'Women Not Safe in Politics Too'
Political power has not insulated women from facing gender-based violence. A recent report by the United Nations (UN) has found that verbal-sexual abuse and character assassination of women are rampant in South Asia politics. Worse, Karnataka is one of the three states in India affected by such behaviour.
The study ‘Violence Against Women in Politics’ revealed that women from all parties in Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi were victims of gender violence. In most cases, the perpetrators were men within their party, and fear prevented women from participating as contestants and voters.
Conducted between 2003 and 2013 in India, Nepal and Pakistan by UN Women and Centre for Social Research, New Delhi, the study had 250 respondents from India, including men and women in urban and rural areas, police, campaigners, Election Commission officials, judges, advocates, journalists and elected representatives.
“Women risk physical violence and harassment and women politicians and parliamentarians experience violence during election campaigns and constituency visits,” the study said and added: “They experience political isolation for not following party lines drawn by male party members.”
‘Verbal Abuse Common’
According to the report, 49 per cent of respondents in India agreed that there was verbal abuse and 45 per cent said physical violence and threats were common. An alarming 67 per cent said the perpetrators were other male contestants and 58 per cent were members within the party. “In Karnataka, while 35.8 per cent of the respondents believe that violence reduced women’s political participation, 24.69 per cent believe that it makes them more isolated,” the report said.
KPCC women’s wing state president Manjula Naidu said verbal abuse, and use of slang and expletives were part of everyday life for a woman politician in Karnataka. “Men constantly sabotage and persuade you to withdraw your ticket. Once men realise that a woman is gaining political clout, they mentally harass her. Character assassination is common, but sexual and physical assault are rare,” she said. However, women from political dynasties or actor-turned-politicians do not face these hassles. “Violence reduces political participation. Reservation for women in gram panchayat and zilla panchayat elections is ensuring their participation in the electoral process to some extent,” Manjula said.
New Entrants Most Exploited
The study revealed that the most exploited were poor, new entrants, first generation politicians and those from religious minorities. Eighty-seven per cent said support from the husband was necessary to prevent violence and 53 per cent said violence within the family increased when a woman in politics is unable to perform her domestic responsibilities.
Centre for Social Research director Dr Ranjana Kumari, who was part of the survey team, said the recent Assembly elections in many states saw barely any woman contestant. She said women voters do not face many problems. But it was unacceptable that political parties still do not have committees to address ‘sexual harassment at workplace.’ “A senior police officer from Karnataka told us that politics in Karnataka was dirty and that it is not meant for women. Exploitation is rampant and there is no one to address it,” she said.
Nearly 14 per cent respondents admitted sexual violence occurred and 32 per cent said there was emotional blackmailing of women politicians.
Congress leader and MLC C Motamma said sexual favours were commonplace and that men in leadership positions sexually exploited new entrants to grant them a party ticket. “Misbehaviour is common. Women politicians are vulnerable and it is a lone battle for them. Many men harass and assault women members in the party as a way of lobbying for their own wives and daughters to be taken on board,” she said. “Some men also spread rumours about affairs between the woman and other men in the party.”
BJP leader Shobha Karandlaje said while violence was rampant, it is tough for women even to mingle and work with men on a daily basis in a political party. Women’s issues are not taken seriously. “Even in the Cabinet, women’s issues are just ridiculed,” she said.
Agreeing with the findings of the study, former Legislative Council chairman V R Sudarshan said education may immunise women in politics from violence. He said when women gain position, men feel threatened. This, together with dynasty politics and lack of political training, increases violence against women, he said.