Women's Empowerment and Political Participation Empowerment has described by scholars in different situations with different meanings. In a broader sense, empowerment is the expansion of freedom of choice and action. Empowerment has multiple, interrelated and interdependent dimensions- economic, social, cultural and political. The word 'empowerment' has been widely used in relation to women, term like 'women's welfare', 'upliftment', 'development', 'reservation', etc these terms proceeded to mean and referred to empowerment (Singla 2007). In the context of development, empowerment is a process that takes place wherein an inequality moves towards becoming equality. Amartya Sen, characterises development as the process of removing various types of “unfreedoms’ that constrain individual choice and agency (Sen 1999).
The term empowerment cannot be understood separately from an understanding of power. As in the case of empowerment, there are perhaps as many definitions of power, as are understanding of the dynamics that take place between participants in an arena. What is central however is that power is a social relationship that involves people whether individually or, as groups (Ranadive, 2005). Power is dynamic and relative and is unequally distributed. When power is defined as control, control often confers decision making power. This power is decided is exercised in three basic ways, to make decisions, make others implement ones decision, and finally, influence others' decisions without any direct interventions (Singla , 2007).
Women’s participation in politics is closely related to their level of empowerment. The political awareness and involvement of women can be considered as a yardstick of their empowerment. Empowerment of women could address the issue and the process of empowerment moves through several stages, first participation then decision making, third action and the fourth the capability to take responsibility for those actions (Ranadive 2005).
Closely linked with the observations on the issues of women’s empowerment, it is asserted that in Indian context, empowering women is a herculean task, as social and cultural moorings have established strong roots in the belief system of people. As a result there has always been an uncommon disparity in the upbringing of women and men. It’s further established that the social construction mainly through socialization can be challenged and reconstructed through political activities, that too through political systems. Democracy provides enough space for such reconstruction through polity (Palanithurai, 2009).
Here the classification of Friedman (1992) on empowerment is relevant. Friedman classifies empowerment into three major groups, i.e. the social, political and psychological. Among this political empowerment is defined as, possibilities to participate in the political and public arena in the state and civil society, and to have the power to influence the developmental process including diverse interests of women.
Political participation is an equal democratic right for women does not mean that they have the possibilities in entering the political field, as do men. Mere representation of women in the political arena is a common issue in democratic states and decentralization which provides opportunity for women in political decision making process becomes increasingly important in this context. The exclusion of women from positions of political power is especially widely lamented and has emerged as a contentious political issue (Hust, 2005).
The 73rd constitutional amendment in India is considered as the greatest event in the contest women empowerment and a milestone in bringing women into decision-making roles in the rural political process. As for the impact of reservation for women, it is a step towards democratization at grassroots level and has helped about one million women to enter into the public life in all over India (Manavalan 2000).
In the political sphere, cultural, social, religious, as well as ethnic dimensions will definitely influence the totality of each and every individual. Reservation of seats in the local body institutions for women in all positions as per the provisions of 73rd and 74th Amendment to the constitution of India, no doubt, has created a change in the status of women in polity, economy and society. The entry into the local politics undoubtedly nurtures the relevant traits of leadership among women especially those who take part in the political activities through standing in the elections and active in the political campaigns. As mentioned earlier, political cultural, social, religious, as well as ethnic dimensions are vital in the totality of a person. Hence it is argued that the person whether he/she is local, regional or national should encompass the aspects in their approach. Mishra and Tripathi (2011) suggest that it is crucial to look beyond economic resources or material prosperity and should look into broadly cultural and social influences, which have a large role to play in shaping women’s autonomy and agency, which may not be necessarily related with women’s empowerment (Nripendra Kishore Mishra and Tulika Tripathi, 2011).
