Decoding gender in Mizoram elections

Contrary to popular perception, the North Eastern states of India are as patraiarchal as the rest of the country, says an editorial in the Assam Tribune. Figures show that fewer women candidates are fielded in elections in the seven states. And even fewer candidates wield actual power. This piece takes a deeper look into the recent assembly polls in Mizoram. 

mizoram voters

Credit: Nasreen Habib

This piece was first published in the Assam Tribune (1st December, 2018)

By Nasreen Habib

The sort of coverage the recent Assembly Elections in Mizoram received in the national media has been unprecedented. Some have commented that the Northeast is no longer the periphery it was thought to be, there is increasing interest in the politics and culture of the North Eastern states, unlike earlier where the focus shifted to the region only in the case of a bomb blast or ethnic violence. However, as soon as the elections are going to be over, the coverage of the North East too will wane, except when there is an unusual event such as the dethroning of Lenin’s statue in Tripura or, predictably, incidents of violence. So, if we look more closely, the narrative has stayed the same, one of conflict and violence. It is as if the region merits no long-term engagement or exploration into local issues, such as erosion in Assam (7.6 percent of Assam’s land has been eroded in the last 10 years). The elections in Mizoram have also brought out one factor that was relatively unknown, that the North East is as misogynist as the rest of India. In the last Assembly elections, in matrilineal Meghalaya, no woman MLA was inducted into the Cabinet, and in Nagaland, no woman MLA has been elected to the Assembly so far! In Mizoram, the statistics are only marginally better – four women have been elected to the State Legislative Assembly in its 46 years as a State.

In the last Assembly elections in 2013, political parties had nominated only three women candidates. In the recent Assembly elections held on November 28, 2018, the number of women candidates has gone up to 15. However, if we mull over the fact that the only strong candidate who has a realistic chance at winning is Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu, the only woman in the assembly who is also a minister, then the scenario is no less bleak than before. 200 candidates had filed for nominations, and only 15 of them are women. Mizoram is one of the states in the country where the representation of women in politics is among the lowest. Chawngthu is the first Mizo woman to be a minister in the State Government and she is also the general secretary of the Mizoram Pradesh Congress Committee. Again, though a powerful minister with a stronghold on regional politics, her father was a former minister who aided her growth in the party. The newly formed party, the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM), has fielded two women candidates, both of whom come from political families. Zaichhawna Hlawndoan evangelist who is the president of another formation, Zoram Thar, is fighting the Assembly elections in ‘the name of god’. His two daughters — Lalhrilzeli and Lalruatfeli — both educated in the UK, are contesting from two seats. Dynasty politics, like in the rest of the country, and indeed all over the world, has sunk its roots in Mizoram as well.  The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded six women candidates but as the national party has minimal presence in Christian-dominated Mizoram, there are doubts if any of their candidates will make the cut. The only encouraging news is that the party has included two women in leardership roles — Zohmingliani as the vice president and Lalrinkimi as the secretary.

Zoramthanga, former CM and president of the Mizo National Font has clearly said: “If we had a strong woman candidate, we would have nominated her. But unfortunately our party does not have one. No woman contested on an MNF ticket in the 2013 Assembly polls either. Nor will there be a woman candidate this time.” It interesting to note that in a State where women are visible everywhere, from plying on the roads with two-wheelers, picking up children from school, running small businesses, to toiling on the fields and in offices, there are no ‘strong’ women found competent to contest. It is pertinent to mark that when the call for votes comes from politicians, there is no gender imbalance. They ask for votes from the masses, both men and women. In Mizoram, more than half of the electorate is made up of women, yet there is little representation of that in the Assembly. As a representative democracy, the elected representatives cannot represent the voices of men in overwhelming numbers.

What is the solution, then? For a start, all political parties, across the spectrum, need to acknowledge the need for inclusive politics and involve women in decision-making roles. Political parties must also address the elephant in the room – reservation for women — not only in the Parliament but also within political parties. There is 33 per cent reservation for women in Gaon Panchayats across the country, in Assam it goes up to 50 per cent, and though there are instances when a woman representative is only the executioner whereas the real power rests elsewhere, mostly with a husband, it has to be acknowledged that this is only the beginning. As more and more women enter the system through some form of preferential treatment initially, politics will be strengthened by the views and inputs from the other half of the population. At a time of sweeping global change and plummeting economies, we cannot afford to ignore women’s voices, which may bring in the revolution we are waiting for. The future, as they say, is female.

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Once more unto the breach…

“Wrap it up, this final Lok Sabha session,” says Tara Krishnaswamy of the newly formed, non-partisan Indian Women’s Caucus spearheading a renewed effort to ensure gender-balanced representation in Parliament and state Legislative Assemblies.

There are 11% women in Parliament and 9% in state assemblies.
Outcomes can only depend on inputs; only 5-10% women are elected as only so many are given tickets by major parties.
Parties have lakhs of women as members, but rarely as decision-makers.
What should labour without a career ladder be termed?

