Women are seeking empowerment, not accommodation

The demand of women for empowerment has become stronger day by day. As women become more and more conscious of their oppression, as they realise their own capacities with their growing participation in the workforce and in the world outside of their homes, they are demanding an end to their marginalization.

The demand of women for empowerment has become stronger day by day. As women become more and more conscious of their oppression, as they realise their own capacities with their growing participation in the workforce and in the world outside of their homes, they are demanding an end to their marginalization. As large sections of women continue to be treated as far less than human beings, work under the most beastly conditions inside and outside their homes, are vulnerable to heinous crimes and violence, and have no say over anything in their lives, they are demanding that they be empowered to end this oppression. They are demanding power to decide matters that affect their lives and their families.

Women want the power to participate in politics, to become representatives of their communities, to be able to make laws in their interests and to make sure they are enforced. They want a deciding and responsible role in the affairs of society.

Where are the resources of this country going? How can they ensure a decent life for themselves and their families? How can their safety and security be ensured through legislation and enforcement of such legislation? These are just some of the questions on which women want to have their say.

The women's movement placed the question of women’s empowerment firmly on the agenda and has been fighting for this demand over the last two and a half decades. At the beginning of the nineties, the government introduced legislation to allow reservation for women in local bodies, that is, the elected panchayats, municipal corporations and boards. Many women did come forward aspiring to participate in the decision making for their community. However, this was neither substantial nor sustained. On the one hand, local governments (panchayats and municipal bodies) have very limited power to make decisions and very little financial means to implement any community-determined programme. On the other, women had to belong to one of the established political parties to be able to stand for elections and be elected. This in effect reduced them to 'representatives" of their parties and not their constituencies. In fact, this ensured that only women related to dominant male members of these parties even had a chance to stand for elections.

The illusion of empowerment of women at the local level was broken. However, women have not given up on the struggle for empowerment and in response to their insistent demands, the carrot of 33% reservation for women in the Parliament and state legislatures has been dangled in front of women as the most “promising gift”

The question before women is: will this accommodation deliver the promise of empowerment of women? Women need to understand the truth that under the existing system of democracy and its political process, neither they nor the vast majority of men can actually wield power. The fact is that in this existing capitalist democracy, the working men and women who constitute the vast majority of the population are completely marginalised. It is the capitalists who rule; a small section of society which is rich and powerful has the power to make laws in their own interest. This minority class rules through a powerful centre in the control of some ministers in the government; very little is decided outside of this centre, and neither the parliament nor any of its members have any real say in matters of policy. The elections are used by a few established political parties to send such representatives as will do the bidding of their parties, which are supported and funded by one or other capitalist interests.

The role of the people is limited to casting a vote in the elections to the Parliament, the state legislatures and the local bodies. The critical power to select the candidates with a common symbol across constituencies lies in the hands of the high commands of a few ‘recognised’ political parties that are well connected with the big business interests. It is the parties of the ruling class, backed by massive funds and muscle power, which dominate the political process. The parties that compete for power in this system act on behalf of the big capitalist corporations even while they speak in the name of the vast majority of people.

In sum, the Indian state is an instrument of oppression for the majority and an instrument for implementing the interests of the minority capitalist class. Accordingly, the entire machinery of the state – the government, the parliament, the police, the army and the judiciary – is used to oppress and not to meet the needs of the people. Women are unable to enforce even those laws that have been passed in response to the persistent struggles of women. Women have never been able to count on the police, the army or the courts to defend women's rights; on the contrary these very same institutions have been guilty of violation of such rights.

Without addressing the real content and logic of the existing system of democracy and its political process, getting more women into the legislative bodies at any level will not lead us even one step further towards the empowerment of the masses. Any such move will only serve to create an illusion of women’s power, as it is the bourgeois class that will continue to exercise power.

The women of India have not fought and sacrificed all these years just for the illusion of power. They must reject the path of accommodation within the existing political process, and instead fight for a thoroughgoing overhaul of this process. They must fight for a new system in which power will reside with the majority of people. Women must actively participate in innovating a new process of decision-making, wherein the masses of women and working men are together the masters of society and directly participate in ruling themselves. They must fight for a political process where women’s organisations enjoy the right to select candidates for election, and where political parties cannot usurp power but have to enable the people to exercise power

To strengthen themselves as a political force, women must build and strengthen their own organisations. They must create forums and mechanisms for women to raise their concerns, the concerns of their families and communities for a decent human life, for a life free from violence, with security of livelihood for all those who toil. They must strive to participate actively alongside men in the struggle against the anti-social offensive and in defence of rights. It is by coming forward to set the agenda for society that women will realise their collective strength, and be able to change their conditions.

Women must not be diverted from this struggle nor accept anything short of political empowerment. The majority of women must actively participate in governance, alongside the majority of men, having a decisive and equal say as members of the polity in all matters affecting the life of society.

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