Who Represents India’s Women?

On average, Indian women work longer hours than men, as their day consists of a more diverse array of tasks relating both to the maintenance of their livelihoods (public sphere) and homes (domestic sphere). In rural India, this could take the form of both working in the fields and performing domestic duties such as cooking, drawing water, cleaning the home, washing clothes, and educating the children. In urban India, this could potentially mean working outside the home while simultaneously performing the aforementioned domestic duties. Unfortunately, in proportion to their input of labour, time, and resources, women are not equally compensated as men. In the case of this article, I won’t speak to financial compensation (which is also unequal), but rather, I will speak to the more intangible aspect of the problem – representation.

According to a recent MeriNews report, India lags behind its South Asian partners with regard to “the commitments made in the Common Minimum Program (CMP) of mainstreaming women in the legislative process and structures effectively. In fact, “according to a survey, reservation for women stands at only 8.2 per cent in India while in Pakistan it is over 21 per cent, Nepal 30 per cent and Bangladesh is 10 per cent. ”

The Alliance for Women’s Reservation Bill (AWRB), which consists of more than 30 women’s groups, has expressed serious concern over this relative lack of participation in the “country’s progress,” and has sent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a memorandum “demanding that the 33% reservation bill be tabled and voted upon in this half of the budget session. Members of the Alliance are tired of the politicization of this process, and refuse to be exploited as political puns during the election cycle.

Veena Nayyar, director of Women’s Political Watch, said it best:

Women are angry, tired and feel insulted by unmeant and unkept promises by manifestos and speeches of the senior most leadership of the country and these too pick up momentum only in the election year.

If India claims to be a global force, no longer can it afford to lag behind in terms of women’s rights. Neither can the government simply pay lip service to 50% of India’s population. Social development and economic development must occur simultaneously in order for the title, “India Shining,” to be truly apt.