Civic engagement on gender issues has seen a massive recent shift from catering to women-specific laws, policies, and programs to questioning the fundamental structures that propel gender inequality. The influence of active women’s movement in India is visible in research, academic exchange, democratic institutions and larger political debates. Rather than stereotyping women as apolitical, disinterested parties, women are now more fully acknowledged as active political agents.
However, there is still a stark difference between women’s engagement as a political class versus male engagement in the political sphere. Women’s networks are largely circumscribed to the domestic / private sphere, segmented off from the more dominant public politics of men. While women’s groups may organize themselves, develop solidarity around their issues, and make decisions on the personal front, these decisions are commonly viewed as apolitical and unique to women, and thus weaker than the “active” politics of the traditionally male sphere.
Government institutions are extensions of the society’s culture, mindsets and power relations. Any step forward to reclaim democracy and political rights for women necessitates a parallel step to dismantle the structures undermining women’s autonomy. While women’s groups have resisted these structures from outside the system, low female voter turnout and miniscule female representation in positions of power proves there is a long way to go until women within the prevailing system are equally heard.
As Mr. Singh states, this is a radical time to reinvigorate consciousness of gender inequality and to bring women’s voices to the political front. In states like Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh and Goa we have witnessed remarkable increases in female turnout and recognition of female voices on safety and culture. This rise of consciousness or dialogue needs to be tapped in the upcoming Delhi State assembly elections as well as during the National elections.
Haiyya as an organization believes in filling this gap through people-powered change. Collective power only comes when people band together – and the strongest collectives use shared identities, shared experiences and shared values to build commitment. That makes this aggregation of women’s voices together becomes highly crucial. In our Rise Up! Campaign in Delhi, we use the shared identities, experiences of marginalization and empowerment, and shared values to aggregate women’s voices for power. In the constituencies of Malviya Nagar, Kasturba Nagar, Karol Bagh, and Model Town, Rise Up! Captains and volunteers are creating women’s voting blocks where women grow from disparate voices into an organized network focusing on using democratic governance to address their issues.
Large-scale policy changes, programs and laws are a way to reduce gender-based disparity, but for an organizer – and for civil society – the most important, step is to empower women to raise their voice. By coming together, discussing their issues, engaging with governance, and making an informed vote, women can truly come to yield political power. The challenge, however, lies in emphasizing shared struggles associated with gender, rather than falling into divisions of socio-economic class. Through the discussions that Haiyya sparks to yield powerful voting blocks, women have found a space to spark a more constructive and inclusive society.
By Aprajita Pandey.
Originally published here: http://policyblog.oxfordindiasociety.org.uk/2013/10/22/women-as-political-actors-rethinking-strategies/