Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Women Reps to Close India's Gender Gap?

Guest Post By Rakesh Mani

As Jawed Naqvi has pointed out in Dawn, there is no proven linear relationship between the representation of women in parliament and their emancipation. Pakistan’s assembly has 22% female representation, he argues, more than double the figure in India. Yet Pakistan ranks near the bottom in most global rankings on women’s freedom and status. American women, on the other hand, have no reservations. Their seats in the United States Congress are won on merit alone. And they aren’t faring too poorly at all.

Despite laudable intentions, the Women’s Reservation Bill that passed with a thumping majority in India’s upper house is deeply flawed because of its pitch and delivery. Parties on either side of the political spectrum have joined hands to support the bill in order to appear politically correct, but at the expense of being reasonable.

Empowerment ought to be the prerogative of all Indian women, not just some. Several critics have argued, rightly, that the majority of reserved female seats will be taken up by wives and daughters acting as proxies for established male leaders.

Not all women are equal. Some have distinct advantages over others; whether due to dynasty, religion, caste or myriad socio-economic factors. The arguments justifying reservations for women also end up justifying the case for providing sub-reservations to pinpoint what type of women can run for election to reserved seats.

Political parties field candidates based solely on their ability to win. Even for women’s constituencies, the candidates that they field are going to be the ones that have the best chances of winning the seat. Without sub-reservations, female candidates will be disproportionately represented by politically active, upper-class party members who have strong chances of victory.

A second, more serious, flaw could potentially accelerate the atrophy of credibility in our democratic system.

Parliamentary democracy is founded on the premise that in return for the vote; an elected MP will serve the people of the constituency. This creates accountability: the MP’s re-election hinges on the value of the service provided to the people. But all that is now changed.

The Bill’s rotational method of reservation will make two-thirds of parliament, about 360 members, one-term MPs. 181 women’s seats will get reserved in a general election, and 181 other general seats will be reserved for women in the following election. MPs will have little incentive to serve their electorate as they know they will be ineligible for the next election.

Women MPs can, of course, still seek re-election through what will become non-reserved seats. But that will be hard given that she will have to battle leaders who are well-established in the area after barely five years to nurse her constituency.

The rotational system will allow MPs to sate their personal interests for the duration of their term, instead of working for the people. If MPs are no longer going to be accountable to their electorate, and the foundational premise of parliamentary democracy is broken, then perhaps we should abandon our first-past-the-post parliamentary system for something that works better for the citizens.

But the still more damning criticism of the bill lies elsewhere.

As Jawed Naqvi has pointed out in Dawn, there is no proven linear relationship between the representation of women in parliament and their emancipation. Pakistan’s assembly has 22% female representation, he argues, more than double the figure in India. Yet Pakistan ranks near the bottom in most global rankings on women’s freedom and status.

American women, on the other hand, have no reservations. Their seats in the United States Congress are won on merit alone. And they aren’t faring too poorly at all.

The problem does not arise from legislative representation, but from social mindsets. The real tragedy is that Indian women suffer a thousand forms of discrimination.

Millions of girls die before they are even born – the stark foeticide, infanticide and dowry killing figures are testament to this. Girls that are lucky to make it into the world live a life of discrimination when it comes to nourishment, healthcare, education and opportunities for employment.

Those that do make it to the workforce are paid less than their male counterparts for the same roles, and have to live in fear of suffering the indignity of harassment, abuse and rape.

How much of this is going to change with more women in parliament? The Constitution and a numbers of laws already provide for gender equality. The problem does not lie in our society’s ability to pass women-friendly laws, but rather in implementing them at the grassroots level.

Indian women face problems because of the attitude of society. Without social understanding and acceptance, laws on gender equality are difficult to implement.

What we need is increased social activism in daily lives at the grassroots level, not more female legislators. If we need reservations for women, it is in the police forces, the judiciary and in the civil services – those bastions of male hegemony that implement the high-minded laws that we pass in the legislatures.

It is India’s entrenched exploitative system and her ability to enforce laws through the tentacles of government that needs to change, not the gender ratio in the parliament building.