The present paper focused and attempted to analyze the role of state to make chance to enter the women in public sphere through political participation and to analyse its impact and ground reality. For this study the researcher selected the Malappuram districts and the universe of the study is Women Elected Representatives (WERs) of the Gram Panchayat in Malappuram district, Kerala. The researcher conducted interview the Present WERs (2010-2015) and Ex-WERs (2005-2010) also
Women and Politics in Kerala State
The state, Kerala in South India has been recognized in international level for her very specific development, known as the 'Kerala model'. The state has been a role model for working with questions concerning high human development. The positive development is a result of several factors such as social reform movements and well developed health and educational systems as well as land reform (Andersson, 2001). Even though the state is well appreciated for favorable demographic, health and education indicators, criticized for high incidence of suicides, poor participation of women in occupation, political space and violence against women. Women’s presence in major electoral bodies has also been dismal. Thus while in the state Legislative Assembly the number of women have ranged from 8 to 13 in a house of 140 legislators, the number of women in Parliament from Kerala has hovered around one or two members (Government of Kerala, 2006). Women gained visibility in political decision making bodies only at the local level with the enactment of 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts of 1993, which mandated 33% reservation for women in local government. The year 2009 saw the crossing of a major gender milestone in Kerala with the quota for female representatives being legally enhanced to 50 % in all local bodies including all levels of leadership. Thus the subsequent elections of 2010 opened up unprecedented political space for women at the local level in Kerala.
Malappuram is a Muslim majority district in Kerala state. According to Census 2001, Muslims constitute 68 percentage of the total district population. The percentage followed by Hindus (29 percentage) and Christians (2.22 percentage) in the total. The study of Kerala Shashtra Sahitya Parishat (KSSP) found 57.2% of homemakers among Muslims in Kerala which is higher in comparison with women in other religious backgrounds and districts. The finding indicates the nature of work participation of women in the 'Developed State Kerala'. In Comparison with other states, female work participation rate (13.1 percentages) is very less in Kerala, particularly in Malappuram district (KSSP 2006). Further KSSP finds that the work participation of Muslim women is very less in comparison with work participation of women in other religions (Hindu-24.8%, Christian- 20.9%, Muslims-7.1%) (KSSP, 2006). It can be noted from the study that Muslim women were limited to domestic and community spaces, in comparison with the women from other religious backgrounds.
Women ‘empowerment’ in the terms of girl’s education, ‘autonomy’ freedom of movement to purchase, to go to hospital needs, to visit bank for cash transaction noted achievement of Malappuram especially all over the parts of Malabar. All this happened in a short span of time because of gulf migration of their family members or husbands and thanks to the presence of Muslim reformist movements like Nadwatul Mujahideen and Jama’at-e-Islami which floated their own women’s organizations that make a new awareness and awakening among Muslim women.
Major political party in Kerala, which is Indian Muslim League (IUML) also followed suit, the party also launched its women’s wing under the leadership of Ms. Qamarunnisa Anwar. Indeed the mandatory reservation has resulted in positive changes of the status of women in other words reconstruction has occurred through political activities in the context. However to understand the role played by the mandatory reservation, it is vital to examine the major political parties and their interventions in the arena of women’s empowerment. It is argued that Indian Muslim League (IUML), one of the major political parties in Kerala, does nothing for women in the state. It is often criticized that the party is rooted in patriarchal values and norms and reproduces the power relations by maintaining the male domination in all spheres except the mandatory situations in their party system. It is found that the party restricts the freedom of women even their physical movements. Elected Women Representatives are also not an exemption in this regard. It has been noted that the IUML fixes daytime for programs for WERs, if their participation is seemed as compulsory and the WERs are not allowed to travel after the 6 pm, which is in alignment with that the physical movements of women and their entrance into public spaces are determined by gender and time (Chopra, 2004 ). The finding also substantiates the observation of Ramakrishanan (2008) that women in Kerala are restricted to enter into the ‘public’ sphere and life after evening. During the study, majority of WERs from the background of IUML substantiate this fact. Other than this fact, IUML has not sent any women member to Legislative Assembly yet, though party has 20 MLAs in the present Assembly. The operation of patriarchy is evident from the above cases. Hence the argument of Devika (2008) is relevant here. In her study she mentioned that women politicians in Muslim League need to look toward not just the expansion formal political spaces but also strategic opportunities as well. It is clearer from this reports which is recently news papers reported from Malappuram district that a Muslim women Panchayat leader (Vice president of Pookotoor Panchayat) quit alleging male supremacy. Quoted her word “fed up with the male supremacy and unpleasant behaviour of male colleagues in the governing body”. She says that the party leaders had asked her to take part only in those board meetings of the governing body and nothing else. “This attitude has forced me to make an urgent decision regarding the resignation” and also she said “holding the post of Vice President, it is meaningless to be there in the panchayat only for the board meetings without even being part of any other programmes” (Two circle.net, 2012).
