33% Women Reservation Bill in Nagaland:An analysis from women view point

Throughout the world, systems of social stratification are gendered, based on differential evaluation of males and females.  Social and Economic indicators for developing countries consistently show that women bear the brunt of hardship in poor communities. At the same time, women are key agents for effective implementation of poverty reduction programmes and economic regeneration. A large number of gender issues continue to determine the nature and shape of our society like most traditional societies where women do not enjoy an average quality of life equal to that of men in terms of life expectancy, developmental intervention, health, morality, access to education, access to employment, access to legal freedoms and the meaningful exercise of civil and political rights.
Women and men are physically different based on the biological factor. Women as compared to men are more disadvantaged politically, socially, culturally, economically and have less access to and control over productive resources due to socio-cultural factors, exclusion in decision making and lack developmental intervention. The result of gendered inequality leads to unequal distribution of resources, power, prestige, property and non-participation in decision making on the basis of sex.

Despite many improvements in the status of women, there are still gender inequalities:
•    2/3rd of the world’s Illiterate is female.
•    Nearly 70% of the world's poorest people are female.
•    Women represent a growing proportion of people living with HIV/AIDS.
•    Only 16 countries in the world have women’s representation in national parliaments above 25%
•    Women own less than 10 % of the world’s property
•    Women’s contributions to the global economy are growing rapidly but their labour remains undervalued and undercounted in national accounts.
•    An estimated one-quarter to one half of all women suffered physical abuse.
•    Men also suffer from gender inequalities with increasing male mortality rates, suicide rates that far surpass women, increasing social isolation, and problems related to alcohol, drugs and other substance abuse.
       Source:    http://hdr.undp.org/docs/nhdr/thematic_reviews/Gender_Guidance_Note" t "_parent"

There is a growing awareness around the world that policies and measures affect women and men in different ways and one need to implement special measures to ensure a full recognition of women’s and men’s interests and needs. Many policy makers around the world have become aware of the importance of integrating both men and women in decision making for effective gender mainstreaming with gender responsive and gender sensitive policies and plans with the realization that women and men have different needs and priorities, difference in access to and control over productive resources and face different constraints in responding to economic change. For example, cuts in social spending have increased the burdens on women’s labour. Declining incomes and male higher unemployment have pushed women into paid sector work, resulting in women experiencing time-poverty and work-drudgery.  
The concept of bringing “gender equality” into the mainstream of society was clearly established as a global strategy in the Platform for Action adopted at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. It highlighted the necessity to ensure that gender equality is a primary goal in all areas of political, social and economic development.
The equality between women and men is an accepted fundamental human rights since the adoption of the United Nations Charter (1945), CEDAW (1979) and the World Conference on Human Rights (1993). The countries have been highlighted to take action against discriminatory practices against women.
The Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to address the present developmental challenges, declared by the UN Declaration 2000 has set twenty targets to achieve by 2015. The Eight MDGs are gender sensitive are considered the basic human rights, the rights of both men and women to health, education, shelter and security. The 3rd MDGs aims “to promote gender equality and empower women”.  
The Indian Constitution grants equality between women and men. It prohibits discrimination of both women and men based on religion, caste, race, sex or place of birth.
Thus, within the International and National broader framework, Nagaland too has introduced 33% Reservation Bill for women in Municipal Council in  compliance with the 108 (Amendment) Act, 2008 (Women Reservation Bill) passed by the State Government. However, the Women Reservation Bill has gone through the real acid litmus test with the Mokokchung Municipal Council Election in October 2008, when filling of nomination were opposed by volunteers from 16 wards of the Mokochung town and landowners of four villages (NP dated 16.9.2008). Ever since then, further development with political parties and individuals raised their voices on the issue was without any conclusion.

On 3rd October 2008, a meeting was convened with various political parties representatives under the chairmanship of honourable NLA speaker. The conclusion of the meeting was “more time sought in order to get public feed-backs and opinion of civil societies and NGOs as the matter was very sensitive” (NP dated 4.10.2008).
Again, on 25th November 2008, all political parties had a consultative meeting, convened  by the honourable NLA speaker with representative of 10 NPF members, INC 8 members, BJP 5 members, NCP 5 members, JD (U) 2 members, RJD 2 members, Independent 7 members, Samata party 2 members, BSP 2 members and MPs 2 members (45 members). The outcome of this meeting too sought more time on the issue. At the same time, a committee has been constituted under the convenership of honourable NLA Deputy speaker Shri Ralanthung Yanthan to look into the matter (NP dated 26.11.2008).  
I am not sure of the outcome of the consultative meeting with civil societies and NGOs ie Naga Women Hoho, NMA, NSWC, Church Women Bodies etc as ensured in the meeting dated 3.10.2008  
Since the Women Reservation Bill became inconclusive, the Mokokchung Municipal Election that was due in 2008 has been kept in abeyance according to January 2009 Resolutions (NL Post 8.2.2009) and continues till date.
What is important and interesting is, were enough women from political parties represented in those crucial meetings in order to argue from women’s view point and tailor women’s interests into the reservation issue? Who is deciding the fete of women - the men or women themselves?  
As the State Government has initiated another round of consultative meetings with general public on the issue of Women Reservation Bill, please allow me to share some few points.

