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Major Parties Have Declared Election Manifestos For 2019. How Do Women’s Issues Really Fare?

Posted: April 5, 2019

Indian women are used to getting empty promises, but are we willing to sit quietly without significant provisions for women in the 2019 elections (and no guarantee of a follow-through)? Let’s take a look at what the parties offer.

The election fever for the constitution of the 17th Lok Sabha is rising each day. Along with the announcements about candidates and filing of nomination papers, various political parties are also unveiling their vision for governance for the next five years. This vision is captured through various poll promises across areas like employment, economy, security, provisions for disadvantaged etc. in the parties’ manifesto documents.

While a political party like BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) has categorically mentioned that it doesn’t believe in manifestos, others like BJP (Bhartiya Janta Party) have still to share their roadmap which will act as a benchmark for performance if elected for the 17th term of the parliament.

As we wait for more poll promises to come, here is a look at some of the provisions for women in the 2019 elections manifestos which have already been unveiled.

Why focus on provisions for women in the 2019 elections is important?

Women form half of the Indian population today. In the 2019 elections, women voters are predicted to outnumber men when it comes to using their right to vote and elect. With the increase in women voters, there is a shift in the focus of political parties too, in considering women voters as serious stakeholders in the elections.

While women empowerment was a major poll promise in the last elections, this year too, it appears to be no different at least on the paper. Political parties have come up with various plans and promises around gender justice and women empowerment.

Here is a quick perusal of some of these key provisions –

Indian National Congress (INC)

The Congress party released its manifesto this week on April 2nd, 2019. The 55 page document titled Hum Nibhayenge promises “Kaam, Daam, Shaan, Sushaasan, Swabhimaan  and Samaan” (Work, Wealth, Power, Good Governance, Self Esteem, Daily Needs) for the Indian citizens.

The section Swabhimaan – Self esteem for the deprived highlights the party’s plans and vision on women empowerment and gender justice through 13 provisions. Some key items –

Reservation for women

Economic Empowerment of Women

  • To ensure equal wages are paid to men and women for similar work.
  • Every Special Economic zone to have working women’s hostels and safe transport facilities to increase participation of women in work force.
  • To repeal any provision of law that prohibits night shifts for women.
  • To make SHG (Self Help groups) a key instrument for the economic empowerment of women.

Safety and Security of women

Women Welfare

  • Work with state governments to implement programs to provide for single, widowed, abandoned and destitute women a dignified and secure life.

Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP)

“India needs not just women development but women-led development that makes women the leading force of our development trajectory” ~ Mr Narendra Modi

Called Sankalp Patra, the 45-page BJP manifesto was released today on April 8th 2019. Divided into 15 chapters, the manifesto claims to be focussing on Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, and talks about women’s provisions under the chapter -Women Empowerment.

The manifesto builds upon BJP’s various ongoing programs and doesn’t bring out any path-breaking new revolutionary schemes/plans for women. It though talks in terms of numbers and targets for a few plans. Key points –

Reservation for women

  • Commitment to reserve 33% in parliament and state assemblies through a constitutional amendment.

Economic Empowerment of Women

  • To formulate a comprehensive “Women in workforce” roadmap focussed on dramatically increasing the female workforce participation rate over the next five years.
  • To generate better work opportunities for women, 10% material to be sourced for government procurement from MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) having at least 50% of women employees in their workforce.
  • To strengthen the creche program with special focus on the needs of parents employed in the unorganized sector. To ensure that the number of childcare facilities is increased by threefold by 2022.

Safety and Security of women

  • To legislate a bill to prohibit and eliminate practices such as Triple Talaq and Nikah Halala.
  • Women’s security to be further prioritized by stricter provisions for crimes against women, time-bound investigation and trail for rape. Forensic facilities and fast track courts will be expanded to bring convicts to justice.

Women Welfare and Health

  • To ensure that all reproductive and menstrual health services are easily available to women across India including expansion of ongoing Suvidha scheme. Availability of sanitary pads at the affordable cost of Rs 1 for all women and girls.
  • Increase coverage of Ayushman Bharat to include all Anganwadi workers and ASHA workers to ensure improved health and social support system.
  • Reduce malnutrition level by at least 10% in the next five years, doubling the rate of reduction of malnourishment under POSHAN Abhiyan.
  • To ensure good quality, easily accessible and affordable maternal healthcare services for all women.