The situation of women in other political parties is also not different. It has been noted from the field that WERs from other political parties even the ‘progressive’ left wing are also restricted under the (patriarchal) norms, though comparatively shared a far better picture,. One of the male respondents has told to the researcher that “while considering the situation of women in the context, there are limitations to be ambitious about the empowerment of women”. This statement evidently points out the unwillingness of males to give up the power they enjoy in the context.
However it is clear that the double stand of political parties which made so much political capital out of the reservation in the Panchayati Raj institutions (facilitated by the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments), is opposed to the idea of one-third quota for women in the Loksabha and the State Assemblies. When the much-delayed Women's Bill came up in Parliament last time, the League, along with some other parties, opposed its introduction. The League masked its hostility to the Bill by demanding `reservation for minorities first.' And, but for the reservation, the League would not have fielded women in Panchayats. Perhaps, the Muslim women will have to wait until the Women's Reservation Bill is passed to find a toehold in Kerala Assembly.
Socio- economic and Political Profile of WERs
The socio-economic background of a community is a vital pre-requisite to enter in ticket in public field and get hold of the power. It is generally assumed that the socio-economic status of a person also influences his/her interference about different social issues. It is very significant in India where multi-communal plural society exists. An overwhelming majority of people in the country belongs to one religion or another. Religion does influence an individual’s thoughts and behaviour. Cast and community is another factor to determine the level of participation while considering the social stratification in Kerala.
Malappuram is a Muslim majority district in Kerala which evidently reflects in the finding. The religion wise analysis shows that majority present WERs 73.3 percent were Muslims followed by 24.68 percent Hindus and 2 percent Christians in the total sample. The finding goes with the Census data, 2001.
It is found that almost all present WERs belong to OBC category. Among Hindus, it is found the present study that 56.76 percent and 32.43 percent of respondents are Ezhavas and SCs respectively. During the study, most of the respondents from Ezhava community indicate their association with Sree Narayan Dhama Paripalanayogam (SNDP), a community based organization in Kerala. The finding highlights the role played by the caste organization, SNDP for their entrance into the political space. Considering the participation of women in Panchayats from Ezhava community, close studies need to be conducted to explore the influencing factors in detail and corroborate the finding. It is crucial to note that respondents in the category of SC are found only in the mandatory seats. The finding sheds some light into the overall exclusion of SC community in political participation in Kerala.
In the case of Muslim women if we look at the field, out of the total respondents mainly two class people are seen in electoral politics which are low class (poor back ground) or elite family (upper class). In the middle class very limited. It is clear from this finding that the first group those categories contested the election based on some condition by party workers. Their own worlds “party workers approached us and told us it will help for you or it will benefit for income”. This is of course these candidates are working only party’s favor/wish/dependent. The second category coming from elite family, those candidates are contested for their male family members to retention/hold the power in same ward or constituency. From these finding it is cleared that some power relation are working their decisions. It is mentioned the theoretical part that this power is decided is exercised to make decisions and make others implement ones decision, and finally, influence others' decisions without any direct interventions.
Occupation is an important aspect of social background of an individual because it builds one’s attitude, perform pattern and political outlook. It indicates the class to which they belonged. The present study found that majority (77.33 percent) of present WERs are home makers (do not go for lucrative jobs outside the home). This fact substantiates the finding of Manu (1977) that majority of the women members have no economic earnings of their own and are dependent on their husband/male family members.
Relating the finding to religion it is observed that out of the total respondents following Muslim religion, 76.12 percent are homemakers. This is more than the percentage is found by Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishat (KSSP), i.e. 57.2 percent of homemakers among Muslims in Kerala. Further KSSP finds that the work participation of Muslim women is very less in comparison with work participation of women in other religions (Hindu-24.8 percent, Christian- 20.9 percent, Muslims-7.1 percent) (KSSP, 2006). Patriarchal values which consider men as breadwinners and outflow of remittance from gulf countries by male members might be the reasons for their decision to stay at home. The present study sample shows that only 6.67 percent are engaged in skilled labor.
