Women’s groups in Bengaluru, representatives from various political parties, Bangalore Ladies Circle and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Ladies Organisation (FICCI FLO), came together to discuss representation in politics for women and women’s issues.
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(WO)Manifesto, brainchild of Shruti Modi Kaura saw attendance by women from all walks of life at the TERI Institute on April 24. Shruti, once the Chairperson of Bangalore Ladies Circle 31, was only acting on her inclination to lead change when she went door-to-door asking for a seat in major parties. Soon, she realized there was no question of entering politics due to the utter lack of women-power in the political sphere.
“I always wanted to contribute socially, but giving money away was not meaningful enough. I realised there was a need for changes in policy which seemed more interesting. I organised the platform for us to talk about key issues and pass on the recommendations to all four parties,” she said.
She then studied her contacts and acquaintances from women-oriented social groups to put together a guest list. On the panel were former chief secretary Teresa Bhattacharya, former chairperson for Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Nina Nayak, Dr Nilima Kadambi and former Jagriti Theatre founder, Arundhati Raja. From the field of education Tristha Ramamurthy, Vice President of the CMR Group of Institutions, was present. The burning topics touched upon were women’s representation in government, property rights, inclusion of the third gender, Section 377 and women’s safety.
How is WO(manifesto) going to initiate change? Shruti is in the process of collating recommendations put inside a ballot box at the TERI institute by the event’s participants. Finally, she plans on uploading the video recording of the event and sharing it on social media. Every three months, talks will be held to take discussions further at different venues. “The event was just meant to be a starting point for many more such talks. It is going to be an on-going process,” she added.
The talk would have no meaning without political representation. Sowmya Reddy, Indian National Congress (INC) candidate for Jayanagar Constituency spoke on behalf of her party. She listed the Mathru Purna scheme providing nutritional food for pregnant women at Anganwadi centres, the Maitri scheme giving Rs 500 monthly pension to transgenders and the Congress’ support for Section 377 to be abolished.
Reservation aside, party mechanisms should be devised for women-candidates with adequate campaigning resources made available to them. Parties should make it a priority to push women equally to the forefront and make them as winnable said Sowmya Reddy.
She said that less than 35% of the Nirbhaya fund has been used so far in the state. Hence, the transparency is needed in fund’s distribution and usage to help services like the Makkala Sahayavani function.
BJP considering incentivising property ownership by women farmers
The BJP’s manifesto release is still due but women are also part of the discussion, said Smrthi Harits, representing the BJP manifesto committee. She said that the party is considering incentivising property ownership. She said the BJP is planning to waive stamp duty for women registering land from the farming community. Though there are possibilities of husbands misusing this opportunity to get properties registered through their wives, the good results of women possessing property will outweigh the bad, she said. She also suggested increasing the representation of women-police officers from 10% to 49%.
Shantala Damle, AAP spokesperson, emphasized the fact that women own less than 10 percent of all land in the country with limited assets in their name. She suggested incentivising assets in women’s names in new real-estate projects to reduce property tax by 25%.
Damle also criticised the governments for not balancing the needs of both sexes in budgets equally, and not supporting the productivity of women. Comparing the five-time increase in the Chinese GDP after 63% of women entered the workforce, Damle said that less than 30% of women are engaged in paid-work in India.
Shantala added that women should be compulsorily chosen in all ministries, not restricted to the Women and Child Welfare Department. Creation of more opportunities in the political sphere is necessary. For instance, new political parties like AAP, and Swaraj Abhiyan, in need of new candidates could increasingly select deserving women candidates. She suggested that the word ‘reservation’ that has negative connotation be changed to ‘representation’.
Women leaders should occupy 30% of seats on panel discussions, especially while representing their parties in the public space. This is right now only compulsory for women’s issues. Political parties should make female representation mandatory for events ranging from finance, sports and crime, said Shantala.
Sandhya Mendonca, Author, media entrepreneur and cultural evangelist, while moderating the Womanifesto, said that it was an apolitical forum, meant for encouraging all political parties to field more credible women in the electoral fray.
The lapsed Women’s Reservation Bill – 2008, demanding 33 percent of reservation for women in Lok Sabha and state assemblies, was not voted on after the government was formed in 2014. This bill must be raked up again by women across ideologies from Congress, BJP, JD(S), Trinamool Congress, and AAP, who must come together to lobby for its passage. Women must put pressure to enforce the bill by refusing to vote, said Sandhya.
Transgenders, sex education and more
The floor was then thrown open to the 50-member audience and panelists to have an open dialogue. A few members of Bengaluru Politial Action Committee (BPAC) gave many suggestions, like giving women in the political sphere deserved credit, setting up coordination committees to make gender-sensitive policies across BMTC, railways department, BMRCL, finance department, home ministry and other related departments,
Transgender Radio Jokey Priyanka who works with Radio Active, argued against tokenism with transgenders prior to elections, and asked the parties to focus on inclusion of trans-women on par with other women in society. They demand specific identities. Improving access to the Maitri scheme as pension is currently not accessible to the third gender, she added.
In classrooms, it is increasingly becoming common to include boys in sex education talks about menstruation. Similarly, men in IT companies, cab services and government organisations have to be educated on appropriate conduct, especially behaviour having legal consequences, said Tristha Rama Murthy, an audience.
Moderator Sandhya Mendonca called upon all women’s groups and women’s wings of political parties to lobby for the passing of the Women’s Reservation Bill.