The writer is a 2009 Teach For India fellow, and a writer and columnist for a variety of publications. Email: rakesh.mani@ gmail.com

Here's recent video of Prof Jayati Ghosh of Nehru University debunking the myth of the "Indian Miracle":

Related Links:

Gender Inequality Worst in South Asia

Women's Status in Pakistan

WEF Global Gender Gap Rankings 2009

India, Pakistan Contrasted 2010

Female Literacy Through Mobile Phones

Pakistan's Woman Speaker: Another Token or Real Change

Female Literacy Lags Far Behind in India and Pakistan

Female Genocide Unfolding in India


anoop said...

This Women's Reservation bill has a symbolic angle attached to it. I dont have any problems with it as long as the women are good human beings and they do a good job.

In the Urban space Women are liberated and enjoy all the freedom enjoyed by men. Society has developed to actually care a little more for women.

Remember, Sania came up because she was born in India, not Pakistan.

Mayraj said...

On the comment on gender rep had a comment on why Sania was Indian and not Pakistani. I guess they never heard of Pakistan's squash player and it is even more commendable given where she is from!
Pakistan's female squash player defies tradition

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from Dawn story today that, in addition to Squash sensation Maria Toor of South Waziristan, talks about Naseem Hameed of Pakistan, the winner of women's 100 meter race at South Asian Games Dhaka:

Before February 2010, Naseem Hameed did not exist in the hearts and minds of Pakistanis. On February 8, while we were mourning our cricket team’s performance she created history by sprinting her way to becoming the fastest woman in South Asia at the South Asian Games.

And, let’s not forget Pakistan’s favorite past time, cricket. Innovations like the reverse swing and doosra are home grown. Fastest century, fastest ball… we seem to grow fast bowlers like road side weed, while our neighboring countries, have not to this date produced a single express bowler.

Mayraj said...

It seems to me instutional support is key. In CHINA this had gvt push, in Jamaica it ws a schools which got track and field going. now commercial support


Riaz Haq said...

Here's BBC commentary by Soutik Biswas on India's "rights revolution":

Ensuring the basics in life remains the biggest challenge for India, six decades after independence.

Take food. Some 43% of Indian children younger than five are underweight - far above the global average of 25% or sub-Saharan Africa's 28%. India is a lowly 65th among 84 countries in the Global Hunger Index. Half of the world's hungry people live in India.

So the proposed right to food, entitling a poor family to 25kg of rice or wheat at three rupees (seven cents) a kilogram is good news. The bad news is that identifying the deserving poor is a challenge - there are four different government estimates of the very poor or below poverty line (BPL) people floating around. States may inflate numbers of beneficiaries to corner more federal benefits. Then there is the notoriously leaky public distribution system, from where food is often siphoned off by a triad of low-level bureaucrats, shop owners and middlemen.

Nobody can deny that the right to education - every child aged 6-14 can demand free schooling - is critical: an estimated eight million children in that age group do not attend school in India. India's 61% literacy rate lags behind Kenya's 85%. But critics point to a lack of teachers - India would need more than a million teachers just to implement the right - and say there are simply not enough schools to cope with the increased demand.

Rights don't work miracles. But activists say they are an urgent social intervention to empower the poor in a highly iniquitous society, where it is difficult for the poor to access officials to air their grievances and secure their entitlements. "In a hierarchical society, rights-based movements are a way of moving towards equality," says leading political scientist Mahesh Rangarajan. Also, they put pressure on the state to deliver - the right to information, despite glitches, is making government more accountable.

Studies show that sensitive political and bureaucratic leadership combined with grassroots awareness and an engaged local media can translate rights into reality and improve the lives of the poor. Activists point out that money is not a problem - the economy is doing well, revenues are buoyant, federal health and education outlays have been increased. The government has pledged more than $5bn to send 10 million poor children to school.

The cynicism over rights mainly comes from India's burgeoning educated upper middle class. It is mostly not engaged with public institutions at all - its members rarely serve in the lower ranks of the armed forces, teach in state schools or work for the government. Yes, there are valid concerns about whether the state has the capacity to deliver on rights. Yes, the Indian state continues to focus on maintaining law and order and collecting revenue. Delivering services is not its strength. Rights could actually help it move towards a functioning welfare state. I would like to hear stories from you - and people you may know - who are reaping the benefits of the rights revolution.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excepts of Nehru University's Prof Jayanti Ghosh's video interview on Real News Network in which she says there is "no Indian miracle":

JAY: So in India you're saying there never was major reforms and it's getting worse.