The finding highlights the poor work participation of women in the so called developed state like Kerala, as visible in comparison with other states, female work participation rate (13.1 percent) is very less in Kerala, particularly in Malappuram district (KSSP, 2006). ‘Kerala model development model’ is paradox. We believe education and economy are significant variable to change the mind set and system. But Kerala development model is a good example which is not sufficient to empower the women. Because in Malappuram districts recently women educations increased but they are still continue in family and working as a home maker after their marriage. It is not lead to work participation.
Even though socio- economic conditions are helping to make the increase the views and consciousness which helps gain the leadership qualities. In the case of decision making family enquired about any change in decision making family matter in WERs. It is cleared the finding and observation that the societies are still following patriarchal values, which already decided the roles and duties of ‘women’. In majority of the respondents (especially Muslim women) replied with pride they agreed the patriarchal system. Women themselves justify this thought. Here presented a classical case to substantiate this finding.
At the same time Naseeba agreed about the gender division of labour in the household. She believes that subordination of women in the family is justifiable and it is the primary duty of woman to care each and every member in the family. All the other activities such as involvement in politics and work are secondary. However by pointing out the spare time of women, she said that “if women have time and chance to engage in public issues, they should be allowed to do it. Society has to support her to perform the roles”.
During the interview time raised counter questions against some decision making in family matter and multiple workloads they replied “that is not our matter, we are not concern about such matter … all are doing mooper/karanvar (Father or Kudumbanaadan ”). This findings are substantiated the findings of Mishra and Tripathi (2011) that Indian women have very little say in making important decisions concerning the family; decision are taken either by the husband and wife jointly or by only the husband. Women have lesser control in all decision-making except the purchase of daily household needs.
Political Affiliation: A Practical Necessity for many WERs
It is argued that political dynamism in Kerala is rooted in communal and caste politics. Among the Hindus, the backward cast Ezhavas and the upper cast Nairs along with two other religious communities namely the Muslims and Christians are the major forces in Kerala, (Manu, 1997). Devika, et.al (2008) highlight the access to public space for women as something accessed through the protection of powerful political parties and something that can be claimed as a fundamental right, even by women in institution like Kudumbashree. Devika et al, argue that party connections are a practical necessity, irrespective of whether one has political ambitions or not since women’s mobility is poor in Kerala. In this case ‘party connections’ are a strategy to overcome the limitation of women’s access to the public- it may not indicate firm connection (Devika et al, 2008). By recognizing the element, the present study has made an effort to understand the political affiliation of WERs in elections. It is seen the present study that 92.67 percent of present WERs were candidates of a political parties, while only 7.33 percent of respondents had contested independently, thus political affiliation is evident in the election.
Kudumbashree: A Stepping Stone to Local Governance
Devika roughly translated means of Kudumbashree as ‘Prosperity of Family’. This programme, launched in 1998 by the Government of Kerala, aims at eliminating poverty through forming Self Help Groups. It is also seen as an entry point for women to local self governance institutions (LSGIs). Other than Kudumbashree until there is no other vital factors have been identified by studies as major consideration for contesting in elections in the state. In this background, the present study has made an attempt to make out the major factors for contesting in elections.
By delineating the role of Kudumbashree in an article Devika mentioned that all political parties have approached women who had gained familiarity with the working of local governance through Kudumbashree activities to fight local elections, and a massive jump in the number of Kudumbashree women candidates representing various parties in the election to local bodies and women who have been politicized through their entry into the public via this group (Devika, 2012: 86).
Related studies in the context of Kerala highlight the link between Kudumbashree Programme and local governance (Devika, 2012; Siwal, 2008; Oommen, 2007 and Anand 2002). The studies reveal that participation in SHG meetings and activities enhanced the social autonomy of many women who were earlier confined within their homes and expanded their capacities for communication, travel and participation in public meetings. Oommen (2007), for instance, reports a direct link between Kudumbashree and women empowerment which includes, apart from economic empowerment, leadership empowerment as well as progress in all forms of social capital - bonding, bridging as well as link capital. All of these served to increase self-confidence of associated women leaders and generated fearlessness in interaction with higher government officials. Kudumbashree leaders gained recognition and prestige, which in turn paved their path to elected office in local government (Oommen, 2007).
