Women tend to resolve crises without resorting to violence, advocate for social issues that benefit all, and allocate bigger budgets to issues like health and education. Inclusion of women corresponds to reduced armed violence and conflict management
One of the positive results of the BJP’s reformative peace policy and political reconstruction in Jammu and Kashmir post abrogation of the region’s semi-autonomous status has been the representation and increased involvement of women in politics and in the public sphere. This major step forward in favour of women was primarily achieved thanks to the adoption of the quota system in Panchayati Raj Institutions and urban local bodies. Constitutional amendments were adopted by Government of India in Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory during the transition period and these include provisions which provide for at least 33% female representation in decision-making institutions. Although there was a long-term plan to extend this 33% women’s reservation to Parliament and state legislature, however the bill passed by the Rajya Sabha on 9 March 2008 was never voted on in the Lok Sabha.
Before the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution, between 1957 and 2019 the 89-member Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly had 2 seats reserved for nominated women members. Over the last two decades, the rate of women’s participation in national parliaments globally has incrementally increased from 11.8 percent in 1998 to 17.8 percent in 2008 to 23.5 percent in 2018. According to a report published by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU, 2017), India ranked 149th globally in terms of representation of women in parliament. If we look at South Asian countries, India had after the 2016 elections 91 seats held by women, which forms 11.8 percent, far behind even Afghanistan’s 27.4 percent and Pakistan’s 20.6 percent. Strikingly, Pakistan has a dual system of civil and Sharia Law, and the Constitution of Pakistan ensures equality between men and women (Article 25(2) states ‘’there will be no discrimination on the basis of sex”).
In Nepal, women won 176 panchayat seats (29.6 percent) out of 595 in the elections held in 2013, forming the largest female representation in a governing institution in any South Asian country. In elections held in the same year in Bhutan, women won 4 out of 47 seats in Bhutan’s Parliament (8.5 percent). In Bangladesh in 2014, women reached the House of the Nation by getting 71 seats (20.3 percent) out of 350. In Sri Lanka’s 2015 parliamentary elections, women barely achieved 5.8 percent representation, winning only 13 seats out of total 225. Women represented 5.9 percent in the 2014 assembly elections in Maldives after winning 5 seats out of 85.
The seed of democracy lies in the principle that the legitimacy of the power to make decisions about people’s lives, their society and their country should derive from a choice by those who will be affected. For many centuries the basis of this legitimacy was limited and many were excluded from making a choice: slaves, those without property or formal education, those not ‘civilised’ or not part of the dominant culture or religion in society, people of colour, of a particular racial or ethnic group, indigenous people of countries conquered and annexed through superior weaponry—and overwhelmingly, women. However, in new and established democracies alike, it has become clear that universal suffrage did not in itself lead to the establishment of representative legislatures. Overall, the proportion of women in legislatures is exceedingly low. The question is why, and does it matter? What differences does it make whether women are in legislatures and other institutions of governance or not?
The numbers of women being elected to various political and democratic institutions may be rising, but they have a long way to go to achieve gender equality in the political sphere. Unfortunately, a range of barriers – official and unofficial, formal and informal – limit women’s political participation. According to UN’s Women 2013 report, women in politics face many types of violence in India. In countries like Pakistan and Nepal, physical violence, verbal abuse, abduction and threat of murder are common. Inadequate enforcement of laws, lack of support from police and judiciary, and socio-economic divide and current power structure are the main reasons for violence. Not only this, women also have to face challenges within political parties due to their being male-dominated. Political parties do not even support the political empowerment of women nor give them enough tickets. Besides this, women are victims of discrimination in their own family and are expected to stay only at home. Women who do take part in politics often do not receive support from their families.
Reversing such discriminatory practices is not impossible. If all such barriers were broken down and opportunities for strengthening women’s political participation and decision-making power were created, it would make a great difference.
Women at the negotiating table
Official peace processes, also known as “Track 1 Diplomacy”, are processes from which women continue to be largely excluded, with the number of women having held an official role during such processes, particularly during peace negotiations, being 2.4 percent throughout the world. Women’s participation at the peace table leads to higher chances of successful negotiations, implemented agreements and sustainable peace. The participation of women in ‘Arusha Peace Talks’ in Burundi which began in June 1998 in Arusha, Tanzania ,which lasted for over 2 years, resulted in the signing of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement on 28th August 2000. Similarly, the Inter-Congolese Dialogue (ICD) held in Sun City, South Africa, from 25th Feb to 12th April 2002, meant as a national reconciliation process to negotiate the terms of a new political order, concluded with the signature of the Global and All-Inclusive Agreement on 17th December 2002 in Pretoria, South Africa, which allowed the appointment of an Interim government in June 2003. Women gathered together to develop and adopt a common programme for peace agreements which integrated gender equality principles. Evidence shows that companies, countries, and peace agreements fare better when there are more women involved.
Strengthening women’s political participation
Women in positions of authority tend to resolve crises without resorting to violence, advocate for social issues that benefit all, and allocate bigger budgets to issues like health and education. Inclusion of women corresponds to reduced armed violence and conflict management. During the Libyan revolution and in the 50-year-long politics of Jammu and Kashmir, women have spearheaded education, media and political initiatives. A global study illustrated that women are invaluable resources whose participation enhances humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping and economic recovery. Often, they are viewed as less threatening then men – politically, socially and economically. Women are also the best detectors of radicalisation in their families and communities and can act rapidly to counter it.
More women in politics and leadership
It is important to recognise that gender parity can’t be reached overnight and needs coordinated efforts with political and social leaders to overcome culturally shaped mindsets that span generations. To date, men dominate decision-making tables, formulating policies that directly impact society, whereas women comprise less than 20% of seats in national parliaments. While mandating quotas on leadership boards and advisory councils is important, quotas are just one part of the fix and do not at all qualify as a solution on their own. Representation in numbers is huge, but if there is no will to allow women to meaningfully adjudicate when they get on the table, then the quota is essentially meaningless. Male and female legislators must work together in order to solve the myriad problems in their countries. In order to meet worldwide developments goals and build strong, sustainable democracies, women must be encouraged, empowered and supported in becoming strong political and community leaders. Our journey will be long, but if we remain ambitious, deliberate and strategic, we will make strides in the right direction.
The writer is a senior journalist. [email protected]