India’s female politicians urged to join forces
This recommendation came from a recent United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) round table.
Politicians, activists and grassroots leaders said a caucus of female political leaders across party lines could put vital pressure on India’s Parliament to finally pass the Women’s Reservation Bill.
This would give a third of government seats to women.
Female representation in Parliament currently stands at 11 per cent, lower than the global average of 20 per cent.
Ranjana Kumari, President of Women Power Connect and Director of the Centre for Social Research said: “Women must not only demand but take their legitimate space in the political arena as a matter of right – they are no longer waiting for hand-outs as they are capable of entering the political field and doing as well as men.”
Suhasini Ali of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) added: “Women of India are already empowered. All they need is a safe political environment which provides a level playing field for their participation.”
The passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill is currently at a standstill.
While the upper house of India’s Parliament has voted in its favour, the lower house has still to vote.
Female quotas are already in place at the ‘panchayat’ (village) council level, with over one million women currently in office.
A recent UNDP report revealed that villages with a female representative are more likely to have improved water and sanitation systems.
But there remains resistance to the introduction of quotas at the national government level, borne out of patriarchal attitudes that remain strong in India.
In an article for The Hindu, Professor Ratna Kapur said: “Sexism in Indian politics is rife.”
She pointed out that even those women who do become leaders on the national stage, such as Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress, are still “cast in familial terms”.
Kapur suggested that in light of Julia Gillard’s upcoming visit to India, the Australian Prime Minister’s now famous speech attacking sexism and misogyny in politics, “should serve as mandatory viewing by all (India’s) parliamentarians.”
On her first official visit to India earlier this month, Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Executive Director, also pressed India’s Parliament to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill.
“If enacted this law could potentially lead to one of the most significant changes in India since Independence in 1947.
“The world is waiting,” she said.