The present study found that that 45.33 percent of present WERs are members of Kudumbashree and this association has helped them to get seats in election, while 18.67 percent of respondents have got the seat grounded on their family's political background. The result substantiates the role played by Kudumbashree in Kerala.
Other than Kudumbashree (SHGs), family background is found as a major consideration in contesting in elections (18.67 percent). But the ‘family background’ as explained earlier is a subtle operation of patriarchy which allows men in the family to retain power. It has nothing to do with political consciousness come out from the family background and voluntary decision to enter into politics. It is interesting to note that only 4 percent of respondents view experience as party member has considered in contesting elections. The findings point out the extent of male dominance in Kerala politics wherein women are treated as followers or mere participants to increase the numbers in rallies and meetings of major political parties.
While comparing the findings among Ex-WERs to present WERs, it is noticed that percent of Kudumbashree members has reduced from 62 percent of Ex-WERs to 45.33 percent of present WERs. Political family background has come as a new category among present WERs (18.67 percent). The reasons should be critically enquired vis-à-vis the introduction of 73rd amendment Act. The new policy initiative ensures 50 percent reservation for women thus has pushed number of males out from power positions in PRIs. It has been shared to the researcher that a significant percentage of present WERs had been compelled to contest in elections as male members in their family had lost power due to the new legislation and they wanted to retain the power by getting women from their families to enter into politics. The subtle operation of patriarchy and its success is evident from the reduction of the Kudumbashree members and the emergence of a new category of WERs from families has political background in the context.
The present study explores and agreed that majority of WERs feel an improvement in their decision making skills, assertive level, self confidence, self-esteem, and communication skills with public and officials and analytical skills after their entrance into politics.
Response of Male Counterparts
This study found that majority (55%) of the male elected representatives has a positive response towards the entrance of women in politics. They opined that, women, half of the population in the society, needs to come in politics and in this regard their candidature would help them to enter and interfere in public life. The question on the capability of women representatives to take decisions alone at Village Panchayat and Gram Sabha, majority (81%) of the male respondents replied that women are capable to take decisions in village panchayat and 99 percentages of respondents agreed the capabilities of Women Elected Representative in taking decisions in gram sabha.
With regard to the opinion on the reservation for women, majority (68.33%) of the male respondents rejected the mandatory reservation. Among this category some respondents replied in same voice; “ at present, there is no need to provide 50% reservation for women, it should have given step by step and this mandatory reservation would exclude many men with capabilities”, while some respondents opined that “33% is enough”. A few male respondents said that “there is no need of the mandatory reservation system, people who are able to interfere in politics will indeed come in the political sphere, moreover, societies are not ready to accept the women in this position yet, therefore the mandatory system is not useful”. When the researcher raised the issue of the exclusion of women from politics, the male respondents replied that “before implementing the reservation, first of all, awareness should be raised on this issue and let allow the public to change the negative attitude towards women”. In contrast to the opinion, only 31.67% supported the reservation policy. Among this majority of the respondents suggested that the rotation based reservation should be changed, then only it will benefit to the women as the WERs would get chance to work in the same constituency with powers. Otherwise political parties will fill the reservation seat with an intention to win the election.
It is apparent from the quantitative as well as qualitative data that majority male counter parts do not keep a favorable attitude towards the reservation system for women. Misconceptions about the competencies of women rooted in patriarchal system are evident in the sharing. Apart from the reasons cited by WERs as obstacles, this finding underscores the male dominance in the political arena of Kerala society and how the norms of the society are set up by men. It is just as an important to bring about a change in the attitudes and the minds of people in order to make room for women in the political sphere (Anderson etal, 2001).
It is much acknowledged that WERs are facing umpteen numbers of problems from their families, society, political and administrative settings. Studies point out that patriarchy, dual role, lack of practical knowledge in politics, lack of knowledge regarding the rules and responsibilities stand as barriers to effective functioning of WERs at grassroot level (Mohanty 1995; Manu, 2000; Anderson and Bohan, 2001; Omvedt, 2005; Malik and Shrivasthava 2011; Singh, 2012; Giri, 2013). Taking cues from the review, efforts have been made in the present study to understand the barriers of WERs for effectively performing their roles in Panchayats. It is expected that the exploration would help to map the barriers of WERs in the context.
