PRAJNYA PRESS BRIEFING, MAY 4, 2016
How do Tamil Nadu parties fare
according to the
Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist?
The Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist released two weeks ago offers voters five criteria to determine a candidate or party’s commitment to gender equality:
1. Zero-tolerance for violence in speech or action.
2. Commitment to gender parity (or something close to it) in nominations.
3. Evidence of equal party support to male and other candidates.
4. Strong and clear positions in favour of gender equality.
5. Genuine concern about gender-related issues in speeches and interviews.
Now that nominations have been filed, many manifestos published and campaigns are underway, how do Tamil Nadu parties fare? In the absence of party-generated data that is up-to-date, comprehensive and gender-disaggregated, the following commentary is based on media accounts.
1. On the question of gender-based violence, parties are inclined to focus on protection of women and other gender minorities rather than creating the conditions for eliminating the threat of violence. Some striking expressions of patriarchal thinking:
• The DMK will introduce (yet another) mobile app.
• The PWF will ensure that law enforcement prioritises women’s safety, but they would also like to keep women protected, such as prohibiting overtime work for them.
2. Where nomination of women goes, virtually no party approaches parity. This shows that political institutions are blind to women’s work and leadership.
(+ 2 Third Gender)
- It is hard to know whether parties are supporting male and female candidates equally, but three questions that enable us to read between the lines of their behaviour are as follows:
- To which seats have women candidates been nominated? Are these prominent seats or either marginal seats or seats where the incumbent is a prominent woman?
- When those vehicles with megaphones come by, which names do you hear more often? Without party support, it would be hard to pay for autos, banners and handouts.
- Which parties’ candidates are campaigning door-to-door? Without party support, there would not be volunteers to walk the streets.
- Looking at the manifestos released, we do not see strong evidence of a concern about gender issues. By and large, three concerns define the gender perspective of the political parties: safety, motherhood and livelihoods. As important as they are, they reveal the patriarchal thinking at the core of even the parties that make claims to being progressive. How do the parties line up on other key issues?
Political and government reservations:
- PMK backs 50% reservation for women in local bodies and 33% in the police.
- DMK will push for the Women’s Reservation Bill at the Centre.
- DMK will push for workplace sexual harassment committees in places like spinning mills.
- PWF will enforce universal compliance with the provisions of the law against workplace sexual harassment, BUT, they also plan to penalise those who employ women overtime.
- The PWF foresees a role for an invigorated and accountable Women’s Commission.
Self-Help Groups remain the instrument of choice for grassroots change, and the DMK proposes to introduce SHGs for transgender persons.
- Gender has hardly featured in any of the speeches we have heard so far.
The media has raised questions about gender in the manifestos and about the nomination of non-male candidates, but this commentary has remained marginal. Most disconcerting, but unsurprising, was the recent survey by the NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms, that showed that gender equality is not a priority concern for either urban or rural voters in Tamil Nadu. The challenge then is to make it an issue, and it is a challenge we hope civil society and media will take up by posing relevant questions repeatedly.
Tamil Nadu’s parties attempt to address transgender rights although their performance is strictly hit or miss. Where the PMK, for instance, proposes to set up hostels for transgender women which may be useful, the DMDK wants to set up separate schools and colleges.
It is clear that manifestos are written in isolation and without an attempt to understand what communities actually want. It is in society’s interest to break that isolation and initiate dialogue with parties, and smart parties will seek that dialogue so that they can genuinely claim to represent the people. In this election, it must be acknowledged that some sections of the media have attempted to evaluate gender sensitivity among political parties and candidates, but the poor Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist showing of parties across the board shows there is much work to be done. A good starting point would be gender-disaggregated data and the demand for such data may well be where we begin our campaigns for gender equality in the election process.