New Delhi : Women are making steady inroads into almost every profession in South Asia these days. Yet, when it comes to politics, why are many women politicians not seen? The reason, according to an NGO, is violence – more psychological than physical – against women in politics.
Representatives of the South Asia Partnership (SAP), an international organisation that promotes democracy through the civil society came together Monday to discuss the various aspects of this disturbing fact that has, until now, not been highlighted.
Savitri Goonsekre of Sri Lanka said: “Women participating in politics are victimized by both direct and invisible violence, which is one of the major influencing factors to obstruct their participation in governance.”
“Character assassination, kidnapping of their children, rape and even murder of winner women politicians by opposition party members after losing elections, social boycott for being involved in politics, breakage of relationships, ill treatment by husbands…there are a whole lot of reasons which discourage women from entering the field,” she said.
“Despite the fact that most countries have signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a country like mine (Sri Lanka) has just five percent women in the national assembly, which is shameful,” Goonsekre added.
Chandni Joshi of Nepal, one of the representatives, said that although it will be very difficult to look for any data on violence against women in politics, it exists everywhere.
“There are one million women involved in the panchayati raj in India, yet they continue to be faceless, not being able to do much for their own upliftment. The patriarchal society ensures that the reins of the panchayat, even if the woman is the sarpanch (village head), lie with the husband,” said Joshi, who has worked in India for 14 years.
Martha Farrell of India said: “In the Indian panchayat set up, the discrimination is very subtle. A women sarpanch sits on the floor, while her male counterpart will sit on a chair.”
“Women are not allowed to speak in the panchayat meeting and any kind of question from them is discouraged. Overall, in both rural and urban set-up during elections, harassment of women is considered as nothing extraordinary.”
One of the major drawbacks which women face in politics, according to Farrell, is that the Supreme Court guideline against sexual harassment of women in work places do not consider women politicians.
“Just 1.3 percent of India’s budgetary allocation is for women’s development and empowerment while many other South Asian countries allocate 3.5 percent. Policies for development of women exist, but are not implemented. These are all bottlenecks,” Joshi added.
There is some good news too. Afghanistan’s constitution guarantees non-discrimination and equality of women and men and reserves a 25 percent share of seats for women parliamentarians in the national assembly.
In Bangladesh in the general elections, for the first time the number of women voters exceeded the male voters. In Nepal, there is a 33 percent representation for women in parliament.
“A lot more has to be done to encourage women to come into politics for the sake of allround development of our country. Women’s issues should not just be another publicity gimmick pointer in political parties’ manifestos,” Farrell said.