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In a male bastion

Shillong, Feb. 20: The participation of women in active politics today is encouraged as it is considered that social issues are best addressed by women, although the traditional set-up of the village councils illustrates that women were never a part of the decision making process.

Women’s participation in the voting process in matrilineal Meghalaya becomes more imperative as the February 23 polls will see women as the deciding factor.

Like in the 2008 Assembly polls, this time, too, it will be the women who will adjudicate as to who from the 345 candidates in fray will enter the 60-member House. From the 15,02,509 general electors, 7,59,200 are women.

The case was similar five years ago where of 12,32,908 electors, 6,26,711 were women.

But ironically, only one from the 19 women candidates emerged victorious in the 2008 polls - M. Ampareen Lyngdoh from the then Laitumkhrah constituency as a United Democratic Party (UDP) nominee.

This time, there are 25 women candidates in the fray - Congress (six), UDP (five), and HSPDP, KHNAM, Rashtriya Secular Party and BJP with one each. The NCP has fielded two candidates, while eight are contesting as Independents.

But elections aside, the prospects of issues relating to women being addressed remain at the highest level when the formation of a new government is due.

As the battle draws near, The Telegraph spoke to a few women who highlighted issues that need to be addressed sooner than later by those who will be at the helm of affairs.

Meghalaya State Commission for Women chairperson Theilin Phanbuh, who believes that the new government will not have an easy ride, said, “People are alert on various issues and this will be a challenge for the new government. It will have to handle problems related to women in a better way. The lacuna in the legal system needs to be stressed.”

The five-year stint of the previous government has not been struck off as a complete failure.

“There were initiatives undertaken, implementation of which was a failure,” said Rica Lamar, former vice-chairperson of the women's commission.

She added that a major problem in the state was that crimes against women were not being addressed in the right manner.

“The government has to sensitise the policemen as in many cases, attempts were made to reach a compromise between two parties. This applies to medical personnel, magistrates and section officers as well,” she said.

On being asked about the immediate necessities that need to be addressed by the new government, Lamar pointed out that shelters for women (one in each district) together with crisis centres, were the undeniable need of the hour.

“Even the forensic science laboratory is not adequate and samples have to be sent outside,” she pointed out, adding that the women's commission also needed to be more proactive.

“Above all, the focus of the government should not be urban-centric but rural-centric as well,” she said.

A rightful approach to problem solving is the minimum expectation from a majority of women.

“Monitoring and evaluation is necessary for the implementation of schemes for the poor and oppressed to ensure transparency in the flow of funds so that designated target groups are the real beneficiaries,” said Lahun D. Rumnong, programme assistant at North East Network, an NGO.

Another programme assistant, Balarisha Lyngdoh, feels that some issues like safer public spaces for women need to be addressed urgently.

“Health settings in rural areas are in a shambles and need to be improved,” said Rida Shullai, a Bachelor of Social Work student who also feels that the differently-abled category has been invisible and not paid heed to when it came to any policy or reservation.

The inability of the world’s largest democracy to guarantee security of half its population is indeed a moral crisis. It impacts the economic front as well.

Yet, it has achieved these gains with astonishingly low economic participation by women; those who enter the business world often find themselves in chauvinistic and threatening work environments. Meghalaya, in general, is very much in the same frame.

As suggested by a large group of women, including single mothers, a congenial environment needs to be created to enable women to participate actively in entrepreneurial activities.

There is a need for government, non-governmental, promotional and regulatory agencies to come forward and play a supportive role in promoting women entrepreneurs in Meghalaya.

A certain section of the women's community is, however, apprehensive. “Every five years, people keep getting fooled by the same ideologies and I am not even voting because once the frenzy is over, it is back to square one,” said a resident of Kharmalki Lane, Malki, who, like some Nehu research scholars, feels that more than the government, the NGOs can be seen as an answer to issues, unless there is an equal representation of women in the government.

How many of the 25 candidates will eventually make it into the 60-member House? The answer can be answered by women themselves.