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Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Mainstream parties make tall promises but shy away from giving many women tickets

Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Mainstream parties make tall promises but shy away from giving many women tickets

Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Mainstream parties make tall promises but shy away from giving many women tickets
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By Rakesh Khar  Apr 10, 2019 8:03:48 PM IST (Updated)

The BJP and Congress are at each other’s throat in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. But the fierce competitors in the electoral fray have demonstrated rare unanimity in engaging women voters with a raft of schemes and sops.

The BJP and Congress are at each other’s throat in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. But the fierce competitors in the electoral fray have demonstrated rare unanimity in engaging women voters with a raft of schemes and sops.

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This newfound women-centrism isn’t hard to explain. Apart from fulfilling their social contract, India’s two mainstream political parties are keen to have women voters on their side. There is a view that women voters will help swing many traditionally closely fought constituencies.
With an ever-rising women voter turnout election after election, the BJP and Congress, both, see a huge opportunity in engaging them perhaps as never before.
Women voter turnout stood at a record 65.63 percent in 2014 as against 55.82 percent in 2009. The number is all set to increase in 2019.
Women Manifestos: Good, Bad & Ugly
The good news is the diversity of women-centric ideas on the table.
The bad news is that there is an overall tendency to overpromise. Slogans can hardly be measured for actual delivery.
Also, some ideas suggested in the manifestos look good as election slogans but given the ground situation, their execution might be a huge challenge.
But one thing is for sure that the intent this time moves beyond tokenism and there is a strategic thought to bring about the paradigm shift from gender gap to gender equity.
If Congress promoted NYAY aims to transfer money to female family members, BJP is already promoting UJWALA as a game changer given its enduring positive impact on poor women.
The BJP women manifesto aims to draw the distinction. It says, “The Prime Minister has stated that ‘India needs not just women development, but women-led development that makes women the leading force of our development trajectory’, and as per this belief, we have determinedly gone beyond tokenism to take substantive measures to ensure overall development of women and achieve gender equality.”
The Congress manifesto actually set the tone. It read, “Historically, Congress has been at the forefront of the struggle for women’s rights, equality and empowerment. India’s only woman Prime Minister, Smt. Indira Gandhi, belonged to the Congress. We passed many laws that empowered women. We mainstreamed gender in government schemes.”
In regard to the crucial issue of mainstreaming women in society and the economy, the ascent is uniform. It is in the nuances that the Congress manifesto aims to make a big promise.
The Congress manifesto says it would amend the service rules to reserve 33 per cent appointments to posts in the central government for women. It is easier said than done.
For two reasons- one the trajectory of jobs in the government sector has been southward bound and second given the school/college drop-out rate for women, it is a stiff challenge to have as many women apply for advertised government posts.
Also, given the job situation today, a 33 percent reservation, will further tighten the overall situation.
While in principle the idea stays noble, the proof of execution challenge comes in another promise made in the Congress manifesto – the manifesto says the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 will be enforced effectively (an admission that bringing about gender parity at workforce isn’t easy).
Another Congress manifesto idea that is bound to spark debate is the decision to repeal any provision of law that prohibits night shift for women. It is a welcome idea since it offers parity as also signals a mindset change.
But given that law and order is a state subject, a central provision might not cut much ice.
Women GDP
On the economic empowerment front, Congress has promised to launch the second version of its National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) to make Self Help Groups (SHG) a key instrument of change.  The ground situation reflects that SHGs are being proactively promoted through social entrepreneurship organizations, NGOs thereby suggesting a rather lacklustre government performance.
To make women safe at the workplace, Congress has announced it would induct a comprehensive review of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplaces Act, 2013. The review would be most meaningful if only its enforcement means stringent and quick punishment.
The BJP manifesto on women GDP appears more grounded and relatively less ambitious. It says upon coming to power the BJP government would formulate a comprehensive ‘Women in Workforce’ roadmap focusing on dramatically increasing the female workforce rate participation over the next five years. There, however, are no scheme specifics offered yet.
To generate better work opportunities for women, BJP says 10 percent material would be sourced for government procurement would be done from MSMEs having at least 50 per cent women in their workforce. This is a little ambitious given that the stipulated 20 per cent MSME procurement offtake has a patchy record.
On the key issue of women safety, there is a reiteration of existing schemes and a modest new play in both manifestos.
Congress will pass model legislation to establish a separate investigative agency to investigate heinous crimes against women and children and urge the state to enact a law to establish such an investigative agency.
The truth is that investigation is not that big a challenge as is fast track disbursal of cases for speedy punishment of the accused.
BJP says women safety would be accorded more priority. The party has claimed that it had set up women’s security division in the home ministry and aims to expand fast track courts. No numbers are, however, provided.
In continuation of its last mile women empowerment, BJP manifesto pushes for reducing the malnutrition level by at least 10 per cent in the next five years. All Anganwadi workers and Asha workers too would be covered under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme.
Women-Led Development
Given its focus on women-led development, BJP will legislate a bill to prohibit and eliminate practices such as Triple Talaq and Nikah Halala.
Congress aims to pass suitable legislation to make registration of marriages compulsory and also enforce the law prohibiting child marriages. The distinct approach shows the broad trajectory of both parties when it comes to social equity for women.
Ironically, both manifestos, have striking resemblance when it comes to the issue of 33 per cent women reservation. There is a promise but neither is there the enunciation of an action plan nor of a settling a prescribed timeline.
The proof of an idea is in its execution. Both BJP and Congress have yet made no express statement on a quota for women candidates. In contrast, regional player -TMC and BJD are the only two parties who have formally announced their intention to focus on women candidates with Mamata fielding 17 women candidates in West Bengal.
India is actually placed pretty low when it comes to Parliamentary women representation. Placed at 148, India trailed Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan and dropped three places since 2018.
Women made up a modest 11.8 percent of the 16th Lok Sabha where 64 were elected to the 542-member house and 11 percent of the Rajya Sabha with 27 of the 245 members.
Women empowerment lies in giving a greater number of tickets to women candidates without always looking for their past winning percentage. It isn’t about simple math but about giving half of India it’s long denied due.
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