Mizoram’s missing women politicians

By Kalpana Sharma

Mizoram has more women voters than men — 51.25% of the total number of voters. Yet, when they cast their votes for the Assembly election on November 28, it is unlikely that the number of women voted to elective office will change dramatically.


Women getting their fingers marked before casting their votes in Aizawl in 2014.

It was heartening to hear, when candidates filed their nominations in the run up to this election, that for the first time 15 women were standing.  Of these, six are candidates for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which barely has a presence in the state – although it is trying hard this time, but only one from the ruling Congress party. The latter is someone who also won a previous election.  Without the backing of a major party, most women have no chance of winning.

In its 46 years as a state, Mizoram has only elected four women to the state assembly.  However, its record is much better than neighbouring Nagaland, where not a single woman has been elected to the state assembly after it became a state in 1963, and only one woman has been elected to Parliament: Rano Shaiza in 1977.

However, as the few news reports about the Mizoram elections have revealed, dynastic politics that afflicts the rest of India is also at play in Mizoram when it comes to the choice of women candidates, as this report in The Hindu clarifies. For instance, the only woman fielded by the Congress Party, Vanlalmpuii Chawngthu, is the daughter of a former minister who is currently the general secretary of the Mizoram Pradesh Congress Committee.  She has been elected once before and was the first Mizo woman to be a minister in the state government.

Even Zoram Thar, a relatively new political formation that is headed by an evangelist, Rev. Zaichhawna Hilawndo, and is contesting 24 seats, is bitten by the same bug.  It has fielded five women candidates, all of whom are “family”.  Two of the five are Rev. Hilawndo’s daughters, while the other three are his neighbours.

Rev Hilawndo told the reporter of The Hindu, apparently without any sense of irony, “Ours is a new group guided by divinity to clean up the corrupt political system and establish God’s government.”

The participation of women in electoral politics in some of the northeastern states like Nagaland and Mizoram poses interesting insights into their society.  If you travel through these states, you see women everywhere — in the paddy fields, minding shops, selling fresh produce on the roadside, weaving, cooking, cleaning.

Yet, in local politics, women are invisible. There are no prominent women in the existing regional parties, or the national parties that have a presence in these states.  Although there are prominent and outspoken women in many other sectors, so far, they are not to be seen in electoral politics.

This is such an obvious story for anyone covering the elections in Mizoram.  But it has not caught the attention of any reporters barring this one that appeared in The Hindu today:




Lessons from Rwanda’s world record

By Urvashi Sarkar



Rwanda garnered international attention in 2003 with a heartening development – 48.75% of the representatives elected to the lower house of the Rwandan Parliament were women.  In 2008, women constituted 56% of the lower house of Parliament and the proportion increased to 64% in 2013. In September 2018, the country made headlines yet again, when women won 67.5% (over two thirds) of the seats, setting a new world record for women’s representation in Parliament.


Chart 1

Source of figures: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2018/8/feature-rwanda-women-in-parliament


As of October 2018, women constitute a global average of 24% in both houses of Parliament, according to data compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. For India, the last national elections of 2014 resulted in 11.8% of women in the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) and 11.4% in the Rajya Sabha (upper house).


chart 2.

Source of figures: Inter-Parliamentary Union


In October Rwanda also became the second African nation in a week to announce a gender-balanced Cabinet, with women making up 50 per cent of its members. Ethiopia led the way a few days earlier.

A little less than two decades ago, Rwanda was devastated by a genocide in in which more than 800,000 people died. One of the consequences of the 1994 genocide was the altered gender demographics of Rwanda. Although more than 250,000 women were victims of sexual violence, a larger number of men died, left the country, were missing or imprisoned. The women who were left behind had to play an important role in the reconstruction of the country.

Prior to the genocide, women lived in an oppressive milieu.  Writing in ‘The New Times’ , Rwandan political analyst Ladislas Ngendahiman noted that women were considered second class citizens, neither allowed to inherit land nor pursue formal education. In the 1990s, women constituted just about 18% of Rwanda’s Parliament members.

