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The Real Losers In The Northeast: Women

Angel Mohan & Alison Saldanha,
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Mumbai: While the national-ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made unprecedented electoral gains in India’s northeast after assembly elections in Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland, women’s representation remains below India’s average and has declined further in Meghalaya and Tripura, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of electoral data.


Barely 3%, or six of 180 seats, across the three state assemblies (60 seats for each state) have gone to women–three each in Meghalaya and Tripura and none in Nagaland, show election data in this March 2018 report by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-partisan advocacy.


This is a third of the national average of women representatives in state assemblies (9%), and a quarter of women’s representation in Parliament (12%), as IndiaSpend reported on March 8, 2016. Globally, India ranks 148 among 193 member-nations of the UN for women’s representation in parliament.


The low representation across these states comes despite a 48% rise in the number of women contesting elections in the three states this year–from 42 women in 2013 to 62 in 2018.


Women’s representation in decision-making is critical for socio-economic and political transformations, shows this UN study on women’s political participation and leadership.


Low participation of women in politics in the northeast region runs contrary to their performance on other gender development indices–where these states rank among the best in India–as IndiaSpend reported here, here and here.


Nagaland: No woman elected in 55 years


In a continuing trend since the state was formed in 1963, no woman has been elected to the Nagaland state assembly.


For the first time in 15 years since 2003, the state recorded five women contesting the elections, according to this ADR state report. In 2003, three women stood for the election; none were elected. In these 15 years, no woman stood or contested elections in Nagaland.


On a number of gender development indicators, Naga women do better than the Indian average. Fewer women here suffer from anaemia (23.9%), are forced into early marriage before 18 years of age (13.3%) or report spousal violence (12.7%). Most women in the state (97.4%) have a say in household decisions.


Source: Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) report 2018 and Election Commission of India reports 2013, 2008 and 2003


Tripura: High female literacy but scant women MLAs


In Tripura, of 297 candidates who contested the 2018 assembly elections, 24 were women, shows this ADR state report. While this is nine more women than in 2013 (15), only three were elected–two fewer than in 2013 and equal to the state’s female representation in 2008.  


The newly elected women representatives include two from the BJP, which won 35 seats, displacing the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M). Of the 16 successful candidates of the CPI-M, one is a woman.


In the previous state assembly election in 2013, fewer women (15) had contested the election. Yet five were elected, two more than this term.


This low representation persists despite Tripura’s female literacy rate (89.5%) being among India’s highest, as IndiaSpend reported on February 17, 2018.


Source: Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) report 2018 and Election Commission of India reports 2013, 2008 and 2003


Meghalaya: 33 women contested, three won


In matrilineal Meghalaya–where family descent is traced through the mother rather than the father–33 of 370 candidates standing for the 2018 state assembly elections were women, according to this state report by ADR.


Of these, three women, or 5% of 59 members of the legislative assembly, were elected. The state recorded its highest representation over the last 15 years since 2003 in 2013 when four of 25 women who stood for the elections won.


In the recent elections, the Congress was the single largest party, garnering 21 seats of which two are held by women.


The BJP, with two seats–both held by male candidates–forged an alliance with National People’s Party (NPP), United Democratic Party, Hill State People’s Democratic Party and the People’s Democratic Front to form the government in the state.


The new coalition has one woman elected from the NPP, which won 19 seats.


Meghalaya boasts of one of the best literacy rates (82.8%) for women in the country and has amongst the lowest rates of early marriage (16.9%). Most women in the state (91.4%) have a say in household decisions–higher than the national average (84%). However, the matrilineal state’s performance on gender indices has been slipping, as IndiaSpend reported on February 26, 2018: From 2006 to 2016, the rate of crime against women has risen three-fold from 7.1 per 100,000 population to 26.7.


Source: Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) report 2018 and Election Commission of India reports 2013, 2008 and 2003


Anomaly of women’s empowerment in the northeast


Most of the states in the northeast region, like the rest of India, follow a patriarchal structure.


Last year, in February 2017, violence broke out over women’s political participation in municipal elections in Nagaland, killing two persons.


Traditional tribal bodies vehemently protested the imposition of Article 243 (T) in the state, which mandates 33% reservation for women belonging to scheduled castes and tribes in urban local bodies. The law was viewed by men as an infringement on Naga tradition and customs, as protected under Article 371(A) of the Constitution, and the state government argued it would impede the fragile peace in Nagaland, the Hindu reported on February 8, 2017.


Women’s groups, such as the Nagaland Mothers’ Association and Joint Action Committee for Women’s Reservation, challenged the state assembly’s decision in the Guwahati High Court, and later the Supreme Court, which upheld the women’s right to participation.


Traditional Naga law clearly defines gender roles and gendered responsibilities, explains this article in the Conversation from March, 2017. While men deal with societal issues, including village administration and councils, women are in charge of domestic issues and kept out of public office.


Even in Meghalaya, matriliny serves to reinforce tradition more than empower women, according to this 2012 Shillong Times report. “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,” the report said.


“What makes it different from the rest of India is that the women in these societies have spaces where they can get organised, prioritise their agenda, voice their opinion and enact within their prescribed normative condition,” explained this April 2017 paper in the Indian Sociological Society, a journal. “The difficulty arises when these spaces get a defined rigidity. Political space has largely been an exclusive domain of men. Hence decision making and policy intervention takes a back seat for these women.”


(Mohan is an intern and Saldanha is an assistant editor with IndiaSpend.)


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