By Shravani Prakash. First published on Youth Ki Awaaz
Call it a case of FOMO but I am really hoping that India doesn’t get left out of an emerging global mega-trend – a trend that can potentially have significant consequences on the country’s long-run economic growth and prosperity. I am talking about the trend which made 2018 a historical year – that of record number of women contesting in national elections, winning their seats and increasing representation of women in parliaments and legislative bodies in many countries around the world.
The year saw a “pink-wave” sweep across the world, from America to Spain to Bahrain to Ethiopia and beyond, and I literally felt goosebumps every time I saw images of these women in power flashed all over the media and when I thought about the kind of impression they would have created on the citizens of their country.
And now I am harbouring a burning desire to see this pink-wave sweep into India in 2019!
The upcoming General Elections are perhaps the only chance for India in the next 5 years to catch up with this global trend and increase the percentage of women in Parliament from the current 11% (nearly the lowest in the World). I do know that for this to happen, we would first need enough number of women candidates to even stand for elections – and that is, unfortunately, looking as unlikely as it ever did because no national political party has yet come out with any commitment to field more women in the elections.
But even then, since the elections are just around the corner and parties are still finalising their candidates’ lists as we read this, I thought I will put out these 10 images to illustrate how women in political power in different parts of the world are inspirational and why I so badly want to see more women leading the country!
#1 and #2 India’s Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj
Whenever I see these pictures of Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as the only women standing in between male peers at Multilateral meetings – I feel inspired to give up the feelings of discomfort that come with being the “odd-one-out” in the room. Every time I think that I don’t “fit into” a gathering or I am shorter than the rest or I am conscious about being dressed differently – I think of these ladies and their confidence, oratory skills and ability to be themselves while retaining their Indian identity in saris. And I really wish to see many more such images of many more power-women from India, as they are real role models for women of the country to rise and shine in a “man’s world”.
#3 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the other 100 American Women Elected To Office In 2018
The backstory of the 100 plus women who were elected to office in America in 2018 – the “Year of the Woman” – is inspirational. The record number of who women ran for office- nearly 4,000- were mostly women from the Democratic Party who were powered by a female-led resistance movement forged in opposition to Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton two years ago. The movement was supported by female political operatives that assisted candidates with everything from fundraising to figuring out how to balance childcare with campaigns. I’m sure that the coming of these ladies to power would have given hope and assurance to American women that their voice and demands will now be heard and addressed.
The most inspirational among the new lot of women in American politics is 29-year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest ever Congresswoman. She is dynamic and articulate, had worked as a bartender only months before being nominated by her party and has openly taken on Donald Trump on various issues. When Republicans leaked an old video of her as a college student dancing on a rooftop in an attempt to embarrass her, she responded by posting a video of herself dancing into her office in Congress! All of this has made “AOC” the face of a new generation of American progressive politicians who has been able to fire up younger, millennial voters. And we in India could surely do with some young women like Ocasio-Cortez to inspire the youth that is fast losing faith in its Government!
#4 New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a great example that shows women have different leadership styles than men and can bring about global mindset changes that men just can’t. The pictures of the pregnant Prime Minister or those of her sitting with her baby in the UN General Assembly inspired the working mother in me to stop using my child as an excuse for holding back my career! Her deliberate moves to include her baby in her work life would now mean that every woman in her country and around the world can cite her example to confidently demand support from employers and from husbands in times of need!
More recently, viral images of PM Ardern wearing a hijab and hugging members of the Muslim community after the Christchurch mosque’s attack on 15th March, 2019 are pretty overwhelming. Her compassionate and heartfelt response to the incident displayed an unprecedented style of leadership and a “feminine” touch to dealing with the global issue of terrorism. And it really gives me hope that having more women in similar roles might bring peaceful solutions to terror and border issues facing India as well.
#5 and # 6 Theresa May, PM of UK and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
“Brexit” is going to change the history of the global economy. It will have an impact not just on the UK and European Union but on trade and economic prospects of the entire world. And the process of negotiating the most favourable terms for Brexit is almost entirely being led by PM Theresa May and Chancellor Angela Markel – the two most powerful women in the World today. These women are live examples to prove that women leaders, with their own unique leadership styles, can achieve nothing less than what men can do and do not shy away from dealing with tough situations.
#7 Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet of Ministers Elected In 2015
When Justin Trudeau became Canada’s new prime minister in 2015, he inducted 15 women and 15 men into his Cabinet, giving a gender balanced ministerial team that for the first time in the country’s history. When asked why? He simply answered: “Because it’s 2015”. And I think that’s the best logic that can be given every Prime Minister who, in 2019, STILL needs convincing that his cabinet must have a gender balance!
#8 Spain’s Cabinet of Ministers Elected in 2018
Spain elected more women than men in its cabinet in 2018 and the picture of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez with the 11 women who were chosen in his 17-strong cabinet team is a real picture of male leaders giving women a place of equality. I am pretty sure that with this move, the PM can actually demand this kind of equality and diversity initiatives from every citizen and every business in his country – unlike a Government that itself does not reflect a commitment to gender equality.
#9 Japan’s “Womenomics”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Womenomics” package of reforms to increase and retain women in the workforce has not only included measures to encourage the private sector to promote more women but also included initiatives to recruit and promote more women in the Government and public institutions. And thanks to these measures, Japan has increased its Female Labour Force Participation to 67% in 2018. For me, this is another example of how a Government’s commitment to correct its own gender balance can give it the power to demand the private sector to employ and promote more women to leadership roles and Board positions.
#10 Rwanda’s Women Dominated Parliament
Rwanda has the highest proportion of women in Parliament in the world (68%). But the story of how they achieved this is interesting. In the aftermath of a genocide in 1994 that killed almost 1 million people in the country, 60-70% of the remaining population in Rwanda was female. This extreme situation pushed more women to get educated and join workplaces as there was no choice. Yet, in the 1990s, women made up 18% of Rwandan Parliament members. But after a 2003 Constitutional quota of 30% of women Parliament members was initiated, the number gradually jumped to 64% after the 2013 elections and 68% in 2018. Consequently, Rwanda is ranked 6th in the Global Gender Gap report despite being the 19th poorest country in the World. This is pretty much a good-enough, standalone pitch for having gender quotas in Parliament a passing the Women’s Reservation Bill in India!
These are just some images that inspired me to dream about an India led by more powerful women in politics who can be role models for all of us women and men in the country. There are already enough and more statistically backed reasons as to why India needs more women in political leadership. If the Parliament does not reflect the trend of more women getting educated and achieving excellence, they will face a crisis of credibility in the future. The Government will also be unable to partner with businesses and citizens to collectively take actions to make India a better place for women.
Therefore, I feel that all of us need to come together to help achieve the gender balance needed in the Government – women with political aspirations must come forward to show their prowess, political parties need to give more tickets to women candidates and all of us Indian citizens need to give unbiased votes to deserving female candidates in our constituencies. This is not a case of women’s empowerment or a subject which woman alone need to fight for – it is a demand for actions that are vital for the sustained social and economic growth and prosperity of the whole country.