Tag Archives: Women’s rights

How did Women Link Worldwide contribute towards the inclusion of women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Colombia’s Constitutional Court in 2006?

35098085_10214958393927105_400557300089094144_n.jpg

On May 10th 2006, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled 5-3 in favor of the decriminalization of abortion. The groundbreaking decision guaranteed a woman’s exemption from prosecution under three conditions:

(1) pregnancy by rape, incest or unwanted insemination

(2) severe fetal malformation or

(3) risks to life and health

Prior to 2006, Colombia had stood in solidarity with El Salvador and Chile – all of whom were adamant on reinforcing the blanket ban on abortion. Moreover, the penal code merely subverted abortion into clandestine spheres, with the government perpetuating a ‘double discourse’ on the matter by condemning it in public but allowing it in private. Such legal laxity created a public health crisis, with an annual number of 300,000 illicit abortions performed by unregulated providers, contributing to a third of all maternal deaths. As such, the judicial ruling came as a huge success to human rights activists – who for several years had been engaged in a fervent pursuit for social justice in the wake of the country’s harsh abortion laws infringing on women’s reproductive health. The trigger for the legal revision, came in April 2005, when the case (C-355) was brought to Court by attorney Monica Roa on part of the international organization Women’s Link Worldwide.

Despite the increased presence of human rights lobbies in Colombian politics, there had not been any substantial changes to Colombia’s Penal Code. The legal stalemate can mostly be attributed to the mobilization of the Catholic church in crucial policy and legislative areas. Over the years, the Church cultivated a vast network within the state administration and institutions, which granted it an influential oversight on any political or legal developments law. In addition, it subsidized many of the pro-life movements in disseminating their cause amongst the local communities. By casting the criminalization of abortion as both a religious duty and a state’s legal obligation, the Catholic Church reframed the political narrative into a deeply personal narrative. Hence, the boundaries between right and wrong were demarcated to fit overridingly patriarchal terms. Addressing the topic of abortion in such a discourse, becomes especially relevant if put in context of whom the ban affected – namely the urban poor and rural women. Considering the state’s legal laxity on the matter, the middle and upper class could easily access abortion without losing religious face – in contrast to the poor, who underwent incredibly dangerous and life-threatening medical procedures.

In order to challenge the Constitutional Court, Women’s Link convened in a collective effort on 14 March 2005 and developed a High Impact Litigation Strategy (LAICIA), which was separated into three focal points: creating a legal case for gender equality, securing national, regional and international alliances and a media-based public outreach scheme. Women’s Link opted for a constitutional case, over filing for a criminal complaint to the National Assembly. Even amongst women’s rights activists, this marked an unprecedented move, considering that most ‘rights activist [did] not use the courts as a means for advocacy’. By shifting abortion away from its previously politicized agenda, Women’s Link litigation strategy thus secured the case a legitimate site, from which to bypass the national government’s authority

In part, the triumph of Women’s Link was based on a favorable legal climate. First, the Constitutional Committee, which approved the application consisted of several liberal-minded judges who were sympathetic to the liberalization of abortion. Second, the official revision of the Constitution of Rights (1991) in 2005 re-emphasized Colombia’s commitments to international law and human rights treaties. Finally, the Court’s case history demonstrated a clear precedent of the Court using human rights law to resolve policy disputes. According to Bocse’s (2011) reasoning, the combination of the aforementioned factors, presented a political opportunity structure open to the claims set forth by the interest group.

Drawing on the Constitution of Rights (1991), Women’s Link reaffirmed Colombia’s commitments as a secular institution towards upholding pluralist values and the fundamental rights of the individual. The case pointed out the tension in-between the criminalization of abortion and the Constitution’s existing articles. These included: the right to dignity (Constitutional Preamble, Article 1), the right to bodily integrity (Article 12), the right to equality (Article 13), the right to free, individual development (Article 16), the right to reproductive autonomy (Article 42) and the right to health (Article 49).  Furthermore, Article 93 of the Constitution of Rights included Colombia’s obligations under international human rights law, established in multi-lateral treaties such as CEDAW (ratified in 1982), the Cairo Consensus (1994), and the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995). The case argued that the government’s blanket ban was an infringement of a woman’s equal right to life, health, reproductive self-determination, and privacy. Furthermore, Women’s Link noted the Human Rights Committee’s authoritative ruling in K.L v. Peru as an exemplary regional precedent for the Court to follow.

