THE CUTTING EDGE
A look at media, advocacy and entrepreneurship
Imagine a room filled with 500 women, you see colourful flashes of saris, salvar kameezes , lehengas and the striking patterns of apparel from north-east India.
Last week all these women gathered in New Delhi
dressed in their finery for a very serious purpose, they were here to participate in the first ever women’s parliament.
This unique first of its kind event was organized by the National Alliance for Women (NAWO) to show that women can drive democratic, secular and inclusive politics in the country. Active in the field of women’s empowerment from 22 years, NAWO has mobilized over 400 grass-root women’s organisations from across 23 states to take their place as political leaders.
“ A huge solidarity movement of women has emerged at the grassroots and among those women who have been without a voice, they toiled in the fields and factories but had no space to express their demands, hopes and aspirations, these are often women who did not even receive their rightful wages for their labour. What we are doing now brings these women into the political mainstream and helps them give voice to the kind of governance they want “, said Ruth Manorama, President of NAWO, explaining the significance of the Women’s Parliament.
During the proceedings, an annual budget was presented. This recommended cutting down defence spending by an astounding 60 percent and envisaged setting up a unique development indicator called the Gross National Happiness (GNH) index which measures sustainable development, social justice, good governance and conservation of natural environment. Also presented were several bills that included 50 percent reservation for women in Parliament (the Women’s Reservation Bill actually asks for 30 spercent reservation). While these may be strong left of centre points of view, the larger picture here is that women’s participation in politics is by no means widespread. Women make up nearly half the population in India, but they might as well be invisible as far as political participation in concerned. The presence of Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati, Mamta Banerjee and Pratibha Patil gives a false impression of women leadership.
This top heavy presence has to be balanced with true grassroots participation like NAWO is attempting to do. Empowerment of women is a crucial part of the UN Millennium Developmental Goals, with percentage of women in legislatures a key indicator to measure the progress of women.
There is urgent need to do , women’s participation in legislature has hardly risen in the last 30 years the world over, In 1975 during the first World Conference in Mexico city women made up less than 11 percent of lower houses of Parliament worldwide, 30 years later it has just risen to 18 percent. The best example of fair representation of women is in the Scandinavian countries: where it has been consistently high with as many as 41 percent women in Parliament in the region in 2008.
Gender quotas although controversial have been introduced in many countries in the last two decades with amazing speed but in India the Women’s Reservation Bill has been lying dormant since a decade despite promises by all political parties.
Many of our neighbouring countries have already introduced reservation for women in their Parliaments. In fact, Pakistan stands at 44th position in a list of 133 countries with 22 per cent women in Parliament while India is at 104th position with 10% representation for the first time in the current Lok Sabha.
Constitution sanction coupled with media scrutiny can have a strong pull effect on ensuring rights and creating social acceptance for a big change.
The time has come to make women visible at all levels of political action.
Paarul R. Chand is an entrepreneur and a media advocacy expert, with special focus on developmental issues. A writer, she has worked as a television journalist for shows on CNBC India, BBC World, Economic Times Television and Asia Business News-Dow Jones. She is founder Bright Lite Communications, content, film making and media advocacy firm. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org