GHOSH: Absolutely. If you look at the pattern of Indian growth, it's really more like a Latin American story. We are now this big success story of globalization, but it's a peculiar success story, because it's really one which has been dependent on foreign—you know, we don't run trade surpluses. We don't even run current account surpluses, even though a lot of our workers go abroad to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, to California, as IT workers. We still don't really run current account surpluses. So we've been getting capital inflow because we are discovered as this hot destination. You know, we are on Euromoney covers. We are seen as this place to go. Some of our top businessmen are the richest men in the world. They hit the Fortune top-ten index. All of that kind of thing. This capital inflow comes in, it makes our stock market rise, it allows for new urban services to develop, and it generates this feel-good segment of the Indian economy. Banks have been lending more to this upper group, the top 10 percent of the population, let's say. It's a small part of the population, but it's a lot of people, it's about 110 million people, which is a pretty large market for most places. So that has fuelled this growth, because otherwise you cannot explain how we've had 8 to 10 percent growth now for a decade. Real wages are falling, nutrition indicators are down there with sub-Saharan Africa, a whole range of basic human development is still abysmal, and per capita incomes in the countryside are not growing at all.

JAY: So I guess part of that's part of the secret of what's happening in India is that the middle, upper-middle class, in proportion to the population of India, is relatively small, but it's still so big compared to most other countries—you were saying 100, 150 million people living in this, benefiting from the expansion. And it's a lot bigger. It's like—what is it? Ten, fifteen Canadas. So it's a very vibrant market. But you're saying most of the people in India aren't seeing the benefits.

GHOSH: Well, in fact it's worse than that. It's not just that they're not seeing the benefits. It's not that they're excluded from this. They are part of this process. They are integrated into the process. And, in fact, this is a growth process that relies on keeping their incomes lower, in fact, in terms of extracting more surplus from them. Let me just give you a few examples. You know, everybody talks about the software industry and how competitive we are. And it's true. It's this shiny, modern sector, you know, a bit like California in the middle of sub-Saharan Africa. But when you look at it, it's not just that our software engineers achieve, it's that the entire supporting establishment is very cheap. The whole system which allows them to be more competitive is one where you are relying on very low-paid assistants, drivers, cooks, cleaners. You know, the whole support establishment is below subsistence wage, practically, and it's that which effectively subsidizes this very modern industry.

Riaz Haq said...

In a recently published book "Superfreakonomics", the authors highlight the following points about India:

1. If women could choose their birthplace, India might not a wise choice to be born.

2. In spite of recent economic success and euphoria about India, the people of India remain excruciatingly poor.

3. Literacy is low, corruption is high.

4. Only half the households have electricity.

5. Only one in 4 Indian homes has a toilet.

6. 40% of families with girls want to have more children, but families with boys do not want a baby girl.

7. It's especially unlucky to be born female, baby boy is like a 401 K retirement plan, baby girl requires a dowry fund.

8. Smile train Chennai did cleft repair surgery. A man was asked how many children he had. He said had 1, a boy. It turned out that he had 5 daughters which he did not mention.

9. Indian midwives paid $2.50 to kill girl with cleft deformity

10. Girls are highly undervalued, there are 35 million fewer females than males, presumed dead, killed by midwife or parent or starved to death. Unltrasound are used mainly to find and destroy female fetuses. Ultrasound and abortion are available even in the smallest villages with no electricity or clean water

11. If not aborted, baby girls face inequality and cruelty at every turn,

12. 61% of Indian men say wife beating justified, 54% women agree, especially when dinner is burned or they leave home without husband's permission.

13. Unwanted pregnancies, STDs, HIV infections happen when 15% o the condoms fail. Indian council of med research found that 60% of Indian men's genitalia are too small by international standards.

14. Indian laws to protect women are widely ignored. The government has tried monetary rewards to keep baby girls and supported microfinance for women. NGOs programs, smaller condoms, other projects have had limited success.

15. People had little interest in State TV due to poor reception or boring programs. But cable television has helped women, as 150 million people between 2001-2006 got cable
TV which gave exposure to world.

16. American economists found that the effect of TV in 2700 households empowered women to be more autonomous. Cable TV households had lower birthrates, less domestic abuse and kept daughter in school.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's the story of a cat-fight between two of Punjab's women legislators from the PPP, as published in Express Tribune:

Only 12 countries in the world have acted upon the ideological commitment to ensure women’s participation in the formal political arena, as embodied by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action. Pakistan is one of them. Under the Local Government Ordinance of 2001, 33 per cent of seats at all tiers of local government and 17 per cent in the national and provincial legislatures were reserved for women. Given the long history of discrimination against women and their exclusion from politics, this was a revolutionary step.