Women’s Link communication strategy untangled a narrative previously monopolized by religious actors and framed it as an issue of public health and equal rights. Aiding in the fight for public opinion, were the transnational actors network alliances with popular media and newspapers. For example, in between February and May 2006 alone, El Tiempo featured 150 articles, editorials and opinion pieces discussing the development of C-355. The liberal newspaper’s circulation of “real-life stories”, which described the horrors of women’s experiences under the strict ban, took an emotional toll on its audiences and increased public sympathy.  In particular, the story of the 34-year-old mother of four, Marta Zulay Gonzalez, also made headlines in Revista Semana, Hoy Diario and El Universal. At the time, Marta was suffering under acute ovarian cancer and was in desperate need of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. When she found out she was three weeks pregnant, she pleaded with a public hospital for her right to abortion, which was denied. Monica Roa mentioned Marta’s case, as a blatant example of the need for legal and accessible abortion to protect a woman’s health and the well-being of her family. With the combined advocacy efforts of Women’s Link and popular newspapers, Marta’s story evolved into a national symbol of the state’s duty to decriminalize abortion under certain circumstances.

Yet, despite the liberalization of the blanket ban, clandestine abortion rates remain at large over a decade later. Although the country’s constitutional and legal protections for women’s rights are amongst the strongest in the region, women continue to face many obstacles to legal abortion, indicating a practical gap in between the law and its implementation. Public health providers have performed 50,000 legal abortions since 2006, which pales in comparison to the yearly estimates of 400,000 women who suffer via illegal abortions. Although the Ministry of Social Protection issued a series of guidelines for the population and public health services to follow, there continues to be a lack of education on the ethical, legal and medical requirements of the Court’s ruling. Additionally, inadequate public knowledge on the correct application of abortion methods, primarily misoprostol, has led to high rates of complications at higher-level health facilities. Half of the women residing in rural areas are unaware of misoprostol’s existence and continue to perform hazardous self-induced abortions. The medical treatment of these complications costs the government large sums of money: approximately $14.4 million invested into by post-abortion care. However, there continues to exist a lack of political incentive amongst government officials to support policies that mandate institutional improvements to the provision of and access to contraceptive care and legal abortion services.

On average, only 11% of all public health institutions offer treatment. Given Colombia’s unstable conditions of inter-communal violence and poverty, travelling from rural villages to larger cities is not only costly, but also a highly dangerous endeavor, especially for a pregnant woman. Many women fall victim to rape, sexual assault or other attacks in transit. A combination of such violent prospects and lack of financial resources disincentivize women to leave their local communities in the first place.  Upon arrival at health care centers, the protracted bureaucratic process involved in acquiring a legal termination of pregnancy unnecessarily delays abortion services and is extremely intimidating for women. In between May 2006 and April 2008, La Mesa por La Vida documented a series of cases, in which health care professionals issued unjustified requests for medical or legal referrals. On top of these demands, women were urged and even pressured to continue their pregnancy, causing psychological strain.

However, it is not only the managerial inefficiencies, which are curtailing women’s reproductive rights, but the verdict itself. At the time, the Court declared that it did not have the professional expertise to rule over the technicalities of abortion, and hence left such decisions to health care professionals. Consequently, the Court’s ruling contains a crucial loophole, namely, a doctor’s right to ‘conscientious objection’, which is routinely appropriated by health care professionals as a means to deny women the right to termination. Furthermore, the absence of scientifically demarcated instructions in the judgement created confusion amongst doctors who operate on a case-by-case basis. For example, cases containing patients with mental health or rape are particularly susceptible to rejection. Most doctors will only factor in the physical component of a women’s health or when there is a clear threat to her life. The Court failed to legally resolve the ethical tension between a women’s and medical autonomy. As such, the lack of clarity in the verdict renders women vulnerable to the personal prejudices of individual doctors.