In a  2008 paper on ‘Women in Rwandan Politics and Society’, authors Claire Wallace, Christian Haerpfer and Pamela Abbott describe measures which encouraged women’s participation in politics, such as Rwanda’s 2003 constitution, which gave women a 30% quota in all decision-making organs, a  Ministry of Gender  (the first of its kind in Africa) and ‘The Inheritance Law’, which aimed to give women access to their own property and to enable them to conduct business and enter into contracts in their own right.

Women’s participation in politics was further enabled through the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, the Rwanda Women Parliamentarians Forum, the National Women’s Council and the Gender Monitoring Office. A five-tiered system of women’s councils, too, played an important role in facilitating women’s participation in development initiatives from the village to national levels.

The strong numbers of women in Rwanda’s political decision-making has had an impact on women’s lives. UN Women notes that women parliamentarians have helped bring in revisions in the Civil Code which now provides equal inheritance and succession rights for men and women, and mandates the elimination of any form of discrimination in the laws that govern political parties and politicians. Women parliamentarians have also initiated labour laws that guarantee equal pay, legislation providing equal rights to access and own land, as well as laws aiming to end gender-based violence, harassment and discrimination at work.

Undoubtedly, Rwanda’s achievements are impressive. It has won global recognition for  its transformation after 1994, especially in the area of healthcare reforms, including the significant reduction of infant mortality and an increase in life expectancy. Its efforts to promote gender inclusive politics has won it many plaudits, and all countries, especially India, can learn from Rwanda’s policies in this regard.

However, critics of the Paul Kagame government have highlighted the targeting of women activists and politicians such as Diane Rwigara and Victoire Ingabire. The pan-African newsletter Pambazuka noted: “Ingabire and Rwigara attracted Kagame’s wrath simply by declaring their intentions to run in Rwanda’s sham Presidential elections of 2010 and 2017. In both elections, Kagame ran unopposed, receiving the share of votes he precisely wanted: 93% and 99% respectively.  Ingabire has been in jail since 2010 on trumped-up charges of revisionism, genocide ideology and supporting armed rebellion against Kagame’s regime.  Rwigara, her mother, and siblings have recently been detained, their property destroyed or confiscated, in a very shameful and blatant display of Kagame’s inhuman behavior.”

There are concerns that  women’s empowerment in Rwanda has benefitted only those who are economically well placed. Poor  persons, such as women street vendors, are said to be subject to cruelty from Rwandan police. In this context, The Rwandan newspaper wondered:  When would all Rwandan women from all walks of life benefit from their majority in parliament?

In an interview to The Guardian, Diane Rwigara, who was barred from running for President in 2017, stated that the Rwandan Parliament was a little more than a rubber stamp and, although women occupy senior positions in government, they do not possess real power.

Press freedom in Rwanda is a matter of concern, too, with the country ranking 156th of 180 in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

Defaming or insulting the President can result in prison terms between five to seven years and cost up to 6860 euros in fines, as per the country’s new penal code. Female journalists such as Agnes Nkusi Uwimana and Saidad Mukakibibi have also been arrested for their work.  Anjan Sundaram’s book ‘Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship’ describes the climate of great repression that journalists work under in Rwanda. It also decodes Paul Kagame’s ‘carefully choreographed’ image and policies, which enjoy great support from his western backers. The Kagame government is known to suppress political opposition, with opponents being subject to threats, arbitrary arrests, assassinations and forced disappearances.

Given the heavy consequences for political opposition, Rwanda’s parliamentarians have had limited room to bring about change. Nevertheless, they have passed important legislation on gender based violence, legalising abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest and where continued pregnancy endangers the health of the mother or the foetus, besides mandating  12-week maternity leave.