As a result, since elections in 2002 a record number of women have contested the polls and joined the ranks of legislators. However, concerns remained that women are powerless proxies for male relatives but women members of the PPP Punjab Assembly have put to rest any such concerns with great displays of aggression and power.

For far too long we have associated macho deep-throated growling, shouting and name calling in menacing voices with Sultan Rahi but the women MPs of Punjab are not to be left behind.

On June 14, before the budget for the province was presented, PPP MPA Sajida Mir from Lahore said that there was rampant rigging in rural areas where women were heavily influenced by feudals. She praised Iffat Liaquat of the PML-N who had won an election from Chakwal despite not having the backing of the feudal elite. Now this would sound like a fairly normal conversation to you unless you happen to be a feudal from Chakwal.

Luckily MPA Fouzia Behram, belonging to the same party as Ms Mir, was on hand to act the part (or embody the true likeness) of an enraged feudal from Chakwal. Ms Mir bellowed that MPAs from Lahore are ignorant. And in order to truly put the erring non-feudal in her place, she decided to insult her a little more by labelling her with the most derogatory word she could find in her feudal dictionary —“kammi” which means from a low caste. Ms Mir remained calm and reminded the enraged feudal that this insulted not just her but the philosophy of the party that both MPAs represent, not to mention the majority of its supporters since most of them happen to be “kammis”. This further enraged Ms Behram who then charged towards Ms Mir and tried to slap her.

Ladies, in this day and age of political crisis and misery for the entire country, couldn’t you maybe reserve your passions for topics of greater importance and substance like the budget, the state of education, healthcare or inflation? And could you please try and take the job of legislating on behalf of your constituents a little more seriously than the men who have failed us for so many years?

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a WSJ report on murders in India:

In recent weeks, it seems as if Indian papers have been full of crimes driven by unrequited love or obsession.

The Hindu reported last month that a Delhi man allegedly shot four people, before turning the gun on himself, after a failed attempt to marry a 17-year-old girl. Two weeks ago, a man in love with a domestic worker broke into the home where she worked and allegedly shot her employer, the Times of India reported.

And last week, the Deccan Herald reported Delhi police were looking at whether a relationship may have led to the murder of an engineering student in the capital.

Other cities in India also report that “crimes of passion” are a major concern.

While the level of violence may vary from case to case, these “love” murders appear to be on the rise, statistics show.

According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, the number of murders due to “love affair/sexual causes” went up more than 11% in 2011, the most recent years for which figures are available. Murders as a whole rose just under 3% compared to 2010.

Of the 34,305 murders across India last year, the motive in the majority of cases was listed as “other” in the report. But for more than 14,000 of the killings, a motive was identified. About 2,637 of these murders was due to “love,” making it the third most common motive for murder after “personal vendetta” and “property dispute,” respectively.

In 2010, 2,365 of 33,335 murders occurred due to love affairs.

The stats, released in June, also highlight the role that thwarted romance plays in other crimes such as kidnappings in a country where families still exercise a lot of control over young people’s lives, particularly when it comes to marriage.

The 2011 numbers showed that an astonishing 62% of kidnappings of women and girls are perpetrated by men that want to marry them.

But it isn’t clear from the crime statistics how many of the kidnap-for-marriage cases involve a consensual love affair, and how many are actual abductions. In some cases, when a woman elopes with a man parents don’t approve of, it’s not uncommon for the girl’s family to file a complaint with police alleging that she has been abducted.

In 2011, there were 45,239 kidnappings and abductions reported to the authorities across India, a nearly 16% increase from the previous year. Of these, 34,870 cases involved women or girls, about 70% of them between the ages of 15 and 30. The motive behind the kidnappings in 21,691 of the total cases was marriage.

About 67% of women between the ages of 15 and 30 who were kidnapped were cases related to marriage. But even in the age group of 10 to 15, marriage was a factor in nearly half the 3,000 or so cases.

Kidnapping of women for marriage went up in 2011 by nearly 20%. In 2010, there were 39,148 kidnappings, of which 30,172 were of women. Of these, 18,126 were for marriage.

The bureau records kidnapping for the purposes of prostitution or illicit intercourse and the buying and selling of girls for prostitution as separate crimes.