Consequently, the NGO’s advocacy network must continue its agenda-setting in Colombia’s social and political landscape. This includes increased public awareness, facilitating the capacity building and training of local groups and reinforcing international accountability measures. First, increased efforts must be directed towards ensuring that women, especially in rural areas, are informed on the availability of abortion services and their respective legal rights. Second, attention should be directed towards the legal mobilization of national actors, which aid in the proliferation of local-level knowledge of human rights and ensure no woman is unrightfully exempted from the treatment. Third, Women’s Link must continue to wield its credibility within the international community to cast a spotlight on government impunity. This includes remitting the contemporary infringements on gender rights to International Human Rights Committees, which in turn, can pressure the Colombian state to uphold its treaty obligations. Simultaneously, the framing of abortion as part of Colombia’s value structure should run parallel to Women’s Link agenda-setting, in order to combat conservative biases and secure social cohesion on the issue. Thus, despite Women’s Link having been able to provide the legal framework for change, there still exists a practical gap between women’s rights and national recognition of the gender policy reform.

Bibliography

Brusco, E. (1995). The reformation of machismo: evangelical conversion and gender in Colombia. Austin: University of Texas Press. 

Joachim, J. (2007). Agenda setting, the UN, and NGOs, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, Pp. 1-163.

Meriläinen, N. (2014). Understanding the framing of issues in multi-actor arenas. University of Jyväskylä. Jyväskylän Printing House, Pp. 11-80.

Carpenter, C. R. (2007). Setting the Advocacy Agenda: Theorizing Issue Emergence and Nonemergence in Transnational Advocacy Networks. International Studies Quarterly, 51(1),  Pp.99-120.

Keck, M. and Sikkink, K. (1998). Activists beyond borders. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Bocşe, A. (2011). Understanding transnational advocacy networks: the impact of the political opportunity structure on their emergence. Vienna: The Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe Press, Pp. 1-14. 

Crable, R. E.  and Vibbert, S. L. (1985). Managing issues and influencing public policy. Public Relations Review, 11 (2), Pp. 3-16.

Walgrave, S. and De Swert, K. (2007). Where does issue ownership come from? From the party or from the media? Issue-party identifications in Belgium, 1991-2005. The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 12 (1), Pp. 37-67.

Dunne, T. and Wheeler, N. (2009). Human rights in global politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sedacca, K (2017). Abortion in Latin America in International Perspective: Limitations and Potentials of the Use of Human Rights Law to Challenge Restrictions. The Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice, 32(1), Pp. 1-29.

Reimann, K. (2006). A View from the Top: International Politics, Norms and the Worldwide Growth of NGOs. International Studies Quarterly, 50(1), pp.45-68.

Risse-kappen, T., Ropp, S. and Sikkink, K. (1999). The power of human rights. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Farrior, S. (2009). Human Rights Advocacy on Gender Issues: Challenges and Opportunities. Journal of Human Rights Practice, 1(1), Pp.83-100.

Skaar, E. (2011). Judicial independence and human rights in Latin America. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Press.

Prada, E., Biddlecom, A. and Singh, S. (2011). Induced Abortion in Colombia: New Estimates and Change Between 1989 and 2008. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 37(3), Pp.114-124.

Ruibal, A. (2014). Movement and counter-movement: a history of abortion law reform and the backlash in Colombia 2006–2014. Reproductive Health Matters, 22(44), Pp. 42-51.

Budge, I. and D. Farlie (1983). Explaining and Predicting Elections: Issue Effects and Party Strategies in Twenty-Three Democracies. London: George Allen & Unwin Press.

Amado, E.D, García, M.C.C, Cristancho, C. R., Salas. E.P,  and  Hauzeur, E.B, . (2010). Obstacles and challenges following the partial decriminalisation of abortion in Colombia. Reproductive Health Matters, 18(36), Pp.118-126.

Levine, D. (1981). Religion and politics in Latin America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Velez, A.G. (2005), Current situation with abortion in Colombia: between illegality and reality. Cadernos de Saúde Pública, 21(2), Pp. 624–28.

Zorzi, K. (2015). The Impact of the United Nations on National Abortion Laws. Catholic University Law Review, 36(2), Pp. 1-22.

Htun, M. (2003). Sex and the State: Abortion, Divorce and the Family under Latin American Dictatorships and Democracies. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Williams, H. S. (2009). Constituting Equaliy: Gender Equality and Comparative Law. Cambridge University Press, Pp. 214-247.

Fine, B. J., Mayall, K. and Sepulveda, L (2017). The Role of International Human Rights Norms in the Liberalization of Abortion Laws Globally. Health and Human Rights Journal, 19(1), Pp. 69-80.

Brysk, A. (1995). Hearts and Minds”: Bringing Symbolic Politics Back In. Polity Journal, 27(4), Pp. 559-585.

