We doubt that political parties bothered to find out what women really want while drawing up their manifestos, so we went searching for some answers
If one is to believe the media, then women are largely absent from the political discourse in the country. News channels specialize in relaying the image of a harried reporter surrounded by voluble young men espousing their political ideology. Party manifestos add “women” as a subcategory barely a page before the last, with promises of welfare boards reminiscent of the Dark Ages. But women have a voice too, and it is this voice that we attempted to capture in conversations with women outside a polling booth in an urban constituency yesterday.
While the voter turnout was a thin but steady trickle, it was heartening to see a large proportion of women, across all age groups, turn up to exercise their franchise. Even more inspiring was the excitement and visible pride the voters displayed on being asked if they had voted – as one of them remarked, this is our responsibility towards the country.
But pervasive gender stereotypes were also on display in this urban, educated area – several male voters presumed to speak on behalf of their wives and mothers, despite our explicit preamble that our discussion was directed at the women. As one young man shepherding his wife and mother told us: ” women are concerned about two things, kitchen control and their safety. As both of these issues have been severely compromised in the last few years, this time they’ve voted for change.”
Editors Note: The MBRB team recognizes that the views expressed here are that of a resoundingly urban polling booth and don’t come close to representing a country as complex as ours. Also, we’ve exorcised all mention of any political affiliations in this article- we are not interested in knowing who these women voted for, but WHAT they voted for. After all, that is the more pertinent question, isn’t it?
A visibly excited Sanjali Sharma voted for the first time today. This 20 year design student told us that elections has been a hot topic in her college, with several awareness campaigns and discussions. Sanjali voted on macro factors such as inflation and corruption, and a stable government at the Centre is her biggest ask from the democratic process. She believes that there is a great deal of awareness and understanding about the election process this time – as she shared, her housekeeper also recognizes the symbols of major political parties and is clear on the issues that will decide her vote.
Mrs. Urmil Gupta, a homemaker, was extremely upset that someone else had cast a rogue vote on her card (Ward No 77, Serial no 572). She declared that people are fed up with spiralling prices and increasing corruption, and are ready for a change. She also believed that the government alone could not be blamed for crimes against women – society needs to reform itself to bring down these crimes.
Her daughter-in-law Shivani was also concerned about inflation. She recalled the eve-teasing she had to endure in college (no Delhi girl can live down the horror of travelling in DTC & Blueline buses), and spoke out strongly for increased security for women. She was also concerned about the increasing traffic mess in our cities, and hoped for improvement on this count.
Prity Choudhury has been a regular voter for 18 years now. She’s moved around in this time to different cities and buildings, but has always ensured that her name was on the voting list on the day of voting. She believes that as a citizen of the country it is her right and responsibility to exercise this one right which makes her the part of our democratic process. Prity believes the big issues in this election are the overarching corruption in the country, and the high prices of every day goods. She also believes that while there has been some economic development in the last five years, there needs to be so much more! As a responsible citizen of the democracy, she personally believes that the minimum voting age should be reduced to 14, because she personally held a strong political opinion even then and would have loved to be a part of the process.
Shalini Bhatia, an Associate Professor in Delhi University, said that she was disappointed by the choices provided in this election. She ended up choosing a macro focus on development over some of the issues dearer to her heart, since no candidate has provided a complete manifesto. In her words, it is important for her to have a “honest Government that takes honest decisions” in power. She says that most manifestos are hogwash, so she has relied more on news and conversations to determine for herself where each Party stands on important issues.
An Economics teacher who didn’t want to be named was concerned about corruption and inflation, but also spoke about other fundamental issues that often get lost in the noise. She thinks that our education system is crying for a complete overhaul, and that the growing inequality and income disparity needs to be addressed on a war footing. She looks forward to a government that is able to translate promises into actions, for she believes that quick implementation and strict law enforcement are critical for the sucess of the nation.
Jaiwanti, a long time resident and regular voter who teaches nursery students at a charitable school, was the only one amongst our interviewees to highlight women safety as the most important issue. She believes that the security infrastructure for women is deteriorating, and everyone – from young girls to old women – are equally vulnerable. Like everyone else we spoke with, rising prices was a big concern for her too, and her crisp agenda for the new government is: Garibi Hatao, Suraksha Badao
It was clear from our discussions that inflation, corruption and safety were the top concerns for women in this constituency, and they expect stability and more equitable growth from the new government. Are these concerns and aspirations shared by the rest of the country? More importantly, will these wishes be granted? We will know soon enough.
Image courtesy: HT