Politics is an intimidating space. More often than not it is confusing and formidable for someone who has never been involved in it. We are used to seeing big names and political parties rally during election season in the news and the entire discussion of politics seems far ‘too detached’ from our present realities. However, what if we reconsider it for a moment and think that the effect of politics is everywhere in our day-to-day lives? When we complain about electricity not being present in our wards to the price of the rations going up-we are all essentially complaining about the changes in policies that are controlled by the politics of power. One of the first ideas we need to demystify is that involvement in politics is not simply through the high voltage national campaign. If you aspire to do so here is a resource you can definitely refer to (link NETRI toolkit). But here we look into the nuances of a feminist leader in politics. The need for gender-inclusive politics has come a long way since the Vienna Convention of 1993 and is presently committed to addressing a larger scope of gender beyond the policy level.To create these spaces and to make them more diverse the need for feminist leaders becomes absolutely imperative.
Everyday Politics- Politics of every day means finding political meaning in activities that we have presumed as commonplace. Only through fostering a sense of critical thinking will we be able to identify the political meaning behind our actions.
Political Actors- These are individuals who partake in some capacity in political action either by participation, facilitating it, or disseminating it.
Feminist Leader- A leader who imbibes feminist values and seeks to strive for a society where every individual is treated equally.
GRB (Gender Responsive Budgeting)- Budgets that adequately and equally address all genders by making the distribution of resources equitable and accessible to all individuals
Who are feminist leaders?
Before we define what a feminist leader is- let us do a quick reflective exercise. Say whenever we think of leaders with ‘strong profiles’ like Defence, External Affairs, or Commerce we invariably associate positions of power and importance. Have you heard conversations among your family and friends where they speak of ‘important’ and ‘less important’ portfolios of the cabinet ministry? Chances are most of you will agree to it and this is where the first hurdle comes in. Since our basic notion of leadership is based on conventional male forms of power, it’s critical to look at other collaborative and creative models and methods that feminists and others interested in innovation and participation are developing. People can determine the traits and behaviors they believe are most important to leadership by studying different approaches to leadership and how they contribute to societal transformation. The three quick steps to becoming a feminist leader would be following a UAF framework:-
- Un-learning- The process where you learn to let go of your previous biases and assumed notions. We are all born with a certain set of values that constitute our moral makeup. However, traditionally whenever we are taught about these values we often intersperse ideas that may not be as progressive as we think. We can only un-learn if we actively communicate, remain open to change and simultaneously build our own outlooks.
- Actively Re-learning- Learning and active learning differ mainly in regard to the fact that the former can indicate passive consumption of knowledge but the latter indicates proactively taking the learnings and implementing them in their day-to-day lives.
- Formulating- After the two steps taking a step back and zooming out to look at different things in perspective makes sense. It also helps you to critically examine how these two steps have been implemented and constantly introduce feedback into your own actions to improve.
Connect to the ground
Each space has different needs and as a next-generation leader, you will be able to understand the specific situation the best when you converse with individuals to understand what their needs are and how to align your campaign with the same. Some of the key spaces identified by UN Women who have resiliently worked in the space of gender equality is around:-
1) Livelihood Issues- Livelihood is essential to everyone and spaces in governance still largely fail to recognize the importance of informal and more importantly in the case of women’s unpaid work. An Oxfam Report dated 16th January 2020, goes on to show that around 3.26 billion cumulative hours are put on an everyday basis by females in India. Recognizing paid work in itself is a very crucial conundrum in itself. Much of this stems from a long tradition of viewing women’s jobs as inconsequential in the “real world” of the business and undeserving of significance in the home.
2) Education- In India, women’s education plays a critical part in the country’s overall growth. It not only contributes to the development of half of the world’s human resources but also to the improvement of the quality of life at home and abroad. The Indian education system is divided into two distinct structures: formal and non-formal education. Other educational programs, such as online education and distance education, have also been developed to encourage women to pursue higher education. The primary goal of the overall educational program is to educate every girl kid. This low literacy rate has a severe influence not just on the lives of women, but also on their families and the country’s economic development.
3) Health- Health is another such sector where a lingering sense of stigma is prevalent. Health is a sector that not only enhances health but also in turn the economy of the country and women are often not on the receiving end of the same. Millions of women and teenage girls throughout the world suffer from poor health and social status, making healthcare services accessible and affordable a challenge in 21st-century India. Poor nutrition affects women’s growth and development at all stages of life, and they are more likely to give birth to kids with low birth weights. Women are frequently mistreated and abused as a result of gender-based discrimination (desire for a son) and other societal diseases such as the dowry system and early marriage, which have a severe influence on their general health.
4) Personal laws and women’s agency- Since India acts as a host to a multitude of religions, personal law becomes crucial. Very often the state has to walk on a thin tightrope of upholding human rights and simultaneously respecting the personal laws in place. The fact that women do not have the same rights as males is a fundamental component of most personal laws. Although the country has taken some efforts toward ending discrimination against women, such as passing the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005 which made women coparceners in the same way as sons. Similarly, in 2017, the abolition of Triple Talaq led to the invalidation of the act of instant divorce within the Muslim community. However, because of these tight personal rules, women have fewer rights than males in terms of rights.
