkins. Allocations will be increased for prenatal and postnatal health care.

The next category of promises relates to women’s safety. The accent here is on protection and the paternalism is underscored by the name of the redressal mechanism to be launched: “Gudiya Yojana” or “Doll Scheme.” Every district will have a 24×7 Women’s Police Station. There will be a 24×7 Gudiya Helpline. Every mobile phone will have a Shakti (Power) button which used, will report the user’s location, name and phone number to the police control room, the nearest mobile police van and station. To increase the percentage of women police recruits to make 33% of the force, is another promise, as are self-defence classes organised in government schools.

To refer to women and girls as ‘gudiya’ may be intended to demonstrate filial affection but dolls are lifeless, lacking in intelligence, unable to think and act and must be acted for and upon. What does this tell us about the thinking of the BJP in this state (or elsewhere)? That women and girls are less than human?

The next subheading is ‘Women-Centred Laws.’ Immediate investigation and strict implementation of laws against rape, dowry, sexual harassment and domestic violence are promised. It is shameful that this should even be a promise; it should be a given.

Women farmers will be given equal rights, and a Women Farmers’ Bill will be introduced to recognise their debts, agricultural inputs and land rights. This last suggestion is the only one that recognises women as agents and contributors to society.

For the rest, they remain mothers and otherwise infantile objects to be protected, provided for and empowered. Government—mostly men, given the nomination statistics—will take care of women and girls, don’t worry. Moreover, many of the promises are tantamount to simply stating that the government will do its job—from safety and health care to recruiting women into the police, these are old policies.

Talking gender equality at election time (1)

It is laughable to apply the Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist here but when one does so just as an academic exercise, the omissions and silences in the manifesto are underscored:

  • The number of nominated women is pathetic.
  • It is not clear how well-supported those women are.
  • There is no censure of misogynistic speech.
  • While the BJP promises to protect women, it says nothing about penalising men who have been charged with hurting women.

Tomorrow: The Congress manifesto for HP. 

(Translations mine, with occasional help from Google.)

#GenderEqualityElectionWatch – Himachal Pradesh Elections 2017 – Where are the women candidates?

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This 3-part article is written for prajnya.in as part of the Gender Election Watch Project on Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections

Earlier this week, I and Dr. Swarna Rajagopalan from Prajnya began to investigate gender statistics on the forthcoming Himachal elections that are due to take place on the 9 November 2017. Subdivided into 12 districts and 68 Assembly Constituencies (ACs), the state will witness a single phase election. Electoral battles are often a face-off between two key national parties – the Indian National Congress (currently led by the incumbent state Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (led by Prem Kumar Dhumal). With little space for a third alternative, voting remains largely restricted between these two parties; both parties assembled a total vote share of 81 percent in the State Assembly elections in 2012 which the Congress won.

voting

File photo from India News. http://bit.ly/2iNxZyM

An unforgiving observation, however, is the disproportionate gender imbalance in the electoral mechanics. So far, our research has identified merely 15 women candidates from three major parties contesting in the polls – 4 from the Congress, 8 from the BJP and 3 from BSP vis-a-vis a total number of 400-odd male candidates. Although the list expands to 20 when we include independent women candidates, yet the ratio of men to women contestants have remained disproportionate .

No Name of the Party Number of Candidates contesting
1 Bahujan Samaj Party 32
2 Bharatiya Janata Party 68
3 Indian National Congress 68
4 CPI/CPI (M) 30
5 All India Trinamool Congress Data not available
6 Nationalist Congress Party Data not available
Total Number 198*
Total Number of Women candidates 20*

*Based on nomination data from the Chief Electoral Officer, Himachal Pradesh

In the Himachal state elections since the turn of the century, the number of contesting women candidates contesting have remained roughly around 8 percent. In other words, for every 100 people contesting in an election, there are merely 8 women candidates. Elected women candidates average roughly around 6 percent of the total 68 elected representatives in the Himachal State Legislative Assembly. Interestingly, the figure was the lowest in 2012, when only 3 women candidates were elected alongside 65 male representatives.

https://infogram.com/gender-election-watch-himachal-state-assembly-elections-2017-1gqo2qn3kvgw278

This statistic is further intriguing considering how female voting numbers have been traditionally higher over the last three assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh. In 2003, 2007 and in 2012, the percentage of female voters was nearly 75 percent vis-à-vis male voters who were nearly 70-71 percent. Why are parties not fielding more women candidates? The state is yet to see a women Chief Minister.

