Sunday, May 18, 2014

Wanted: A Council of Ministers with gender parity

Beyond the afterglow of an election well-organized, in a very large democratic country there are few opportunities for lesser mortals working outside the capital to make their wishes known. I've felt very strongly that I haven't made a serious enough effort to work on this issue. I've let myself feel isolated and alone. After all, what I can achieve alone in Chennai that the power feminist NGOs of Delhi haven't done? 

This afternoon, on an impulse, and urged by a friend, I impulsively created a petition addressed to Narendra Modi asking that he appoint women to half the posts in his Council of Ministers.  As I posted on Facebook:
"Sometimes I really want to do something, and I ask too many people for advice, and finally, I don't do it. Either their misgivings kill my enthusiasm or they make it all too hard to do. Today, I just did something on impulse. I started a petition to demand 50% representation for women in the new Council of Ministers. Me. Just me. Not Prajnya. Not all feminists of India. Me, just by myself, as a citizen. I must say, it feels good and could turn out to be addictive."
It's a simple petition:
Democracy without equality is flawed. Equal representation for all groups is essential and gender parity in your Council of Ministers is an easy first step. This means:
  1. Women should make up 50 percent of the members of your Council of Ministers, at every rank. 
  1. This means, if you end up with 30 ministers in all (Cabinet, Deputy and MOS), we want to see 50% women in each rank. 

  2. Women should be allocated portfolios with no gender stereotyping. 
  1. This means, we want to see women in charge of ministries like Defence, External Affairs, Internal Security and Finance, as well. 
Exclude outright those charge-sheeted with sexual and gender-based violence. A related sign of your commitment to gender justice would be to explicitly exclude anyone charged with speaking or behaving in a manner that hurts women and other gender and sexual minorities. 
"Experience" and "competence" are excuses that apply only to the appointment of women. Be as decisive as Indian voters have been, in dismissing those excuses and identifying women to appoint. 
Demonstrate to us that you are committed to equality by appointing a Council of Ministers where there is equal gender representation.
Thanks to like-minded friends, the petition is almost at 60 likes. It needs a hundred to be taken to him. 

All day I have been engaged with people on Twitter and Facebook about this. On Facebook, it's been mostly support; they think like me so they're my friends, maybe?

On Twitter, people have read this as a call for reservations and I have ended up engaging in a number of conversations, that I would like to bring together here in the form of my answers to frequently asked questions:

1. I don't believe in reservations as a permanent solution.
My reply:
a. I am not asking for reservation in this petition. I am just ask Narendra Modi to decide to appoint 50% women.
b. I agree that reservations should not seem like a permanent solution. They are a temporary measure and should be designed as such, along with the structural measures that will make them redundant. But they are a necessary temporary measure in the short-term and intermediate-term to level the playing field in many contexts.

2. I believe in quality or merit.
My reply: So do I, but consider that if quality or merit (defined as education, experience or competence) were a factor in selecting men for the same jobs, the posts would likely go unfilled. It is the nature of democratic politics that experts don't enter politics, and you don't want a Minister to be an expert in one field but able to think from multiple perspectives and imagine solutions that take many things into account.
My question: Why is the question of merit raised only in the context of any kind of affirmative action (statutory or not) or quota?

3. Women do not need help. If you believe in their competence, you must believe it will simply rise and shine.
My reply: Women need help at this moment because even if they are competent, they are invisible. We have learned not to see them even when they are there. A petition like this will at least get all of us asking about the women who have now entered Parliament: Who is this? What has she done? What is she like? She will not be a nameless, faceless member of a 62-person group.
However competent, you cannot hire a person you have learned not to see.
@Septisme suggest gender-blind, merit-based auditions for ministries. I'd go along with that if all women MPs would surely be seriously considered.

I want to thank @Septisme and @StrangelyYours for their serious engagement with this issue this afternoon.

I also read @EchoofIndia's tweets asking if this could be a serious petition given there were so few women in the new Lok Sabha. I think it's a fair question. Of course, this is an impulsive petition and not a long-term plan for social change. But the point of the petition is partly to convey this concern to those who will decide, and partly to get this conversation going among us.