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/wrap-it-up-this-final-lok-sabha-session/articleshow/66956882.cms?fbclid=IwAR2Md2zX4h3n7FlrfCTSDRMhxvZwMCSoQLKiqq3hChe4Ri1lrRc6WK5USwk

A step forward in Odisha

By Rakhi Ghosh

The Odisha State Assembly recently passed a unanimous resolution seeking 33 per cent reservation for women in state Legislative Assemblies and Parliament. The resolution was passed by a voice vote after a debate in the House. The major Opposition parties – both Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) – supported the resolution but later expressed doubts over the motive of the state government in bringing in the resolution ahead of the Assembly election due to be held in Odisha in 2019, concurrent with the general election.

The chief whip of the Congress in the state said the party has no objection if women get 33 per cent reservation in state assemblies and parliament, but added that it felt the move was aimed at influencing women voters. 

While initiating the debate on the resolution, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik cited the leadership qualities of two tribal women of the state:  Mamata Padiami, a young college student from Kalimela in Malkangiri district, and Jayanti Ekka, a grassroots entrepreneur from Sundergarh district.

During a meeting as part of the Ama Gaon Ama Bikash programme at the Secretariat, Mamata Padiami had requested the CM (through a video conference) to increase health insurance for women under the state’s Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY) from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 7 lakh. The Odisha government, which did not allow the implementation of the central government’s Ayushman Bharat scheme in the state, instead launched the BSKY, a universal health coverage scheme aiming to benefit to around 3.5 crore people from over 70 lakh families in the state.

Jayanti Ekka, who is the president of the federation of self-help groups in Sundergarh district, was invited to share her success story at the recent Make in Odisha conclave in the state capital, Bhubaneswar, in the presence of Naveen Patnaik. Jayanti shared the story of how she had brought together over 15,000 women to produce gram flour, an initiative that has helped to improve the economic status of tribal women of her block, Balishankara, in Sundergarh. Making an appeal to the legislative assembly to extend support to the resolution, Patnaik said, “No household, no society, no state and no country has ever moved forward without empowering its women.”

In early 1992, during the chief ministership of the late Biju Patnaik (father of the present CM, Naveen Patnaik), the then Janata Dal government had for the first time reserved 33 per cent of seats in local bodies for women. Before the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act came into force in 1993, the Odisha government had already conducted panchayati raj elections (in 1992), with 33 per cent of the seats reserved for women.

Later, in 2011, the Odisha state legislature unanimously gave its nod to the Orissa Panchayat Laws (Amendment) Bill 2011, amending the Orissa Gram Panchayat Act 1964, the Orissa Panchayat Samitee Act 1959 and the Orissa Zilla Parishad Act 1991 to enhance the quota for women from the existing 33 per cent to 50 per cent. This helped thousands of women candidates to contest three-tier panchayat elections as well as municipal elections and get elected.

Odisha Panchayat elections 2017

Lines waiting to vote in panchayat elections in Odisha.

The resolution which was recently approved unanimously by the members of state assembly has now been sent for central government approval. This resolution could well have an impact on the Women’s Reservation Bill, which has been pending in the Parliament since 1996.

Now that Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik has shown interest in ensuring 33 per cent reservation for women in the state assembly as well, his political party (Biju Janata Dal) should demonstrate commitment to the cause by fielding more women candidates in the forth-coming Assembly election. At present there are only 12 women MLAs in the state Assembly. If  the BJD comes to power again in the state – for the fifth time – having enabled more women candidates to contest the assembly election, there will be a good chance that the number of elected women representatives will increase.           

The resolution is undoubtedly a first step towards providing political space to female elected representatives across party lines, and changing the hitherto skewed representation in the State Assembly.  However, it also leaves many questions to be answered. Real empowerment of women will take place when elected women are given ministerial portfolios that are considered prestigious and powerful, such as finance, revenue and energy. In the past, women politicians  have been forced to be satisfied with being  ministers looking after Women & Child Development, Handlooms & Handicrafts and other  departments viewed as less important. The time has come to not stop at passing a resolution to provide 33 per cent reservation in Assembly seats but also ensure that female political representatives are given powerful positions in ministries and other decision-making bodies.

Equally important is the task of creating an enabling environment and increasing acceptance of women’s leadership among men. Another important move would be to ensure women’s presence in various standing committees.

Also, 33 per cent should not be seen as a ceiling;  considering that women make up nearly half the population, they should be given a chance to contest  an increasing number of seats.

The BJD must also ensure that the party gives tickets to candidates – both men and women – taking into consideration the heterogeneity of the population and the traditional marginalization of certain sections of society (such as Dalits, Adivasis and other socially and economically disadvantaged communities). Women from tribal, Dalit and other vulnerable communities should get equal representation in the legislature and their voices must be respected. Otherwise, there is every chance that women’s political representation will also be reduced to just filling seats rather than truly serving society. It is a fact that many elected women representatives of Panchayati Raj institutions in the state still struggle to stand out due to the dominance of the patriarchal order.     

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.

MIZOWOMEN

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:

https://www.thehindu.com/elections/mizoram-assembly-elections-2018/mizoram-assembly-elections-2018-little-room-for-women/article25591748.ece

 

Lessons from Rwanda’s world record

By Urvashi Sarkar

 

Rwanda-women-in-Parliament

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:

https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/women-and-transgender-persons-release-manifesto-ahead-telangana-elections-91050

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.

https://www.indiaspend.com/better-roads-more-lights-higher-economic-growth-less-corrupt-mlas-benefits-of-electing-a-woman-revealed/