Merry, E.S. (2006). Transnational Human Rights and Local Activism: Mapping the Middle. American Anthropologist, 108(1), Pp.38-51.

Reuterswärd, C., Zetterberg, P., Thapar-Björkert, S. and Molyneux, M. (2011). Abortion Law Reforms in Colombia and Nicaragua: Issue Networks and Opportunity Contexts. Development and Change, 42(3), Pp.805-831.

Roa, M. (2008). From Constitutional Court Success to Reality: Issues and Challenges in the Implementation of the New Abortion Law in Colombia. IDS Bulletin, 39(3), Pp.83-87.

Löfgren S. (2008).  Framing and shaming :Transnational networks and the decriminalization of abortion in Colombia. University of Gothenburg Press. Pp. 1-67.

Velez, A.G (2012). The health exception: a means of expanding access to legal abortion. Journal of Reproductive Health Matters, 20(4), Pp. 9-22.

Roa, M. and Klugman, B. (2014). Considering strategic litigation as an advocacy tool: a case study of the defence of reproductive rights in Colombia. Reproductive Health Matters, 22(44), Pp.31-41.

The Guardian. (2011). Abortion in the Philippines. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/journalismcompetition/abortion-in-the-philippines [Accessed 1 Apr. 2018].

El Tiempo.  (2006). Murió mujer símbolo de fallo de aborto. [online] Available at: http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/MAM-2528321 [Accessed 2 Apr. 2018].

La Mesa (2017). Encuesta de Percepcion sobre la interrupcion voluntaria del embarazo en Colombia. [online] Available at: http://www.despenalizaciondelaborto.org.co/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/ENCUESTA-DE-PERCEPCION-2017.pdf [Accessed 2 Apr. 2018].

Advertisements
Tagged , ,

Marine Le Pen and women’s rights: a personal opinion

marine-le-pen-838762

By Elise Lauriot Prevost, a second year Undergraduate studying International Relations at King’s College London.

Women’s rights have not been central in the French elections, as they are not in most elections. They never seem to be a priority even though women statistically represent 50% of the electorate. However, there is a chance that in two weeks a woman may become President. This woman is Marine Le Pen. Her opponent, Emmanuel Macron, a man, has pledged to do more about women’s rights than Le Pen. This is easily explained by looking at the party she represents, the Front National. Nonetheless, what is concerning is not only that woman’s rights are so absent from her program but more so how she frames her ‘slight’ concern.

A quick comparison of the two candidates programs on women’s rights shows us that:

  • Emmanuel Macron wants there to be parity in the candidates running for the legislative elections and in the directors of state agencies.
  • Marine Le Pen does not mention this.

 

  • When it comes to equal pay Macron would like to ‘name and shame’ companies that do not pay men and women the same and enforce by conducting regular checks.
  • Marine Le Pen does mention equal pay and does not give any concrete measures on how she would achieve this. Still she is against positive discrimination.

 

  • When it comes to women’s rights Emmanuel Macron would be stricter on ‘small infractions’ such as cat calling and other ‘antisocial behavior against women’ by imposing “on the spot” fines.
  • Marine Le Pen wants to defend women’s rights by fighting against Islamism which, for her, is the biggest threat against women’s fundamental rights. [1]

 

It is on this last point that I would like to focus on. This idea of Islamism and a repression of women rights has its roots in the colonization of North Africa by the French. The French quickly developed an obsession with veiling and unveiling woman which is obviously still the case with the recent ‘burkini’ scandal. Additionally, the 2005 ‘Loi contre les signes religieux ostensibles’ was passed as a matter of ‘laicité’ but would never have made it through had it not been for the campaign by French feminists that headscarves are just a sign of a Muslim woman’s oppression. Many authors have justifiably argued against this[2]. This removes a Muslims woman agency and her right to choose for herself. The headscarf also has a long history of being used as a form of rebellion against colonial authorities. Obviously, the headscarf does not equal fundamental Islam but for Marine Le Pen it seems to. By reducing Muslim women to their headscarves it completely removes their agency.

