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“One of the most startling statistics is that even if you lined up every single woman who has ever been elected to the Lok Sabha, from the beginning of time, you won’t even fill one Lok Sabha.”Tara Krishnaswamy, co-founder of Shakti
With one eye trained on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, a group of citizens came together to launch Shakti – a civil society initiative that aims to enhance the political participation of women – in December 2018. The team’s long-term goal is to get more women elected as MLAs and MPs in India, and to ease the path for all women to find their power in politics.
Shakti has since been working at the national level with several awareness and outreach programmes to empower more women. They also want to make Indian citizens realise that the lack of political representation of women is not just a woman’s issue but something that all of humanity should be concerned about.
Not Enough Women in the Lok Sabha?
Tara Krishnaswamy said, “Every party says that they have crores and crores of party workers. The Communist party said they have 1 crore women party workers, the BJP says they have 3 crore women party workers, but when it comes to tickets, they are denied that. So it’s like you have no career opportunity, come join us and slave for us. So I think citizens must also do their bit to make sure that the constitutional democracy is actually translated to reality.”
She also said that in the home stretch, leading up to the elections due to be held in April-May, it was still not too late for concerned citizens to do their bit to empower more women to pursue a political future.
“We only have 11% women in Parliament, which means that the policies and laws that are being made do not consider 50% of the talent at all, right? Most women live lives that are quite different from the way men live lives and today, the laws that are being passed don’t have the women’s perspective in them. So, you can really help for the next three weeks by making sure that you bust some of these myths.”Tara Krishnaswamy
‘How Do We Reach Out to Our MLAs and MPs?’
Gowri, along with hundreds of volunteers across the country, reached out to local MPs to petition them to pass the long-delayed Women’s Reservation Bill in the Parliament.
She said that this was the first time that many citizens had a brush with parliamentary democracy, outside of newspapers and news reports.
“I think that was the first touch citizens got into how that space of parliamentary democracy actually works. How do we really reach out to them? Yeah, we can call them and tell them: ‘Hey, this is us and we exist and you are there for a reason, and we feel really neglected right now because we are going to polls and who are we really going to cast our votes for?’”Gowri Omanakuttan
Women’s Issues are National Issues
Srinivas Alavilli, member of Shakti, said, “The representation of women in the political spectrum is an issue that all of us have, it's not that women have an issue that there are not enough women in Parliament. You would think that wouldn’t the world be better off if we had more diversity, more gender balance in the way the world is run? The Indian Parliament certainly can have a lot more women than it has today. The Women’s Reservation Bill seems to be a really good way of doing it because the political parties are really not keen on giving tickets to women.
What Can Citizens Do to Help?
Aparna Kumar, another member of Shakti, said, “One of the other resolutions we took was to promote women candidates in 2019 in the 17th Lok Sabha elections. Shakti’s plans are basically to create an online platform and promote women candidates from across the country, irrespective of party and any kind of constraints. That’s our current plan for the elections. So, we are moving full swing, generating databases of women candidates thus far, who’ve put in their forms and we will continue to work on the back-end.”
“We are tied up with a fundraising platform called ‘Our Democracy.in’ and there are many such fundraising platforms for candidates and they take a certain amount of commission, obviously. The normal commission rate that ‘Our Democracy’ takes is 5% and there are many candidates who are already signed up on them like – Atishi Marlena has been raising funds using ‘Our Democracy’. But the deal Shakti has with them is to take a 3.5% commission rate which means that we will promote any woman candidate (across parties) who is associated with Shakti – whether independent or belonging to a specific party. So, if you go through Shakti, you will get that 1.5% cashback for yourself. So it is a boost, a fillip, an impetus that Shakti provides as a special case.”Tara Krishnaswamy