Can we start by answering the question that @manekshaws posed: "Name 10 honest competent women"? Are there ten such women? Of course. Have we bothered to find out who they are? Maybe, maybe not. Professor Kannamma Raman of Bombay University has been studying them for ages, so she knew off-hand, but like most people, I would need to research this more.

So to pre-empt this response to my petition, "There are no women or else we would have definitely appointed more of them," with Professor Raman's guidance and the list generated by PRS Legislative and with the BJP's own website, I drew up this list of women ministers and suggested portfolios for each of them, based on their profession, education and age:

NameAgeEducationProfessionPossible ministry
Jyoti Dhurve47PGAgriculture/HorticultureChemicals and Fertilizers
Savitri Thakur35Agriculture/HorticultureAgriculture
Riti Pathak36PGAgriculture/HorticultureWater Resources
Khadse Raksha Nikhil26GradAgriculture/HorticultureYouth Affairs and Sports
Neelam Sonkar38PGAgriculture/HorticultureEarth Sciences
Anju Bala34GradAgriculture/HorticultureDrinking water supply and sanitation
Deol Hema Malini Dharmendra65PhDArtistCulture
Smt. Kirron Kher61PGArtistTourism
Maadam Poonamben Hematbhai39GradBusinessCommerce and Industry
Jardosh Darshnaben VikrambhaiNAGradBusinessConsumer Affairs
Poonam Mahajan Alias Poonam Vajendla Rao33othersBusinessMicro, Small and Medium Enterprises
Santosh Ahlawat57PGBusinessLabour and Employment
Krishna Raj47PGBusinessSteel
Smt. Meenakshi Lekhi46GradLawyerLaw
Shyal Bhartiben Dhirubhai50GradMedical PractionerHealth
anoDr.Gavit Heena Vaijaykumar26GradMedical PractionerPanchayati Raj
Priyanka Singh Rawat28PGOtherScience and Technology
Rekha Verma32OtherFood processing industries
Sadhavi Niranjan Jyoti47Plus 2OtherParliamentary Affairs
Smt. Bijoya Chakraborty75PGPolitical or/and Social ServiceUrban Development
Rama Devi65PGPolitical or/and Social ServicePower
Patel Jayshreeben Kanubhai55Political or/and Social ServiceFamily Welfare
Shobha Karandlaje47PGPolitical or/and Social ServiceSocial justice and empowerment
Sumitra Mahajan70PGPolitical or/and Social ServiceSpeaker/ Human Resource Development
Sushma Swaraj62GradPolitical or/and Social ServiceExternal Affairs
Savitri Bai Phule33GradPolitical or/and Social ServiceRailways
Uma Bharti55Political or/and Social ServiceTextiles
Maneka Sanjay Gandhi57Plus 2Political or/and Social ServiceHome
Mala Rajya Laxmi Shah64Plus 2Political or/and Social ServiceEnvironment and Forests
Kamla Patle48GradSocial workRural Development

The Rajya Sabha list, information sourced from the Rajya Sabha site:

Heptulla, Dr. Najma A.74Ph.D. Cardiac Anatomy, MSc Zoology; PoliticianHealth/ Women and Child Development/ Home
Irani, Smt. Smriti Zubin38BA, ActorI&B
Rai, Smt. Kusum46Intermediate, Social WorkerHousing and Urban Poverty Alleviation
Sood, Smt. Bimla Kashyap52BA, Social Worker.Statistics and Programme Implementation

Of course, these allocations are open to debate. But that is the point of this list, this blogpost and this petition: To get us started seriously thinking about appointing and expecting to see women in important positions--regardless of whether they are already famous or not.

Another friend, @Raja_Sw, suggested on Twitter:
"In the interest of women empowerment, how abt Modi first tries to fill each Cabinet spot with a woman? If none available, open it to men."Surely there are plenty of competent, ambitious women who could hold a Cabinet portfolio? Time for them to be visible, stake their claim."
Surely, there are. It's also up to us to learn to look for them and spot them, because we teach them as children how to be self-effacing and as adolescents, how to second-guess themselves.

Maybe Mr. Modi will take a second to think about this petition, maybe he won't. But I am doing what I can and am happy and proud that I haven't given up without trying this time. And if we can have lots of these conversations along the way, I will have made a small contribution to getting equal representation for women and others in the Indian executive.

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