Where are the women contesting from:

No Party Name of Women Candidates Place they are contesting from
1 INC Asha Kumari Dalhousie
2 INC Viplov Thakur Dehra
3 INC Champa Thakur Mandi-Sadar
4 INC Anjna Devi Una
5 BJP Reeta Devi Indora (SC)
6 BJP Sarveen Shahpur
7 BJP Indu Bala Palampur
8 BJP Kamlesh Kumari Bhoranj (SC)
9 BJP Vijay Jyoti Sain Kasumpti
10 BJP Shashi Bala Rohru (SC)
11 BJP Neelam Nayyar Chamba
12 BJP Vinod Kumari Chandel Doon
13 BSP Pinki Devi Nagrota
14 BSP Saroti Devi Barsar
15 BSP Manjana Devi Jawali
16 Indpndt Nirmala Chauhan Karsog
17 Rashtriya Azad Manch Renuka Dogra Kullu
18 Indpndt Roshani Sharma Mandi
19 Lok Gathbandan Party Paro Devi Sarkaghat
20 Indpndt Kumari Vandna Sullah

Does the system discourage women from participating? What seem to be the barriers to entry? We find that reservation for women candidates can encourage more women to contest and win in elections. The results of the Panchayat and Zila Parishad elections – where reservations apply – illustrate this clearly, as a 2015 State report highlighted:

“In Himachal Pradesh there are 3243 Gram Panchayats, out of which 1639(50.54 per cent) seats have been occupied by women in the 2011 Panchayat elections. Out of total seats occupied by women, 987 (60.21 per cent) occupied by general women, 421,(25.68 per cent) scheduled caste women, 104 (6.34 per cent) scheduled tribes women and 127 (7.74 per cent) occupied by OBC women. Similarly, out to total 77 Chairman Panchayat Simities seats, 42 seats (54, 55 percent) of the seats in this category have been occupied by women. Among total seats occupied by women in Chairman Panchayat Simities category, 20 (48 per cent) occupied by general women, 13(31 per cent) by scheduled caste women, 4 (9 per cent) by scheduled tribes women and 5 (12 per cent) occupied by OBC women. Out of the total 12 seats chairpersons of Zila Parisad seats, 6 (50 per cent) of the seats have been occupied by women in 2011 elections.”

End of Part 1. Part 2 will track media coverage of these women candidates, and Part 3 is a post election piece.

Stats calculated based on public available data on candidates, and from previous Election Commission Reports.  

Revived! Women’s History Roundtable Series: Post-colonial India’s Women Doctors

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On Saturday, October 14th, 2017, we revived our Women’s History Roundtable Series which had fallen by the wayside because of our struggles finding a venue. We decided to go back to our original ways–to find a cafe and we picked Writer’s Cafe to try.  Archana Venkatesh, veteran volunteer, doctoral candidate at Ohio State University and Saakshi Fellow, opened the fourth series and will coordinate for a year.

Women's History Roundtable Series (2)

Private Lives, Public Work:
Women Doctors at work and home in Post-Colonial India

Archana Venkatesh

Abstract:

Women doctors in post-colonial India were an integral part of the developmental regime envisaged by policy makers in the field of public health, especially in efforts to control overpopulation and regulate maternal and infant health in a newly independent nation. In this paper, I examine the life and work of women doctors in post-colonial India using data from twenty oral history interviews conducted with women doctors aged 75-95 years, active in the medical profession from 1950 to 1990 collectively. Oral history interviews provide a counter narrative to the ‘official discourse’. I demonstrate that while the state encouraged women to embrace the medical profession by deploying tools such as affirmative action and scholarships, this attitude did not always permeate the home and the workplace. Many women doctors note that medical colleges and hospitals were highly gendered spaces, something that was particularly apparent during the process of selecting specializations – many were shepherded into the ‘feminine’ fields of obstetrics and gynecology, or pediatrics. However, any expression of dissatisfaction was deemed to undercut their goal of ‘serving the new nation’ by participating in the medical profession. This paper examines how women doctors negotiated competing demands, between national service and individual goals, and between professional responsibilities and domestic expectations. Using oral history as a method, this paper sheds light on the ways in which everyday practitioners, i.e. women doctors, negotiated their participation in the creation and evolution of the developmental state in post-colonial India.

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Lighted to Lighten: Gender Champions at WCC and a new partnership!

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The occasion was International Youth Day 2017 but observed a day in advance, 12th August 2017. A new Gender Champions Club was inaugurated at the campus of the prestigious Women Christian College, under the aegis of the new UGC Centre for Women’s Studies, also inaugurated at the same time.

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This is significant for Prajnya as Women’s Christian College (WCC) and Prajnya have created an institutional partnership for programmes and research with a view to promoting  gender equality.  A gender equality club was envisioned as an opportunity for students to learn about gender issues and a platform where gender equality concerns could be discussed and debated. In the long run, the Club will create a growing community of alumnae citizens sensitised to gender issues and ready to be equality advocates in society.

WCC will establish a student-led club (now named the Gender Champions Club) and support through student participation any specially planned Prajnya activities. Prajnya will engage WCC students in the 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence; bring programmes to WCC as appropriate; offer volunteer and internship opportunities and be a resource to the WCC community.

For Prajnya, this is a very exciting moment because it takes our work with students further into the planting and processing mode we like, and away from one-off events.

Art Attack! (Playing Gender Hide-n-Seek)

Following the inaugural session, Club members adjourned for Art Attack!,  a three-hour art activity on the theme of Gender Hide and Seek–that is, what is gender, and where is it found? Groups of students created posters and collages, explicated how gendered ideas are pervasive, showing the many places they can be found: language, stereotypes, roles in relationships, work, space use for instances. The posters illustrated how the opportunities are unequal as just climbing up the staircase for the men, but the mountain for the women; right to reclaim the night; breaking the gender roles; and claiming the right to control one’s own body.