5) Laws against violence- Violence is more often than not gendered in its nature. Latin American countries record some of the highest figures of femicide and the issues are often raised by activists working with women’s rights in this nation. Violence and sexual assault are the most common causes of atrocities against women in our culture. Women must be safeguarded from these atrocities, and our government has taken efforts to do so by enacting legislation and imposing harsh penalties on those who commit these crimes. According to one of the surveys conducted by Bhartiya Stree Shakti under the direction of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, it was discovered that in many cases where a woman goes alone to register a case of domestic violence, the police officers do not provide the proper treatment as required by the act. Authorities are responsible for providing appropriate financial support and assistance to victims, yet many police fail to do so. To keep yourself updated on the legal interventions in this regard check this resource out.
6) Budget and economic schemes- When budgets began to be viewed as a tool to promote gender equality in the late twentieth century, gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) became popular. GRB is not the same as allocating funds to programs dedicated to women’s issues; rather, it is a budgeting approach that recognises the different impacts of budgets on men and women and uses policy guidelines and tools to prepare budgets that are more sensitive to women’s needs, with a focus on reducing gender inequality. The review of India’s budgeting exercises reveals that GBS has constraints that result in sub-optimal results. According to studies looking at the design and technique used in India’s gender budgeting, the lack of outcome-oriented budgeting makes it more of an accounting exercise, with the core aim of gender parity taking a second seat.
These are tentative ideas one can utilize, or try to go beyond it. Remember that whenever you analyse an issue, the feminist lens only crops up when you try to understand the differential impact that is being caused at the ground and policy-making level
How to ‘Connect to the ground’?
Now that you have understood how the issues of gender are vast and varied, we would suggest that you take time to process the aforementioned information and use them as pointers to explore different topics. Remember, knowledge precedes action and till this section, we have only dealt with the issues which are of utmost importance to a feminist leader. Now let us discuss some quick steps which will help you influence a smaller ground-level impact from where you might be starting off your political career.
1) Acquaint yourself with sources- Some of the possible resources you can start by visiting are namely:
- a) Election Commission Website like this
- b) Central government data portals like this and this
- c) State-specific government portals
These resources will push you to understand the statistical nuances of data better and assess ground-level impact. They provide you with numbers and this is where if you are equipped with skills of data analysis software, then the same can be used with you to gain insights.
2) Get into the habit of reading policy briefs- Several websites deal with policy structures within the country such as PRS Legislative, PPI, CPR, and NITI Aayog. Keeping yourself abreast with information and the latest happenings will help you better understand your particular area of interest. We have a sheet that you can keep back reverting to in order to keep yourself updated.
3) Organise meetings/ set up one-to-one conversations- The knowledge gap cannot be better understood until and unless you are meeting and talking to stakeholders. This is especially important if you are looking to be a community leader. Try to be a part of the local meeting and see how you can contribute to it (For example- you can be very good with social media and try to record the meetings in your locality). Documentation is a great way to start knowing more about the work that is taking place.
4) Awareness about enterprises/ bodies working within a space- Politics is not simply made of voters and political parties. Identify crucial players like- media, social enterprises, civil societies, and organizations who have interventions in place. This relates to the point that you need to build muscle in conversing and judging the outlooks of people.
Other than these you should also:
- Get into the habit of being on top of the news cycle. Read the editorial more specifically so it pushes you to have your own perspective on the issue. If political terminology is overwhelming here is a quick guide to help you familiarise yourself and a document for you to keep (political dictionary link)
- Attempt to lead student bodies within your campus- be a proactive member and understand how students are experiencing politics on a day-to-day basis. If you are a vocal leader then contest elections and try to understand the administration from within. It is also possible that you may not feel confident speaking publicly but that should not limit you to express your political opinions. Write to us, maybe!
- Attend webinars- we cannot emphasize this enough but follow pages on the social media you are comfortable with and attend talks from experts in the field (we have a little something here to get yourself started with) (link to South Asia webinar)
- Volunteer/ Intern- Volunteering and interning opportunities will open space like no other for you to begin exploring the space. You can pace yourself and learn from a number of resources. Take this also as a community-building opportunity to meet like-minded individuals and assist each other.
Now that we have given you some ideas we cannot wait to see you thrive in the space! We just have two points to emphasize as you finish it up:
- We at NETRI emphasize creating gender-inclusive politics. We are a non-partisan, non-party-aligned organization and create spaces for individuals who are aspiring to enter the political ecosystem. Our expertise lies in equipping you with
- Building your knowledge to begin your journey
- Adequate 21st-century skills for politics
- Community of political leaders
- Mentorship for leadership
We hope that when you utilize our resources you keep in mind to be more gender-inclusive and gear progressive politics in the nation
- If you liked this material and want more such materials, please subscribe to our newsletter where we tailor-make more such toolkits and handbooks for your use and drop them directly into your inbox!
We at NETRI, aim to be a political incubator and create a group of feminist politically vocal leaders of tomorrow who wish to bring a change into society. We understand that the need varies in different spaces and we are here to help, so even if you are a student who is looking to enter politics and find a community you can align your professional political spaces then do consider subscribing to our newsletter. We are building a community of political professionals and a one-stop space for all your queries and opportunities in the realm of politics. It is an early venture and we are also figuring things out along the way, so we would appreciate feedback and any communication on your end as we make NETRI a safe and conducive place for leaders who wish to bring a change.