The road ahead for Rwanda is not an easy one. Using their limited available power,  women in Rwandan politics have to work to ensure that women from all classes and sections are able to access and reap the benefits of empowerment, tackle deep socio-economic inequalities, and fight for a open, inclusive and democratic political society.






In Telengana, a manifesto with a difference

A Joint Action Committee drawn from a group of 30 associations working on women and transgender issues, as well as several individual academics and activists, has released a manifesto for the upcoming Telangana Legislative Assembly elections to be held in December 2018.

The manifesto, based on consultations with all the participating groups and individuals, highlights 14 major issues, including health, education, agriculture, violence, prohibition,  labour (especially from the unorganised sector) and discrimination against transgender people.

The  Telangana government formed after elections in 2014 did not have a single woman cabinet minister. The TRS government  did not have any women in decision-making bodies either.

Speaking at the press conference at which the manifesto was released, cultural activist PA Devi said, “Successive governments have failed to address women’s concerns. All political parties want women to be seen in rallies and political mobilisations but are unwilling to give them space in decision-making bodies. Women are not looking for dole from the governments nor patriarchal promises to wipe their tears, but political participation by way of 33% seats from all parties. The manifesto demands that whichever party comes to power must also allocate 33% of cabinet positions to women.”

Read this article by Padmaja Shaw for more information:


Study reveals benefits of electing women

A recent study that analyses the economic impact of electing women in Indian state elections has concluded that constituencies that elect women to state legislative assemblies are likely to witness more economic growth than those run by male politicians.

Yet only 9% of the 4,118 MLAs across India are women, according to the 2018 Economic Survey of India This is despite the fact that 48.5% of the Indian population is female.

The May 2018 working paper from the United Nation’s University World Institute for Development Economics Research is based on an examination of election data for 4,265 state assembly constituencies between 1992 and 2012.


Breath And Push: When Women Take To Public Office

By Priyanka Borpujari


As-Salam Aaleikum!

That’s how 36-year-old Ilhan Omar greeted a large audience on November 6 after she had won her seat in the Congress in the midterm elections in the United States. Her choice of greeting is reflective of her identity as a Muslim woman; it bears particular significance because of the time and place: this is the US in 2018, where women’s bodies continue to be policedMuslims continue to face racial slurs and the Black population continues to shudder at being policed – sometimes at gunpoint, and gunshots that are fired – by White cops.

But USA is also where women were spurred to run for elections when they had enough of a misogynist president and a dominant political party that condones the horrendous actions of politicians and judges accused of sexual assaults. It was coming, the winds of anger metamorphosing as women took charge of their place in society by getting down to politics, to change the nature of the game and rewrite the rules.

And that’s what happened with the midterm elections of 2018 which will go down in history for many firsts. In Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn became the state’s first woman senator. In Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley is the first African-American woman elected to the House from Massachusetts. In Maine, voters chose Janet Mills to be the state’s first woman governor. Sharice Davids, Deb Haaland, and Yvette Herrell became the first Native American women elected to Congress. Ilhan Omar became the first Somali-American in Congress, while Rashida Tlaib became the first Palestinian-American Congresswoman. Both women, Democratic candidates, also share the distinction of being the first Muslim women in Congress. Republican Kristi Noem became South Dakota’s first female governor. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old activist from the Bronx, became the youngest woman elected to Congress.

A total of 273 women were on the ballot in the 2018 midterms, representing both the Democratic and Republican parties. In the previous years’ election, the number hovered around 171.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, Rwanda made history once again by breaking its own world record on the percentage of women in Parliament. In last month’s election, women won 54 of 80 seats, achieving a new record of 67.5 per cent by crossing the previously held world record of 64 per cent. For a country whose Tutsi population was systematicallydecimated in 1994, and where rape was used as a tool to further the genocide, the strides made by women in the political sphere is particularly significant and admirable. The scarce attention paid to this development over the years is reflective of our attitude towards and ignorance about Africa in general and Rwanda in particular. The latest election results have made news only because of the new world record (achieved for the second time).

