By Meghna Pant
Rogues, criminals, scandalmongers and corrupt; politicians in India rarely enjoy a stellar reputation. Therefore it’s a breath of fresh air to see young, cosmopolitan, educated and driven politicians, that too women, step into the forefront in recent years. At November’s Feminist Rani we invited one of India’s most well-known political commentators: Priyanka Chaturvedi.
I asked Priyanka, who started her political career – no, not from Twitter as is the assumption – but as a young gun at the Indian Youth Congress. She rose quickly within the ranks and was thrown into the deep end when she had to defend policies of the Congress party during the UPA rule. I found Priyanka’s journey particularly fascinating because, as an outsider, I assume you need to be a don, celebrity, cricketer or legacy to enter politics. It’s inspiring to see a woman with two children and a non-political background, successfully navigate the big bad world of politics.
According to me, Trump’s win is the worst display of sexism the world has ever seen. In a single stroke, one of the longest struggles in human history – gender equality – has been regressed, diminished and demolished. This is at a time when even Estonia has a female President. While Priyanka was also saddened that someone so misogynistic could lead the US, she said that it was not the loss of our gender, but the loss of an individual, in this case Hillary Clinton, who the Americans did not want as President. Valid point.
I spoke to Priyanka about The Women’s Reservation Bill as well. We reserve 33 per cent of the seats in local governments for women, yet India ranks 20th from the bottom in terms of representation of women in Parliament. This despite our Presidents, Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers. Why is there such an underwhelming representation of women in politics?
Priyanka said that even countries like Nepal had more women in politics. She is certain that increasing the number of women in national government will impact governance and transform leadership.
“Various countries are doing an excellent job when it comes increasing women’s representation,” said Priyanka. “India needs to catch up!”
She went on to explain that the reason women don’t enter politics in India is multifold. Firstly, female politicians have it rough and pay a social penalty. Indira Gandhi was called a witch. Angela Merkel was labelled an iron frau. We are not yet comfortable as a society with seeing women in power. Priyanka too has faced flak because of her gender. She is trolled on Twitter and has to deal with derogatory comments, threats to her safety, and reductionist attitudes ascribed to her success. She said one has to be “extremely thin-skinned to survive in politics.”
Women also do not see a payoff in leaving their responsibilities at home and regular jobs to enter the field of politics that is ridden with uncertainty, immense hard work and little financial returns at the beginning.
Seeing the catfights between Shaina NC and Mayawati, as well as Priyanka and Smriti Irani, I asked her why there isn’t a sisterhood of women in politics? Priyanka said that would be great, but perhaps female politicians have fought so hard to be in power, that it’s not easy to let other women in.
The audience was full of opinions and suggestions on infrastructure improvement and demonetization, and it was heartening to see more men in the audience. Priyanka, who is inspired by Indira Gandhi and Angela Merkel, was one of our best Feminist Ranis and we can’t wait to watch her grow to even more success and power.
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