Patriarchy biggest challenge for women in politics: Bhasin

I think women with a feminist perspective are a solution to the problems faced by women

Hafsah Sarfraz February 07, 2016


What are the challenges for South Asian women?

Nobody can generalise the challenges faced by South Asian women. South Asia has over 1.7 billion people and 800 million are women. These women belong to different sectors, segments, religions and regions and therefore their challenges vary too but if we speak about the 50 per cent women at the bottom, their biggest issue is poverty, ill health, lack of proper education that empowers them and patriarchy, which doesn’t consider them equal to men. If I speak about India, Muslim women face additional problems due to being a minority. Lower caste women face even more problems because they are poor and also considered lower caste. The way out of these problems is reducing patriarchy through educating the masses and women in particular and increasing gender and class equality

What is the biggest challenge women face when they enter politics?

But the biggest challenge that women face when they enter politics is that patriarchy has divided the society into two segments; the domestic sphere and the public sphere. Due to patriarchy in South Asia, we are made to believe that women are supposed to be in the domestic sphere; inside the house and they have no business outside. This is why women face certain prejudices when they enter the political arena.

Another challenge is that women enter politics as a small minority and most don’t make it to the Jirga or panchayat. Their husbands take that role of representing them in front of the masses.

The third challenge is that even if women enter these political arenas, they do not have proper training and capacity building, which is precisely the reason why they are not able to perform as well as others.

How are climate change, neo-liberal economic agenda and terrorism affecting South Asian region especially for the women?

I believe all these are affecting women in the South Asian region in their own ways and are also linked to each other. Neo-liberal economic agenda means privatisation, globalisation and liberalisation, which mean promoting large organisations against small businesses of a country. Due to this, small businesses are losing out. The neo liberal economic agenda has a profit motive at any cost. It is due to this agenda that the rich are becoming richer and the poor are becoming poorer. The inequalities are increasing, which affects climate change. The biggest culprit for climate destruction is this neo liberal economy, which will destroy as much as it has to in order to make profits. Case in point is the car lobby, which knows so many cars on the road are not good but they will continue to lease out cars for their own benefit.

I also feel like there is a link between terrorism and the profit motive. This is because when the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer, disputes arise. When the masses are fighting for a limited piece of cake, there is no doubt that terrorism rises. When people fight for resources, they blame each other and fight among themselves. In India, the Hindus believe it is the Muslims who are snatching their resources away. Similarly, in Europe the natives believe the refugees are going to do that. And all of this affects women and acts as a hurdle between them and their success.

Do you think getting women in politics is a solution to most problems faced by the normal women in South Asia?

I think women with a feminist perspective are a solution to the problems faced by women but a woman without such a perspective who comes from a political background is not. What will a political leader’s daughter do for the poor of the country? She will only push her father’s personal agenda forward. A religious leader will push her religious views forward and hence it is important to pick women who use women agendas and work towards them. We often see women leaders who are ashamed to be titled “women” leaders. If they are ashamed at their identity, how will they work towards improving the status of women?

How can women leaders in the region enhance cooperation with each other and minimize inequalities and improve the situation for women.

Women leaders who are committed to gender and class equality, human rights and justice can take the agenda forward by making inter party alliances, creating women’s caucuses to promote their agenda and continuously re educating themselves and by setting personal examples of honesty and lack of corruption along with commitment to peace. Only then they can improve the status of women in the South Asian region.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th,  2016.


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