On top of this discourse with colonial and purely racist undertones there is another problem with what she is saying. As a French woman, I personally have never felt that Islamism was the biggest threat to my rights. Far from it. I feel that my reproductive rights are more threatened by the ‘family’ lobby (La Manif Pour Tous) in France which is mostly Catholic. I personally have been more put down, belittled and on the receiving end of lurid comments by white ‘French’ men than by the people Marine Le Pen blames, ‘immigrants’.  Obviously, I am generalizing here but my biggest concerns are everyday cat calling, being belittled by male peers and most importantly the fact that I still have to work twice as hard to get a job, an interview or even just to be taken seriously because I am a woman. And this has absolutely nothing to do with Islamism. What shocks me the most is that Marine Le Pen is arguably the most powerful woman in France today and to get there it must not have been easy.

I dislike her with every fiber of my being and would never excuse anything she says but, woman to woman, I am certain that she has felt the same sexual discrimination that I have. She has had to work twice as hard to get where she is, she has had to answer questions which a man never gets asked such as why have you put your career in front of your family? etc. I do not agree with her ideas but I am sure that she has been victim to as much and even more sexual harassment because of her prominent position. I am sure that people questioned her taking over from her father on the basis that she was a woman. With all this said I still struggle to understand why she does not take women’s rights more seriously. I am sure that she has had her rights questioned by way more non Islamic fundamentalists than Islamic fundamentalists. Women’s rights may not appeal to all her voters but she has tried to soften her image and distance herself from her father and party. How can a woman who has definitely experienced sexual harassment reduce it to Islamic Fundamentalism. You can be blinded by your ideas but work place harassment, belittlement is an everyday reality for woman and for her too.  How can you vote for someone who is so blinded by their racist and extremist ideology that they do not even take into account what affects them on a daily basis?

Bibliography:

[1] <http://www.rtl.fr/girls/identites/macron-le-pen-le-match-des-programmes-pour-les-droits-des-femmes-7788256778&gt;.

[2] Najmabadi, Afsaneh. “Gender and Secularism of Modernity: How Can a Muslim Woman Be French?” Feminist Studies 32, no. 2 (2006): 239.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Mehbooba Mufti’s election in Jammu and Kashmir: real evolution for women or familial inheritance?

by Justine Guérin, 1st year International Relations Student from France

13022412_10208917292630383_904671961_n

Located in the very north of India and sharing its borders with Pakistan and China, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is a highly politicised and conflictual region of India. It has been at the heart of the territorial animosity between India and Pakistan since 1947. Deeply rooted in a patriarchal tradition, the region has always been governed by men until April 4th when Mehbooba Mufti, a 56 years old Muslim woman, was elected as Chief Minister (CM).

Mehbooba Mufti’s predecessor was her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who passed away in January 2016 after years as politician in J&K and at the national level. He was indeed, Home Minister in India from 1989 to 1990. He was a significant figure in J&K due to his long lasting investment in the political struggle of the region. He therefore had a strong footprint in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir, as a strong advocate of the re-establishment of dialogue between India and Pakistan, Sayeed helped by his daughter, founded his own political party the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999 which he presided until his death in January[1]. With his party he was elected CM twice in 2002 and 2014.

The region Mehbooba Mufti is now responsible of, is a very diverse one in which communities are highly pronounced. Indeed, Jammu’s population consists of 66% of Hindus and 30% of Muslims whereas the Kashmir valley is mostly inhabited by Muslims (95%). There are two main political parties in the region, Mufti’s party, the PDP which supports a reinforcement and appeasement of relations between India and Pakistan. And Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s party the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). Since the general elections of 2014, both parties form an unstable coalition, in which Mehbooba will have to obtain consensus and to maintain cooperation in order to avoid a split and a destabilization of the region’s politics. Furthermore, as most of India, Jammu and Kashmir are embedded in a patriarchal society where the place of women is perceived through their gender role as mother, sister and daughter[2].

With a woman holding the reins of such a patriarchal region as J&K, does Mehbooba have the possibility to improve the conditions of women in the area? How far can she go? And last but not least, is the population concerned with the resolution of gender based discriminations or does it perceive other issues as more urgent?

Who is Mehbooba Mufti?

Elected to succeed her father on April 4th as Chief Minister of J&K, Mehbooba Mufti’s first plans of career were not to represent the citizens of J&K as an elected CM but rather to evolve in the domain of law and justice. According to herself, she entered politics “by accident” encouraged by her father. He, indeed, convinced her to be involved in politics in order to help him. Consequently, in 1996, she was convinced by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to run the elections of Bijbehara (town in the South of Kashmir) which she won. Her commitment to politics grew as time flew by and after having helped the foundation of her father’s party, she was elected in the 2004 and 2014 general elections in the Lok Sabha (the National Assembly’s low Chamber). She has political experience permitting her to build a strong image in the region.

