Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Does reservation matter?

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, April 20, 2008


Every year, for the last decade or so, around this time, noises are made on the issue of women's representation in Parliament. Some shout, some request, some reason, some argue, all hope that somehow this year the vexed issue of whether there should be reservation of seats for women in Parliament is finally resolved. Predictably, the day, the month, the year passes,
Parliament convenes and reconvenes, and nothing much happens. The debate continues, inconclusive for all time it would seem.

Those who support reservation for women in Parliament argue that without a quota, women will continue to be excluded and
the most important decision-making body in the country will remain dominated by male politicians as it is at present and has been in the past. The counter argument holds that merely reserving seats for women will not ensure that any kind of gender or women's perspective will enter decision-making processes as the women who enter through this route are as likely to be the wives, sisters and relatives of male politicians as they have been in the past. Hence, why should these men be given a chance to extend their area of influence by inducting women who will, in any case, follow their command?

Then there is the other argument about women making it through this route and the exclusion of poor and lower caste women. So if there is reservation for women, it should be further broken up into quotas according to caste.

Lost focus

As is inevitable when such a debate stretches out over decades, the main focus somehow gets lost. In the meantime, many things have changed in Indian politics, not least the caste make up of Indian politics. And women too have become far more prominent in most political parties, including the Left parties, as compared to a decade back. You have women like Jayanti Natarajan, a lawyer, who is spokesperson for the Congress. In the past, we have seen Sushma Swaraj fulfilling the same function for the BJP. And Brinda Karat is a very visible face and voice of the Left. Of course, the women ministers remain confined to the "soft" ministries. We have still to see a woman heading Home Affairs, or Defence, or any of the economic ministries. Yet, there are professional women holding high positions in the area of finance, there are women in the bureaucracy who have now breached many barriers, and younger women are entering professions that their mothers thought were closed to their gender. So competence or knowledge on these issues cannot be an argument anymore in confining women politicians to certain portfolios.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Let’s not forget

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, April 6, 2008

The Other Half

Reams have been written in recent weeks about the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war. A war without justification. A war that has proved costly beyond measure. A war that is a living testimony that proves yet again that you cannot invent democracy and that you cannot impose peace through the use of force.

We know that more than 4,000 American soldiers have been killed, we know that George Bush is now one of the most unpopular presidents in the last months of his presidency principally because of the strong anti-war sentiment in his country.
But hidden behind all the analysis about this unjustified war and its impact on global politics, lies a hidden tragedy that is rarely reported, that of the condition of the women of Iraq. We know that war wreaks havoc on civil society. We know war hurts
the most vulnerable sections of any society the most. We also know that women often carry the biggest burden and pay the highest price for war. Yet, often their stories remain untold, their suffering unknown, their tragic faces unseen.

Iraq’s dirty secret

That is what is happening in Iraq where the impact on women is being dubbed its “dirty secret”. According to a recent survey
conducted by Women for Women International in Iraq, two thirds of the 1,500 women surveyed said that violence on women had increased in Iraq. Zainab Salbe, the CEO of Women for Women, is quoted saying: “It has been five years since the American
invasion of Iraq and while the mistakes made then continue to accumulate still, no one has stopped to listen to what this critical mass of the population, women, have to say about solving the problems.” Even if Iraqi women wanted to have a say — and they certainly do — would anyone listen to them? From a country where women were prominent in professions like medicine, engineering, academia and in government, Iraqi women today are sequestered in their homes, forbidden by various sects from working in various professions. According to the Women for Women International report, “Stronger women, stronger nations: 2008 Iraq report”, 76.2 per cent of the women surveyed said that girls in their
families were not allowed to attend school. Over 70 per cent said their families could not earn enough to meet their basic needs and 68 per cent said women were having difficulty finding jobs. Over 67 per cent said that their ability to walk on the street as they pleased had become worse since the US invasion. Less than a third of the women surveyed were optimistic about the future as opposed to almost two thirds in an earlier survey.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)