It is worth noting that coincidentally, in the last Lok Sabha elections 2014, the party had shared its road map only by April 7th 2014, which was the first day of the nine phased Lok Sabha elections. BJP’s 2014 manifesto, also called Sankalp Patra had various provisions for women including complete support for women reservation bill, various plans and schemes for economic empowerment, welfare and safety of women. Some of which have been forgotten over these 5 years.

It’s a sorry state that out of 374 candidates fielded by the party, so far only 45 are women, which is just 12%. With this track record, provisions for women in 2019 elections seems far away.

All India Trinamool Congress (AITC)

The All India Trinamool Congress is one of the very few political parties (other one is Biju Janta Dal (BJD)) to ensure high representation of women candidates in this election. With 17 women candidates (out of 42), Trinamool Congress has 41% women representation.

While the 67 page AITC manifesto doesn’t speak anything about supporting the Women Reservation Bill, it does emphasize on working for women’s employment and empowerment as a key to the nation’s betterment. Few key points –

Women Welfare/Economic independence

Safety and Security of women

  • Set up exclusive Women’s courts with the objective of delivering justice speedily and facilitate strong punishment for atrocities on women.
  • Revamp and recast the IPC (Indian Penal Code) and CrPc (Code of Criminal Procedure) such that they lower criminal activities and atrocities especially against women.

Communist Party of India (M)

Released last month, here are the key provisions for women highlighted in the CPI(M)’s manifesto for women rights and empowerment  –

Reservation for women

  • To increase allocations for women in all gender budgeting to at least forty per cent of allocations from the present claims of 30 per cent.
  • Support Women Reservation Bill and 33 percent reservation for women in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha

Women Welfare

  • Enact law for equal rights in marital and inherited property for all women. To also include protection and adequate maintenance and rehabilitation of all deserted women including victims of instantaneous talaq.

Safety and Security of women

  • To enforce measures to prevent, curb and punish those found guilty of violence against women and children.
  • To takesteps to make public spaces safer for women; support to victims of sexual violence and acid attacks through a fully funded rehabilitation schemes, strict implementation of the PCPNDT Act (against sex determination tests and female foeticide)
  • A code of conduct for all elected representatives in different spheres to adhere to standards of decency in public comments and discourse about women and against sexist and misogynist language which demeans and insults women.

 And what about other political parties?

Even though they may been reduced to an optional feature,  there is no denying the fact that election manifestos have a poignant role in a democratic set up.

While the ruling party(BJP) and the biggest party in opposition (Congress) have shared their vision regarding women empowerment, a few like NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) do speak about “equal work, equal pay” for gender just labour laws, and CPI (Communist Party of India) delves deep in their provisions for women. And there doesn’t seem any significant provision for women in the manifestos of regional parties like AIADMK and DMK.

What sense do I get about these provisions as a woman citizen?

The importance of women’s empowerment cannot be limited to mere tokenism of sharing big promises only without much changing on the ground. While both the national parties BJP and Congress have made various provisions for women and share a strong vision with respect to women empowerment, they still make me only cautiously and partially optimistic about the changes that would actually happen on the ground post the elections. And I like every woman voter of this country have a solid reason.

The Indian political story hasn’t seen any significant change when it comes to giving women more representation as candidates in the 2019 elections too, as in many previous elections. The Women’s Reservation Bill, which finds full support before every election was introduced more than 20 years ago, and has been moving back and forth since then. Isn’t it unfortunate that even after 70 years of our Independence, we are still talking about seeking gender justice and ending discrimination against women?

So whether the age old narrative of making big promises and not walking the talk with respect to women’s issues will change with 2019 elections, is something I would be closely watching out for!

Editor’s note: This is a developing story and we may update it as and when more details emerge.

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An engineer and a telecom business professional, Anjali Gurmukhani Sharma is a Delhi University rank

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