Tradition hinders women’s active participation in politics

By Ibankyntiew Mawrie

 Shillong: The famous saying–‘When the hen crows, the world will end’ has been analyzed by women experts in the field of political science from various colleges in the city. They believe that the same quote must be re-written as ‘When the hen crows, the world changes and a new dawn will arise’.

“Things have to change and we cannot hold on to tradition which restricts positive change in the society in this 21st century”, a lecturer of Political Science department, St Mary’s College, Rita Biswa observed.

Deliberating on this issue of social change at a two-day national conference held at Synod College here on Thursday, Biswa said it is natural for anyone to expect a high level of women participation in the electoral politics of the Meghalaya, it being a matrilineal society.

“Women in Meghalaya enjoy comparatively more freedom than women in other parts of the country and here women are being treated at par with men”, she observed.

Applauding the progress of women and their awareness of the right to votes, Biswa said in the last Meghalaya Legislative Assembly elections, the female voter turn-out had surpassed males.

Presenting the data of voter turn-out in the four districts of the state from 1972 onwards Biswa pointed out that from 1972 to 1993, male turn-out is more than the female but from 1998 onwards, females surpassed the male with 74.83 percent to 74.1 percent whereas in 2003, the percentage showed a rise in the female voter turn-out with 71.64 percent females to 69.16 percent males. In 2008, the female voter turn-out was 89.38 percent to 88.69 percent males showing a marginal slide.

Biswa however stated that participation of women in the electoral politics of the state, is dismal, going by facts and figures.

Focusing on the four districts of Meghalaya excluding Garo Hills, Biswa said out of 54 women candidates who contested the assembly elections from 1972 till 2008, only six emerged victorious. She pointed at the present legislature where men accounted for 59 seats while only one seat was filled by woman legislator, Ampareen Lyngdoh.

Blaming the traditional set up for this miniscule percentage, the political science lecturer said women are not groomed to take part in politics due to various traditional and cultural restrictions but there has been a gradual change wherein women are allowed to take part in the Dorbar.

Biswa also pointed out that the fear of success and failure is another reason which restricts women from taking part in politics coupled with their lack of political interests, family responsibility and the patriarchal mindset besides others. “In Meghalaya, there has been a generation of passivity and this should change accordingly”, she added.

Stating that democracy means equal partnership of both the genders, Biswa said there is need to change the mindset of both the genders while stating that “We need greater representation of women in the political arena”.

“Matriliny is a social order which does not itself empower women rather it reinforced traditional values”, the lecturer said adding that there is patriarchy prevailing even in a matrilineal set up like Meghalaya. .

On the same note, a Professor of the political science department, Synod College, B Myrboh said statistics indicate that there is a dismal picture of women being elected as representatives to the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly where till the eighth assembly in 2008, their representation in the Assembly has never touched even 6 percent.

Going by district wise, results of assembly elections the majority of women candidates were from East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills and Ribhoi Districts where 7 women have elected to the assembly at different points of time.

There were 4 women members from the Garo Hills Districts who had been elected to the Legislative Assembly of the state till date. However, no women candidate from Jaintia Hills has till date been elected to the state legislature.

Prof Myrboh said this trend is not peculiar only to Meghalaya but the low percentage of women representatives is reflected even in the National Parliament and also in advanced countries.

“One of the ingredients for the successful working of democracy is informed participation of the people electoral politics and this should include people from both sexes so as to avoid gender discrimination and male domination. Meghalaya is yet to derive the blessings of democracy.” Prof Myrboh observed.

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