A young member of the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation says that it is very difficult for her to manage both family and office at the same time. It was possible for her to venture into politics as her husband was supportive in the beginning, but with time it became apparent that he wanted to continue to thrust the homemaker’s responsibility upon her. “Women have to fight against the odds as politicians. Moreover, there is no proper organisational and administrative training for women candidates who have just entered politics,” she says.
Many women candidates have called it quits after being elected to office for these reasons. The deputy mayor of Kochi, B Bhadra, will also not contest this time. Instead, she wants to return to the teaching job that she had left years ago in order to join politics. “After having worked as deputy mayor, I have realised that nothing can replace the satisfaction that you get as a teacher,” says Bhadra.
Women’s reservation in the state was meant to create an opportunity for over a thousand woman candidates in local body elections in Kerala. However, since the political atmosphere in the state still discourages women candidates to freely participate in the elections, the seats assigned to them are hardly finding any takers.
As a result, many political parties are facing difficulty roping in women candidates for the reserved seats for the upcoming poll. Even a day before the nomination date, many parties were running around desperately to file their nominations.
‘Dummy’ candidates are being coaxed and cajoled, with parties offering them freebies in order to fill the reserved seats. In a desperate bid to fill seats, parties are trying to instill ‘confidence’ in potential candidates, offering to lend them full ‘protection’ from the party during the candidate’s tenure of five years.
Even women, who are active in women empowerment initiatives like the Kudumbashree, are not interested in participating in local body elections. Rajitha of the Sakhi centre says that the reluctance to contest elections is due to the fear of political parties’s way of functioning.
However, party leaders want to present a different picture in which women are quite enthusiastic about joining politics. Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president VM Sudheeran says that more and more women want to participate in local polls. He adds that some are even willing to contest for general seats.
CPM leader TM Thomas Isaac echoes these sentiments. He says that participation in programmes like the Kudumbashree have given women the confidence to join active politics. “More than 25 percent of the women who contested in the previous term are contesting for the second term this time. This makes it clear that they are interested in engaging with active politics.”
Despite these politically correct claims, it is evident that women’s reservation itself will not bring about any major change unless it is followed by constructive analysis and implementation for creating an encouraging atmosphere for women to participate in politics. Politics’ loss will be others’ gain.
In The Shadow Of The Patriarch
Posters of women candidates from Malappuram bear the pictures of their husbands.
Shocking ideas subverting gender parity reveal themselves in posters scattered across the Malappuram municipality. Some of the posters for women candidates contesting from the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) have men’s pictures printed on them with accompanying text which says: ‘so-and-so’s wife’ is contesting the election.
Campaign posters for IUML candidate Soujath from the 16th ward bear the picture of Thalappil Kunjan, her husband. The poster asks voters to support ‘Thalappil Kunjan’s wife, Soujath’. Similarly, posters for LDF candidate Madathil Rajeena, contesting from the 18th ward of the Pulamanthol panchayat, bear the picture of her husband Madathil Kunjippa.
The posters were removed when news about them created much outrage on social media. Fearing that his reputation might suffer because of this, Kunjan said to the media, “The posters will be removed and we will start a second round of campaigning. The reason why the posters had my photo was only that I am better known in the region.” His wife Soujath, predictably, was unavailable for comment.