Mehbooba’s qualities have convinced the local population as she has always been devoted to help citizens. In fact, it has been reported that she was a significant support for families of victims and especially women who lost children or husbands in the armed conflicts animating the Kashmir region[3]. In addition, after the floods that struck the region in 2014, she was very concerned about the post-flood management and drew the attention of the Prime Minister to provide financial and humanitarian help, she obtained economic support for relief and rehabilitation measures.[4] Her closeness with the population has helped her built a strong relationship based on trust and help. In the eyes of her father, his daughter’s involvement has proved successful, he said that “she built the party and she is better connected with the masses. I think she is talented enough to run the state”[5]. Her father’s dream has been accomplished and she now runs the state.

What are the implications of a woman ruling a patriarchal state? Mehbooba is, according to her daughters an “emancipated woman” who always promoted freedom in the house, she is a divorced woman strongly committed to her job and who loves her role in the society. Even her personal life differs from the tradition animating the country has she does not depend from any man. This is a true revolution for a woman to be elected at the head of a region in such a country as India where human rights are often baffled and where the place of women is dictated by a masculine figure.

However, as revolutionary as her nomination is, it is important to bear in mind that Mehbooba does not come from the very bottom of the Indian society and that she entered politics under her father’s protection. She has not crossed the gaps dictated by the caste society but rather benefited from her dynastic origins[6].  Though it represents a true evolution as she has been elected by the popular vote of the citizens of J&K, her origins helped her to reach the political realm easily which would not be the case for every woman in India.

How can she, as an elected woman at the head of such a geopolitically significant state, change the rules of the society and improve the gender perceptions and reduce the men/women gap? Does she have scope to fundamentally modify the caste system and promote women’s right at the regional and why not national level?

12992135_10208917292870389_1754080292_n

Women’s rights in India

India is the largest democracy in the world, however, in the political realm, women are highly under-represented both as voters and as participants to the elections. Indeed, according to the think tank Delhi Policy Group, in the General Elections of 2009, “women comprised 6.9% of the total contestants out of which only 10.9% were elected”[7]. In addition, despite an increasing number of feminine voters, inequalities in absolute numbers are significant. There were at least 38 million more men than women registered in voting in the electorate in 2014[8]. Gender inequalities in political representation in India affect gender based discriminations at the national level. Indeed, as women politicians are lacking in the political scene, the patriarchal traditions remain and do not change. As a matter of consequence, India was ranked 144th in the World Rankings of Women in National Parliaments with 12% of women representation in 2016[9].

Despite attempts to improve the situation, the society is strongly settled in patriarchal traditions usually opposing or slowing projects of modernisation. For example, in 1999 was introduced the Women’s reservation bill. It was supposed to guarantee a 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha (the low Chamber) and state assemblies for 15 years which would have permitted an increasing presence of women in the realm of politics.  Though not guaranteeing parity the bill would have been a first step to desecrate the established place of women towards more representation and responsibilities. It would have opened the gate towards enhanced reforms on the place of women. However, fierce opposition to the bill emerged and it never passed. The Indian society is scared of crossing the threshold of evolution of the place of women as it remains highly dependent on the traditions and on masculine rule.

Established traditions and modernizing politics are often in conflict barring the road towards improvements and dismantling hopes towards a short coming equalitarian society. Indeed, the Mumbai high court granted women the fundamental right to enter temples in early April 2016 in the state of Maharashtra (West of India) considering that men as well as women have the right to worship everywhere. This happened after petitions and protests emerged in the state. Indeed, women are barred by the tradition to enter certain temples but recently a group of women called the “Women Warriors of Mother Earth” (Bhumata Ranragini Brigade) decided to march into temples and to exercise their right to pray[10].  However the ‘modern’ decision of the court to grant women the right to enter temples displeased some more traditional people. Following the authorisation of the high court, women attempted to enter the traditionally only opened to men temple of Shingnapur. Despite the law, villagers opposed their action which resulted in violence, interviewed by news channels, a villager declared: “our age-old tradition cannot be violated. Our village has decided that women cannot be allowed into the inner sanctum”[11]. The gap between traditions and modernity is not ready to be filled and women rights improvements are a second hand consideration.

