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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.
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 –
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
Safety and Security of women
“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 –
Safety and Security of women
Women Welfare and Health
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.
The 35 page AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) Delhi Manifesto titled “Full Statehood for Delhi” was released on April 25th 2019. With statehood as the sole objective of participating in Lok Sabha 2019 elections, the manifesto speaks about 12 key transformation areas which include Education, Health, Women Safety, Police Reforms. Zero Corruption, Jobs, Land and Housing, Prevention from Sealing, Cleanliness, Pollution, Transport and Yamuna Rejuvenation. The few provisions for women which the party promises to deliver once the full statehood is achieved are primarily in the area of women safety and security.
Economic Empowerment of Women
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
Released last month, here are the key provisions for women highlighted in the CPI(M)’s manifesto for women rights and empowerment –
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.
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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Present - North India Lead - Education, Charter for Compassion, Co-Author - Escape Velocity, Writer & Social Activist.
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