Women and politics Is voting enough?
By Sagun Basnet
The euphoria over the larger participation of women voters in the recent CA poll has pervaded dailies for quite some time. No doubt, women’s participation as voters or candidates bolsters politics with a myriad of alternative perspectives. However, is counting the participation in quantitative terms and not paying due attention to qualitative terms enough even if they are passive minions of their family’s thinking without any voice in decision-making?
My friend Madhu Todi and I have had an opportunity to research on the reasons for which women vote in four polling booths of Kathmandu constituency — 1 on the very day. This short study of mapping 100 women’s political participation can be a beginning in honing a framework of analysis which may be useful in exploring a multitude of structural inequalities that manifests even in democratic franchise.
There is an inferred understanding in the fact that Constituent Assembly is the process of formulating new constitution, including equal participation of all sections of people. Therefore, the participation of half of the population is significant to create a constitution which is made by the people for the people. Women’s quantitative participation in mainstream procedures cannot automatically lead to their advancement and gender equality. The level and nature of participation is equally important to determine whether women are able to share development gains.
The perception of women voters at a time when voices of equality dot the cityscape and their level of awareness on whom to vote make the issue of increased women’s political participation of paramount importance. This becomes more pertinent because the psycho-social constructions of femininity, which takes the form of disciplinary power, connect women to subservience. For Foucault the disciplinary power which is initially directed towards disciplining the body takes hold of the mind as well to induce a psychological state of consciousness. Thus the cultural logic that spotlights values such as cooperation and not competition are internalized by them.
The values of normalcy and deviancy are established by the society perpetuating the idea that politics is too rational a field for women to make decisions and it is normal for women to follow the male at this juncture. Thus, the question of women and politics and the meaning of participation are inseparable from the broader framework of unequal relationship between women and men in all spheres of life that has further been internalized by women. The assertion of the write-up then is that the perception of women’s participation is gendered and their own response is gendered.
The mere act of voting does not necessarily indicate the nature of voters’ political awareness. The study analyzed the interviews derived with the help of a checklist in four categories, that is, social class, age, education and employment and found that some of the women treated the day of voting as a welcome break from their dull and tiring routine, some were driven by their economic and personal benefits and strikingly most of them voted according to the advice of the head of the family who is a male member.
While analyzing from education’s perspective, it was difficult to believe that most of the women who had gained education of secondary or university level too were guided by their families on whom to vote. The same results surfaced when the analysis was done from employment’s category. The women in business sector were the highest number of followers of family’s advices and women holding offices followed suit. However, the student seemed having more propensities towards economic and personal benefits that included employment.
The entire checklist showed that most women in all categories were guided by their family and they took it as normal. Political participation here is more than voting rights; it refers specifically to the decision-making processes that guide the affairs of governments and affects the lives of the citizens of a country. The claims that women are assuming roles previously restricted to men, for the most part are true; but it would be imprudent not to recognize that there are still numerous psycho-social causes that hinder the women’s decision making capacities.
It was found that women generally do not think that they have the capacities to make decisions. Even if they recognize the capacities, they deliberately introverted themselves as they feel, attempting to change the order of “it’s the male who decides”, will either lead to a clash of opinions, friction or even conflict in the family. The very reason that women deliberately do not manipulate their franchise if it seems to create conflict in their family also finds its roots in the internalization of the culture that always taught that women should be caring, giving and not asking. The internalized notions of being a “good” woman prove to be an epistemic violence at this point.
This internalization was found to pervade and shape women’s psyche irrespective of their locations. Urbanization per se did not seem to have much influence on women’s qualitative participation in the elections. As the research pronounces, how can a true democracy be comprehended when women’s activism is obscured by the fact that women’s language of determination flows from their socio-cultural positions where they internalize the idea that women are born nurturers?
Voting and declaration in the constitution do not bestow equal status. The gender role as an ideological tool has become one of the vital factors that shape the level of women’s political participation. The question still remains when will the ritual of defining the essence of the woman through the men in her family even in democracy find an alternative?
Published in the Kathmandu Post on: 2008-04-28 19:01:14