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Let this new thinking vibrate, spread and create a space where, in the words of one poster, they can “make right what has gone wrong.”

 

Everyday Endeavours: The Simple Act of Eating-Drinking

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Everyday Endeavours is a new column by Mamta (aka @silverlightgal) about the things women do everyday and how they are different or experienced differently because women do them.

One of the first urban culture shocks, I experienced on migrating to a city a few years ago, was seeing women eat alone at a restaurant. Growing up in a small Indian town with a middle-class upbringing, life had been quite different from that in urban cities. In my town, women and even young girls rarely ventured out alone. They often went out together in twos or threes, whether it was for shopping or watching a movie or just a simple walk. The town’s few restaurants often saw families and on several occasions, lone men trickling in for snacks or dinners. But we never ever saw a woman eating alone. I hadn’t even considered the possibility that a woman could actually eat out alone.

In the city, I discovered that this was not just possible but happening around me. Though it still wasn’t common and did attract curious glances, at least it wasn’t an impossibility anymore.

The men, on the other hand, often ate out alone without attracting any attention or curiosity. No one around them speculated as to why the man might be eating out alone.

There could be various reasons why you would choose to eat alone. You could be short of time and in too much of a hurry to round up the company to eat with; you could be short of money and want to eat a simple meal by yourself, without having to split a huge bill with others. Or you could just want to savour the pleasure of a delicious meal all by yourself, without any distractions.

Even the waiters and maitre’d behave differently if you are a woman eating out alone. The first thing they will want to know is if someone would be joining you at the table.  It’s only after you reassure them a couple of times (or more) that you are indeed going to be dining alone and perfectly happy to be doing so (as in, not stood up by a date), that they leave you in peace.

This is the scenario in urban metro cities. In many small towns even today, it’s considered either ‘too forward’ or ‘embarassing’ for a woman to be seen eating out alone. Some men on seeing a woman alone at a table think it an open invitation to go and hit on her.

The arrival of Internet-and-mobile based food delivery apps are perhaps a blessing in some way, but what if a girl didn’t want to eat out of a box and craved to eat out by herself and experience the ambience of premises other than her own? Wouldn’t it be nice if regardless of whether a small town or a big city, a girl could go about doing this without raising any eyebrows or worrying about some random man hitting on her or fearing judgement from others?

Alright, let’s move on to the chai tapris now. Who doesn’t like a hot cuppa every now and then, especially in the monsoons or winter? And not everyone can afford Starbucks or a Café Coffee Day everyday. The streetside tea stalls with their masala teas are far lighter on the wallet. Quite often it’s just a matter of convenience and budget to prefer streetside stalls over the coffee/tea outlets.

But how often do you see women or girls sipping their cuppa alone in a streetside tea stall? I haven’t seen even one, to be honest. If a girl does manage to gather courage and stand waiting for her tea, there may be curious/leering glances thrown at her now and then.

And this is only about tea, we are not even talking about pubs or bars yet.

Why is it so hard for our society to create and encourage a space where women could eat/drink their choice of food/beverage by themselves without any hindrance? It’s not illegal to want this; it’s not immoral to want this. It’s just a simple need. A need that men take for granted.

Here’s how you as a reader can help. The next time you see a girl or woman eating or drinking alone, just let her be. Don’t judge, don’t keep staring in curiosity, and most importantly, don’t hit on her. Just let her be.

Knowing our rights, claiming our rights

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NAMATHU NAGARAM, NAMATHU URIMAI (OUR CITY, OUR RIGHTS)

by Sudaroli Ramasamy

SAFETY is a major concern in the life of the women, in all walks of life, at any point in time. But beyond safety, it is important for them to understand that they have every right to build, rebuild and make their locality safe and habitable.  With almost all the cities of India becoming terribly unsafe, it is important for women and girls know that they have the right to feel safe without restraining their mobility at any time.

We would start with the importance of understanding of basic rights as a citizen in a broader perspective. Then we would involve community women and girls in the process of Safety Audit either by the use of an app (Safetipin, with which we have partnered earlier) or through a safety audit questionnaire template.  This awareness of their rights over their city  inculcate them to take ownership of their cities and rights “Our City, Our Rights”.

This is how the “Our City, Our Rights” was born with the objectives:

  • Creating general awareness on the Civic rights  and take ownership “Our City, Our Rights” among girls and women
  • Getting them access to the information about the authorities whom they can approach to claim their basic rights towards the Safer and Habitable city.
  • Undergoing the exercise of learning how to gather, organise and present information in order to claim their rights. and practical experiences expands the scope of processing their civil rights to civil governance.

We propose to start with safety but take on other important community issues in many stages over 8-10 months.

Once the idea shape itself into the execution, we planned to take this forward with the women and girls throughout Chennai on a larger scale.  We are piloting the process with two local partners, both of whom have decades of grassroots experience working with women and girls. 

Training 1, June 7, 2017:

Training 2, June 18, 2017:

Training 3, July 28, 2017: