When elections to the Urban Local Bodies were to take place in February 2017, it presented us with the first opportunity in Nagaland to observe how women campaign for political positions on a large scale, what challenges they face and how they overcome them. What are women’s experiences as political representatives?
This was not to be as women were bullied out of the campaign trail even before they could step out of the house—one woman candidate’s husband was asked by male community counterparts to find another wife to run the kitchen!
Recently, one of the women who had aspired to run for the ULB elections was elected as the first chairperson of a colony council in Dimapur. Many men supported her, but many were offended. An educated young man from the colony wondered, is there no man here that we have to let a woman lead us? When her position became stronger in a run up to the council elections, some male members of the colony council attempted to change the system itself to make it selection based. However, many in the colony had benefitted from her leadership over the years and no matter which way the tide turned, she emerged a winner.
In the general elections, she could not contest because, “my hard earned wealth will never match up to the amount that the men in power have made.” The reality of elections in Nagaland is this: money decides your candidature at times and your win most of the time. Clean election campaigns have made a small dent but there is a long way to go. In the meantime, women make little money from the male-dominated state structure (from contract works, for instance), markets (women mostly run small informal sectors) or inheritance (few women may inherit bought property but never any traditional property).
Without an extra push to get women into political systems, as well as change attitudes towards women leaders, there will always be too few to fight a system unjustly pitted against them.
In the Nagaland Legislative Assembly election, 2018, five women candidates have taken up the fight nonetheless.
One of them is a young independent candidate. Many people in her constituency expected her to withdraw after the decision of her community not to support her in favour of the incumbent, a several-times minister. She did not withdraw. She continues to visit her constituents, particularly women and young people—in several villages of her constituency, women are freely able to communicate with her about their issues. She keeps her poll promises simple and doable.
As a farm based entrepreneur, she was able to struggle through the shackles to emerge as a public leader. But many women in Nagaland are systemically forced to stay at home (or on the field), tending to children, washing, cooking, fighting the added burden of poverty and piling debts. There are also many women who have had tremendous opportunities, say, in education; yet, they are unable to break through to the political field given the advantage men have over women from a young age, including opportunities to freely mingle with various sections of society without prejudice, attend public meetings, speak at these meetings as leaders, with confidence instilled to become public leaders.
Can Nagaland create an enabling environment for women to become public leaders? Can political parties do more to support and strengthen women candidates? Can political structures in the State formulate their own policies to facilitate women’s leadership (since 33% reservation is being rejected)? Can the church bring more women to lead a congregation from the pulpit? Can financial structures give women more access to wealth? Can the media focus more on what women leaders need and how to meet those needs? Can we focus on what the women electorate wants? Can we begin to ask, “Is there no woman here?”
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