In any given situation, people follow a set of rules and regulation, norms, culture and tradition and live in co-existence and harmony with one another. But these cultural/traditional norms are not static and are liable to change with the passage of time. For example, in the past according to Angami culture and tradition, a damsel could not grow her hair until marriage. Today, this is extinct due to outside influence like Christianity and educational opportunities. Another example, among the Angamis, it was a taboo for girls to go to the arena where the men were wrestling. This was broken on 20th March 2000 when for the first ti me girls too started wresting in the very place the men were wrestling.
In the past, women’s mobility was restricted between their homes and the farms. Women’s capacity to earn income was also limited due to illiteracy. However, today, a good number of women are in the paid sector facilitated by higher education. Some women are the bread earners of their family. There are also many female-headed households doing extremely well taking the responsibility of both the father and mother. However, when the men is taken as the household heads, female headed households gets excluded from the scene.   Thus, culture and tradition that changes with the passage of time should not be the lame excuse to exclude women’s political career if that further advancement is going to benefit the households in particular and the society in general.  
Till date women are encouraged to see people supporting the introduced Government Policy of Women Reservation Bill in Municipal Council.  On the other hand, there are also instances where people especially some men are resistant or slow to accept the constitutional rights granted to women due to fear of losing prestige, power and control over them. In such situation, whom do we listen to - the men or the women? The best thing is create a separate forum and analyze whether the men or the women themselves are opposing the introduced policy, for, women in a mixed group (men/women) is always only a representation and minority and will never open up to share their view points or argue in the presence of many men for fear of repercussions.  
Effort to implement Women Reservation Bill already enforced needs a lot of support from our male counterpart. A lot of sensitization on the issue is needed as Women Reservation Bill with an aim to enhance women decision making in public sphere is a direct challenge to the existing practices, norms, culture or tradition.  Let us discuss some of them:
1. Patriarchy: Nagaland is a patriarchal society. Patriarchy is a system of social structure and practices where men dominate and oppress or even exploit women. One school of thoughts defines patriarchy in terms of men’s domination over women through the household, often including a generational aspect in which the oldest men in a household dominates all household members including young men. The patriarchal values that dictate that women should be protected by men can be a source of the inequality to prevent women from realizing their full potential (ADB 2003).
Patriarchy provides a secure environment; however, it does not allow the full participation of women, particularly in areas that development dimensions seek as key driver towards gender mainstreaming. Because of patriarchy, the efforts of developing countries to modernize discriminatory laws and galvanizes women’s participation can be frustrated by the deep-rooted cultural barriers that so often run in parallel with poverty. According to Mann (1986), “patriarchy is the systematically structured gender inequality”.  Thus, the systematic societal structure of patriarchy institutionalizes male, physical, social and economic power over women. As a result, we see a situation whereby under the dominance of patriarchy, women cocoon themselves within its fold and resign to their fete.
2. Gender Division of Labour (GDL): The social construction of GDL and Gender roles assigning women and men in specific areas; with women in reproductive sector. Women do reproductive works (household works and livelihood activities) and care economy (caring children and aged) at home out of love. The reproductive works that women do are invisible, unaccounted and unpaid and has taxed women’s time a great deal. The reproductive works has affected women in paid sector with wage gap and lower pay, getting job in casual and informal sector where there are no welfare entitlements and getting desk jobs with less decision making power. In rural context, the reproductive works has left women with time poverty. They lack time to invest in their human capital, to attend meeting in order to build social network or to participate in decision making to voice out their concerns or interests.
Due to the social construction of GDL, women’s labour is often considered “free and cheap” and on many occasions, women’s work is not even considered as “work” but something natural for women because she is a woman. Contrary to this, whatever men do is recognized, visible and paid and without gossip even though all works may not yield results. Thus, the social construction of GDL do not treat men and women on an equal footing as women have less free time and leisure time as compared to men if we analyze twenty four hours of the day for men and women. Our strategy to address the inequality of GDL between men and women is to share reproductive works, invest in workload and work drudgery reduction and set up facilities such as crèches, easy accessibility to fuel and water, outsourcing labour etc. with policy intervention by seeing through the gender lens.
3. Naga Customary Laws: The Naga customary law that restricts women to own resources was a strong basis for not implementing the 108 (Amendment) Act, 2008 (Women Reservation Bill) as evident from Mokokchung Municipal Election which was objected by the landowners citing Article 371 (A) of the India Constitution as quoted earlier. The Article 371 (A) has recognized the Naga customary laws with special provision: “Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, No act of Parliament in respect of: (i) religious or social practices of the Nagas, (ii) Naga customary law and procedure, (iii) administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law and (iv) ownership and transfer of land and its resources, shall apply to the state of Nagaland unless the Legislative Assembly of Nagaland by a resolution so decides” (Constitution of India-2004: 619).
If one analyses the last part of the Article 371 (A), there is a provision allowing flexibility if the Nagaland Legislative Assembly (NLA) by a resolution decides to do so. However, so far, there was no woman in decision making body (NLA) since Nagaland attained statehood in 1963. Thus, it may be difficult to see through the gender lens as decision makers are all males.