The spectacular electoral wins by women in both countries – separated by an ocean and diverse histories and cultures – speak of a new reckoning worldwide, of women transforming years of discrimination and anger into something powerfully constructive. This was evident in the speeches of the women in the US who made history.

Ocasio-Cortez identifies her politics as “Democrat Socialist” — something that seems radical in a country whose backbone is built on aggressive capitalism. Ilhan Omar, who moved to the US at the age of 12 as a Somali refugee, said in her victory speech, “Here in Minnesota, we don’t only welcome immigrants; we send them to Washington.” Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, said after her Congressional win, “I almost feel like my winning is a shoutout to democracy everywhere.”

Exactly two years ago, a Yale-graduate lawyer was defeated by a pompous businessman who went on to become the President of the US. The presidential campaign was one of the most divisive in history, ferociously fought beyond political debates, with dirty linen being made publicHillary Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy might be exactly what a non-American is wont to recognise as American: elevating fear until it reaches the tall tower from which nothing but invasion appears to be the solution. But whether we agreed or disagreed with her views, it cannot be denied that her erudite polemic were layered and textured in comparison to Trump’s simplistic reduction of both economic and international affairs.

In the end, the seductive reduction of people’s problems to matters that could purportedly be solved through rough and ready solutions won the day. The smear campaign won; narrow nationalism, racism and misogyny won. But this, in turn, galvanized American women to take to the streets, and to eye public office. Push came to shove and, as activist and lawyer Valerie Kaur poetically said, with breath and push, the country was delivered into a day of women whose words – about their own selves and identities, and how that re-framed the way they perceived what ought to be transformed – were more credible than the lies of men.

I look at the photos of these American women who have made history and have been widely hailed, and I think of Jinabai Duduwe, who was elected the sarpanch of Devli village in Sendhwa district in Madhya Pradesh, nearly a decade ago. The younger and the second of two wives of Lakha Duduwe, she brought me tea as her husband waxed eloquent about the various schemes that he was able to implement in the village. I only saw her meek smile from under her sari veil; her “Sarpanch Pati” was the one who had essentially won the election and was now running the show. Her election as Sarpanch was to merely claim a seat through the 50 per cent quota for women in India’s Panchayati Raj (local self-governance) system.

While more and more women in India are going out to vote, the number of women running for office, and the number of women actually winning elections, hasn’t increased correspondingly. Currently, women make up a paltry 11.6 per cent of directly elected members of the Indian Parliament. Even when a woman is elected, her policies – no matter how high they might raise eyebrows – are often ridiculed on the premise of her gender. Never are a man’s policies questioned because of his gender. The video of an erudite Indira Gandhi giving an interview in French is now doing the rounds on social media, even as the Emergency that she imposed in 1975 is an experience even those of us born after her death are able to recognise in the times we live in today, with a range of freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution under attack.

The cover of the November 19 edition of the New Yorker magazine illustrated the history made in the midterm elections in the US. A room full of men, visibly older with sagging cheeks, bald heads and wrinkled square faces – drawn in black pen – indicated business as usual, dull and corrupt. In one corner of the page was an open door through which several women were waving. The waving women were painted in colour. Ilhan Omar was visible, with her distinctive hijab. A bald, smiling man was also visible entering through the door that separated the black and white room from the colourful group: Jared Polis, the first openly gay Governor (of Colorado) in the US. Change had arrived like a rainbow.

Of course, women in public offices can also be equally sexist, as India’s Smriti Irani has shown; they, too, can champion nationalistic jingoism, as France’s Marie Le Penn has shown. But Cynthia Nixon, a former award-winning actor who ran for governorship of New York state, showed that she was able to hold high her personality, insist on the ability to have two careers in one’s life, and transcend roles to listen to what people want.

As we go into elections in five more states in 2018 and anticipate the general elections in 2019, and notice how a woman’s gender is peddled as fodder to disregard her place in politics, perhaps we could take a leaf out of the books of the scores of women across the world who have, time and again, rolled up their sleeves, tucked up their skirts and saris, to knock on the doors of political power in order to change the system.

