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    Women's Day 2022: New Chennai mayor is a 28-year-old woman, but fight for gender representation is far from over

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    Women's Day 2022: New Chennai mayor is a 28-year-old woman, but fight for gender representation is far from over

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    While electing women in politics is no doubt, a step in the right direction, observers point out that even in relatively progressive states like Tamil Nadu, female policymakers are often propped up by political parties as proxies for more politically ambitious male members of their families. This includes fathers or husbands. Gender experts say that does not make for great empowerment.

    Days ago, Chennai got only its third female mayor in 334 years. However, when 28-year-old Priya Rajan took the oath of office, she not only became one of few female mayors in the city's centuries-old corporation, but also the first Dalit to hold office.
    It is also worthy of mention that Priya won the election while contesting from the Thiru-Vi-Ka Nagar ward in North Chennai, widely regarded as one of the lesser developed urban pockets in the city.
    Speaking to CNBC-TV18 on the eve of International Women's Day, the new mayor of Chennai hailed the decision to appoint a woman to head Tamil Nadu's capital city. "This decision is one that supports women and promotes gender equality," said Priya, "If men can do something, women can do it too. We just haven’t been given the opportunity. For the first time now, we’ve been given a 50 percent reservation."
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    Priya's reference is to the DMK's recent decision to ensure 50 percent reservation for women policymakers in grass-root governance. The week gone by saw ward councillors of the party elect 11 women as mayors of multiple city incorporations, including high-profile ones in Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai, Tambaram, and Vellore.
    Earlier, the DMK-Congress combine emerged overwhelmingly victorious at the recently conducted local body elections in Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK and BJP, which contested separately registered meagre returns in terms of corporation wards won.
    While electing women in politics is no doubt, a step in the right direction, observers point out that even in relatively progressive states like Tamil Nadu, female policymakers are often propped up by political parties as proxies for more politically ambitious male members of their families. This includes fathers or husbands. Gender experts say that does not make for great empowerment.
    "You do not see this with MLAs and MPs, but when it comes to the third tier of governance, you often see other men around them take answers or conduct meetings (on behalf of elected female policymakers)," said Tara Krishnaswamy, co-founder, Political Shakti, "So, this must strike us as odd and we must ask ourselves why when it comes to this one thing, it is not all about the women."
    It's fair to say that on Women's Day, reservations and representation aside, women believe it’s high time that the men in their life — even the well-meaning ones — simply let them work, speak and act for themselves.
    "Men need to step aside and allow the women to handle the problems," said Tara. "Chennai has had 49 mayors and she (Priya Rajan) is only the third female mayor; Madurai has had eight mayors and its newly elected mayor is only the first woman to hold office," she added, So, the issue is not that women can’t govern. It’s just that there are too many men."
    What’s more? Female policymakers in Tamil Nadu believe they come equipped with the confidence and the ability to fight the patriarchy. "Many women may have big plans but are apprehensive about what their families or society might think," said Priya, "So, if they break those shackles, they can go a long way in letting their individuality stand out."
    There is optimism in the air. In 2019, nearly 14 percent of all Lok Sabha members were women — significantly higher than the 5 percent figure after the first-ever Indian election. The number of politically aspirant women is also on the rise on the rise every day.
    However, crucial policy decisions like passing the Women’s Reservation Bill will be key to getting women in politics their due.
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