The MDG three (3) is for promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women with ‘education’ as the “key’ to women empowerment. The MDG there (3) ensures to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015. In Nagaland context, both boys are girls get the same educational opportunities in well-to-do households. However, with feminization of agriculture in today’s global scenario, girls labour is used in farm and household works resulting in increasing girls’ school drop-out rate. We need to salvage girls’ position from such situation with policy intervention and thus, needs to see through the gender lens.

Everywhere in the world, women have the right to vote and form 50% “vote bank”. According to some statistic around the world, it was found that 22 countries have 22% women in parliament; 6 countries have 30%; and Sweden (1994) has 40% women in parliament. Sweden has been adjudged the world’s best place for mothers (NL Post 8.5.08) with many gender friendly policies and work drudgery reduction for women.
The Article 14 of the India Constitution grants Equal Rights and opportunities in political, economic and social for both men and women.  In India, we have 547 MPs in Lok Sabba (Upper House) and 250 MPs in Rajya Sabba (Lower House). Out of these MPs in both Houses, we have only few prominent women MPs and in Nagaland, till date we still do not have women in the hi ghest decision making body, the NLA.  
The ability to take one’s decision is to do with power relations. A man or a woman who has more power can take decision without getting social sanction. The ability to take decision by both men and women is “sharing of power” between men and women. Women’s not being able to take part in decision making indicates that they are still powerless.  However, women taking decision in public space may not be easily palatable by the male chauvinist patriarchal society in the present scenario as it may deviates woman from the traditional and cultural subordination.  Women in general have a lower status as compared to men with no decision making power in public space except at household level in areas such as what to cook, what colour thread to buy, crop selection etc (Field trips report). Women not participating in decision making in public space is considered “normal” and accepted culturally. This is the reason why Women Reservation Bill is needed to give a push to enhance women’s participation in decision making in order to bring out gender sensitive policies because the present political scenario with the so-strong money power, muscle power and gun culture is abnormally abnormal and unfriendly for women to get their political rights in a normal atmosphere.

The Nagaland Municipal Act 2001, Amendment 2006, Reservation Bill for women, the 108 (Amendment) Act, 2008 (Women Reservation Bill) granting women “Political Rights” is a positive step taken by the DAN Government to include women in decision making process and to argue from women’s perspective. Thus, effort be made by one and all to implement the enforced policy through consultative meeting. A debate on whether or not to implement the policy may be out of the context when the policy is already enacted through legislation.
A global research study was conducted to know the status of women with five indicators: longetivity of life, quality of drinking water available to its people, mortality rate of children below five years, maternity benefit for mothers and lastly women in parliament (decision making). Sweden was found to be the world’s best place for mothers because Sweden has 40% women in parliament with many gender-sensitive or women friendly policies.  If we apply the same indicators in our context, we still have a long way to go. Women still have little or no voice in decision making that affects their lives. We need gender-sensitive, gender-responsive and gender-friendly policies.
Gender equality or empowerment of women is widely discussed and debated at all levels such as international, national and state levels. Women everywhere as compared to men are marginalized with a lower status and less participation in decision making. Elevating women status does not mean the women will over rule the men and women if granted an opportunity should be careful on this. Rather, with women status elevated, probably, they could also be a better instrument in delivering goods to the people, the family and the society. Women with good education can earn better income, the direct benefit enjoyed by their households. It can also enhances their participation in decision making with intellectual reasoning. Educated women can also guide and train their children better to become more sensitive responsible citizens, the biggest contribution by women to the society. The “woman” we are talking here could be your own daughter, sister, mother, or wife. All of us were once inside her womb for nine months and cared by her until we became independent and self sufficient. Give her a chance and let her prove her capacity by provide her with equal opportunities in order to build a stronger Nagaland.
(Chozhule Kikhi is M Sc. Gender and Development Studies from Asian Institute of Technology Bangkok)