Women constitute less than 13% of candidates fielded in Madhya Pradesh

By Raksha Kumar


Illustration by Binay Sinha

In June 2018, during the Karnataka Election campaign, Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi spoke at length about fielding more women as candidates. Admitting he was raised by strong women, Gandhi said he understands that women are better administrators.

However, his party did not seem to take note of his desire back then (Congress wielded 15 women in the 222 seats, only three won). And they seem to have ignored it even now, going by the party’s list of candidates for Madhya Pradesh, the largest central Indian state, which will go to polls on December 11. Of the 155 candidates whose names have been announced, only 21 are women. Names of candidates for 75 more seats are yet to be announced.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which currently rules the state, is even worse. Among the 177 names announced, only 13 are women. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chaohan had sent 5 lakh letters to his “sisters” across the state on Raksha Bandhan, seeking another term from them to “ameliorate their condition”. He could have taken the first step in this direction by fielding more women in these elections.

A common argument put forward by politicians for the gender imbalance among election candidates is that the electorate is not ready for female politicians. It is rather presumptuous to assert that without giving much of the electorate any option.

Read more:

Nowhera Shaikh – Women’s rights in Islam, and also Sania

By Jyoti Punwani

She disagreed with the influential Deoband seminary over its fatwa on Imrana.

Sania Mirza was chief guest at the annual day of her girls’ madrasa.

Nowhera Shaikh, the mystery woman whose All India Mahila Empowerment Party (AIMEP) contested all 224 seats in the just concluded assembly elections in Karnataka, is quite a character, apart from her politics.

Nowhera Shaikh

She is an Aalima, or Islamic scholar. The 45-year-old, herself a madrasa product, has been running one of her own in Tirupati for the last 20 years. This reporter met Shaikh when she had come to Mumbai in 2005 to inaugurate a centre for Islamic studies, the Al Tawheed International Dawah Centre for Women.

The Imrana controversy was at its peak then. Imrana, a resident of Muzaffarnagar, was raped by her father-in-law. The panchayat decided that, by virtue of the rape, the 28-year-old was no longer her husband’s wife.  She was forbidden for him, and was now the wife of his father.  When an Urdu journalist asked the Dar Ul Uloom Deoband seminary for its opinion, the Ulema there agreed that Imrana was now haraam (forbidden) for her husband, but said she could not be considered his father’s wife either.  Nowhera Shaikh rejected both fatwas, calling them a travesty of the teachings of the Koran.

Nowhera has always been keen that Muslim women read and understand the Koran by themselves, without any Ulema interpreting it for them. That’s the reason she started her madrasa. The Heera Madrassa (her business empire is known as the Heera Group), or the Jamiathul Niswan As Salafia, offers free education to needy students. It was at the annual day function of this madrasa that tennis star Sania Mirza, over whose tennis shorts the ulema have seen red, was the chief guest.

The Al Tawheed centre was also started for the same reason, in partnership with Dr Shehnaz Shaikh, founder principal of the Al Muminah Islamic Girls school in Mumbai.

Nowhera also runs a helpline for women in Dubai, said Dr Shehnaz Shaikh. A close associate of Nowhera, Shehnaz revealed that the latter had registered the AIMEP as a national party four years ago. She therefore had to fight elections this year. The original plan was to fight the Gujarat elections, but she had not been allotted a symbol by then. That finally came through in December 2017.  As soon as she was allotted the symbol, she decided to fight the first Assembly election that came up – and that happened to be in Karnataka.

Won’t this party, run by a burqa-clad woman, ultimately help the BJP by dividing the Muslim vote? (Of course, this theory presumes that the Muslims would vote en bloc for the Congress.) “I don’t ​think so,” replied Shehnaz. “There’s no way Nowhera will do anything to consciously help the BJP.”