Considering the recent events in the West of India and the general conditions of women in a male dominated society as India, how can concretely Mehbooba improve the situation in her region but also at the national level? Is it feasible? What role can she play in the improvement of female representation?

How can Mehbooba bring change to J&K or to India?

“I don’t think gender has anything to do with your capability to govern”[12] said Mehbooba Mufti. In an interview given in December 2015, she explained her vision of the improvements of women conditions in J&K and argued that “we are focused on providing various skills to females to make them employable and self-supporting”[13]. Mehbooba carries with her role as CM a real sense of hope for women to reach male dominated sectors. She believes that “only when we have women in governance will we be able to construct a system to help [women]”[14]. This exceptional nomination also brings hope among women within the society, therefore Rekha Chowdhary, a university professor states that “rather than remaining an individual achievement, this should be translated into a gender advantage” as well as “social, economic and political empowerment of women”[15]. The perspective of a woman leading the region carries enthusiasm and optimism for the coming years concerning the improvement of women representation and consideration in the Indian society.

However, several newspapers have interviewed J&K citizens about their expectations on Mehbooba’s governance and despite the real hope she represents, she is expected to resolve other issues dominating the political scene. Therefore, Mehbooba’s ascent to the reins of the region is perceived by Essar Batool, a writer and social worker as being “symbolic”[16] more than as a real solution to the male dominated society. Furthermore, issues of unemployment and corruption are more concerning for the population. Indeed, citizens argue that there is a need to build a “right atmosphere of trust”[17] in the region in order to improve the general life conditions. As a matter of fact, in 2012, J&K was one of the regions with the highest unemployment rates in India, reaching 5.3% of the population[18]. Therefore the population, already anchored in patriarchal perceptions more than in women’s right improvements, prefers Mehbooba to fulfil her duty and respond to economic issues to improve everyone’s life rather than just a portion of the society. Finally, even her daughters believe that “her election should not be viewed through the prism of gender but performance and rigor to fulfil people’s expectations”[19]. Despite the social threshold she crossed by being nominated, the population of J&K does not perceive it as a revolution but rather trust her for the potential benefits she can bring in improving the economic and social life in general.

As a conclusion, despite Mehbooba’s election as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir in April and the hopes for women it carries in the region and at the national level, it is hard to believe that her nomination will really change the patriarchal framework of the region. Indeed, she has plans to improve women life but she also has other considerations dominating her mandate such as the crumbling of the political coalition with the opposite party and social and economic issues such as unemployment. However it is important to bear in mind that her nomination as a woman is a rare achievement and that it does somehow carry potential attempts to lower the influence of the patriarchal tradition if combined with national political decisions; as Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said “you can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women”.

Sources:

[1] http://www.elections.in/political-leaders/mufti-mohammad-sayeed.html

[2] http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/silvered-lining/mehbooba-mufti-victor-and-the-victorious

[3] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-30585105

[4] http://www.elections.in/political-leaders/mehbooba-mufti.html

[5] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-30585105

[6] http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/silvered-lining/mehbooba-mufti-victor-and-the-victorious

[7] Apoorva Rathod, “Women’s political participation and representation in India”, Delhi Policy Group, April 2014.

[8] Ibid.

[9] http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm

[10] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-35941073

[11] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/04/women-activists-blocked-entering-temple-india-160402143411284.html

[12] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/mehbooba-mufti-jammu-kashmir-swearing-in-ceremony/

[13] http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/mehbooba-mufti-s-grand-plans-for-women-in-the-valley/story-CA8WWHJtcUoqU9A6jO7rJP.html

[14] Ibid

[15] http://www.firstpost.com/politics/mehbooba-mufti-sworn-in-as-first-woman-cm-of-jammu-and-kashmir-heres-how-five-women-see-this-development-2711286.html

[16]http://www.dw.com/en/first-female-leader-inherits-difficult-legacy-in-indian-kashmir/a-19174245

[17] http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/mehbooba-mufti-can-only-hope-that-tension-in-nit-srinagar-is-not-a-sign-of-things-to-come/articleshow/51757752.cms

[18] http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/news/jk-has-6-lakh-jobless-youth/114847.html

[19] http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2016-04-05/news/72070401_1_mehbooba-mufti-two-sisters-two-daughters

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,
Advertisements