Stopping at the head-count

By Swarna Rajagopalan

The good news about reportage around the Punjab Assembly elections is that reporters are asking about women candidates and about women campaigners. The bad news is that any concern about gender stops right there.

Last year, we came up with a short Gender Equality Election Checklist (https://keepingcount.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/prajnya-gender-equality-election-checklist/) and based on that, these four simple actions:

  1. Nominate more women.
  2. Support women’s election campaigns.
  3. Make misogynistic speech a disqualification.
  4. Reject those charge-sheeted for sexual and gender-based violence.

Each of these was potentially something to report on and document, as well as an interview talking point or editorial focus. However, even after last week’s outrageously misogynistic statements by senior politicians in the context of the election campaign, I have not noticed commentary that has treated them as an election concern—can such people speak for the people of India?—rather than an amusing distraction.

A “Punjab election women campaign” search yielded these and similar stories:

Rupashree Nanda, Punjab Poll 2017: Kejriwal’s Daughter, Son Join AAP Campaign for Weekend, CNN-News18, January 16, 2017

http://www.news18.com/news/politics/punjab-election-2017-kejriwals-daughter-son-join-aap-campaign-for-weekend-1336493.html

SAD-BJP govt projects women role models from other states for its election campaign, Punjab News Express, no date.

http://punjabnewsexpress.com/elections/news/sad-bjp-govt-projects-women-role-models-from-other-states-for-its-election-campaign-54499.aspx

Fewer power women in Punjab fray this time, Asian Age, January 30, 2017.

http://www.asianage.com/india/politics/300117/fewer-power-women-in-punjab-fray-this-time.html

Kanwaldeep Singh Sandhu, Punjab 2017 Assembly elections will see the Battle of the Kaurs, Daily O, January 30, 2017

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/punjab-polls-2017-wives-top-politician-women-patiala-congress-sad/story/1/15385.html

Khushboo Sandhu, Only seven per cent in Punjab fray women, they call for greater space, Indian Express, January 31, 2017.

http://indianexpress.com/elections/punjab-assembly-elections-2017/only-seven-per-cent-in-punjab-fray-women-they-call-for-greater-space-4499897/

Election Campaigning by women party workers of Congress in Pathankot, Living India News, January 31, 2017

http://www.livingindianews.co.in/2017/01/election-campaigning-women-party-workers-congress-pathankot/

The Association for Democratic Reforms released a report on Punjab candidates that included information about their criminal and financial records but it appears as though only one newspaper (http://www.thehindu.com/elections/punjab-2017/15-of-candidates-for-Punjab-polls-face-criminal-charges-report/article17122980.ece) carried the report.

The lack of gender sensitivity on the part of political parties is not surprising. What is truly disappointing is the lack of concern about gender concerns on the part of the media—traditional and new. Without the help of the media, how are we to hold party leaders in any way accountable? Without the media’s role in framing election issues, how will we make voters aware that gender discrimination is a legitimate reason to reject parties and candidates? Unfortunately, those who run and work in media outlets are as much a product of patriarchal thinking as are the politicians all of us love to revile.

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