According to Buch (2001) women elected representatives have used the opportunity, i.e. 73rd Amendment Act, to enter into the public sphere, despite their personal, social, economical and political obstacles. They have also fashioned their learning and coping strategies. The legal and administrative structures are also not gender sensitive and reluctant to accept women as citizens. As mentioned earlier, studies have noted various problems faced by WERs as part of their performance of the role of elected member at grassroot level. The following figure depicts the major problems faced by WERs in the context of Malappuram district.
It is interesting to note that majority of WERs (30.68 percent) do not face any problems as elected representatives. It is seen that as ‘newcomers’, 27.33 percent of WERs express lack of experience in politics as major barrier to effective participation in Panchayats while, 23.33 percent indicate their unawareness regarding programmes and schemes as the main hurdle. The minimum percentage of WERs, who indicate lack of family support as barrier to their effective participation, needs to be highlighted. In contrast to the general notion, it can be seen that out of the total sample population, only 7.33 percent of WERs feel lack of family support as a barrier. It is evident from the findings that present WERs are able to identify their barriers in particular rather than beating about bush.
It is found that, nearly 67 percent of WERs see multiple workloads in family as a problem. But it is worthwhile to note that all respondents give meaning to their role within the family which is valued in the context. Because of the same reason, WERs try to manage their day to day activities without any conflicts. It has been shared to the researcher that majority WERs are able to manage their ‘duties’ within the family and Panchayats. A WER told to the researcher: “I am coming directly from the kitchen with no former contact and familiarity with politics. But now I am able to manage everything at my own risk....”Another WER shared to the researcher that “earlier there was nothing to worry, just needed to prepare food and manage the household. But now the situation has changed. I have to wake up early morning for preparing food for all family members and sending children to schools. Then I usually move to Panchayat. You know, often beneficiaries wait for me there”. The sharing is a classic example of how WERs accommodate to the new circumstances and role. But it should be noted that all WERs stressed their preference for families. It has been shared to the researcher during the study that “we are women and we have to focus on our family, children, husband, and indeed, kitchen”. Imbibing of the ‘role’ of women within the family is evident in the sharing.
Other than the experiences of present WERs, Ex-WERs indicate the involvement of religious leaders in their tenure as a problem. Out of the total sample population of Ex-WERs, 26 percent of respondents state that conservative religious leaders had often critiqued them for their involvement in politics and activities outside the household in their term. But in comparison, it is clear that the issue not prevalent at present. Accommodation of religious leaders to the changed situation is evident here. Reduction in the percentage of ‘religious restriction’ apparently brings out the positive changes occurred in society. In short, the study findings reject the observation of J Devika, i.e. the threat and challenges faced by WERs from religious leaders was a major problem from society (Devika, 2008).
Even though the study has found some impact of political participation on leadership role of women in Panchayats, it also highlights a few disturbing facts which questions the so called success story of women empowerment and decentralization in Kerala. The present study finds that rather than the celebrated ‘political consciousness’ of the state, it is the landmark constitutional provision that has provided an opportunity to women to enter into politics. This opening renders space to women in Panchayats to participate in the decision making processes in the local body along with male counterparts.
Even though male representatives have agreed women's role in politics, haven't expressed their whole hearted support. It is clear from the discussion that male members are keeping a double stand on the whole issue. Close reading of their statements apparently indicate the rooted patriarchy in the context and resulted reluctance in accepting women as individuals who have same potential.
As J. Devika noted, the involvement of women in politics is not just the expansion formal political spaces but strategic opportunities. This is particularly true with women in Muslim religion, who hardly received opportunities, to enter into the public sphere. In this context, the relevance of reservation is substantiated in the study and the finding underlines the vital role played by the constitutional amendment in providing an opportunity to women to enter into politics and becoming leaders. At the same time the fact apparently points out the patriarchal values exist in the context which should be reshaped.
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