Uttar Pradesh’s new Assembly shows women are the future
Parliament lags behind with women comprising just 11 per cent of the current Lok Sabha.
- Total Shares
As an electoral tsunami washed over Uttar Pradesh, a compelling nugget failed to capture attention. UP’s new Assembly has the highest number of women MLAs (38) since Independence.
For a state known more for misogyny, that’s a statistical outlier. Or is it? Are Indian women finally getting their due in fields such as politics typically hostile to women?
The jury’s out on that. But there’s no doubt women are making solid progress despite India’s entrenched patriarchal society.
Several panchayats have 50 per cent reservation for women. Parliament lags behind with women comprising 11 per cent of the current Lok Sabha.
Cynics say most of UP’s 38 women MLAs are the kin of powerful male politicians. The same holds true of local bodies where men pack their female relatives into panchayats to fulfil the mandatory 50 per cent requirement.
The cynics miss the point. Women’s empowerment is a continuous process. Politics is arguably the toughest barrier. But once the moat is crossed, whether through female kin proxies or professionally qualified women, things can only improve.
Meanwhile, tokenisms like the celebration of Women’s Day every March 8 should be done away with. Every day is women’s day. When an Air India aircraft is flown by all-women pilots and crew, the endeavour should be to make sure that, if not yet the rule, this is not an exception.
In customer-facing sectors, women have long carved out a place for themselves: hospitality, travel, healthcare, media, education, law and medicine. Cynics, however, warn against optimism about the steady rise of women at work across professions.
Rahul Jacob, mournful as ever, writes darkly in Business Standard: “We have, along with Saudi Arabia, among the lowest proportions of women who work outside the home. Our infant mortality rates, entwined with women’s health, put us below the levels of Yemen and Kenya.”
"A Bloomberg columnist noted a couple of days ago that Bangladesh is on its way to catching up with the poor southern US states on human development indicators. In India, women have much lower access to female contraceptives than one would expect in a country with 1.2 billion people that has aspirations to be a 21st century superpower."Several panchayats have 50 per cent reservation for women.
Of course there are problems. India inherited an illiterate, impoverished country from 190 years of British imperial occupation. That was followed by nearly six decades of Nehru-Gandhi socialist underdevelopment. Women are often the last to benefit when development does finally percolate down.
Unlike mournful cynics, however, there are plenty of sensible, realistic voices who believe that women indeed are the future. And it often starts at the village level, far away from city cynics.
Writing in The Economic Times, Delshad Irani tells the story of 23-year-old Laxmi Rani: “Last year, 23-year-old Laxmi Rani from Patahensal in West Bengal held a smartphone for the first time when she became an Internet Saathi and embarked on her maiden voyage into the web. Fifteen months later, Rani tells us she’s trained over 700 women on how to use the internet and now she wants to learn net-banking and how to use Paytm. A few months of learning the internet ropes through Google and Tata Trust’s Internet Saathi programme and women in rural India are charting a new course for themselves and others. Saathis are using, and helping other women use the internet to find information about health, government programmes and agriculture.”
Irani adds: “Currently, over 2.5 million women in 60,000 villages across 10 states have been trained by 18,000 Saathis travelling the countryside on their branded bicycles. Sapna Chadha, head of marketing at Google India, says watching these women access the net for the first time is a sight to behold. ‘It’s a source of power they’ve never had, or not allowed to have by a father or husband who thinks she’d break the phone’.”
Stories like Laxmi Rani’s are being replicated all over rural and urban India. As the world gets flatter, the balance will tilt towards women. Unlike labour-intensive work of the past, post-industrial revolution work needs precisely the qualities women excel in: intelligence, empathy, adaptability and determination.
Biology gives women an advantage. They have two “X” chromosomes. Men have one “X” chromosome and one “Y” chromosome which is one-third the size of an “X” chromosome and gives men their aggressive, chauvinistic traits. Two “X” chromosomes in contrast give women better health and longevity, make them resilient to setbacks, and allow them to carve out a more sensible work-life balance.
If women belong to the 21st century, men are rooted in the 19th century. The resistance to the women’s reservation bill for over two decades by male politicians cutting across party lines shows how much more work needs to be done to give women their due in politics, business and life. It is not a gift from men. It is what women should have always had.