Violence against women in politics is rampant in South Asia according to a recent study conducted by the Centre for Social Research & UN Women. The study, ‘Violence against Women in Politics’ revealed that the insufficient implementation of laws, lack of support from police and judiciary, low awareness about politics and overall decline in ‘moral’ values are the major reasons for violence.
The study was conducted in India, Nepal and Pakistan and analyses incidents of violence that occurred from 2003 to 2013. It was conducted to address the nature, extent and reasons for violence that inhibits women’s political participation. 800 respondents were interviewed including election commission officials, police, contestants, and families in urban and rural areas.
The study finds that while the percentage of female voters and women candidates fielded by political parties has increased in all three countries, the percentage of female representatives in national bodies has decreased. The study also finds that more than 60% of women do not participate in politics due to fear of violence.
“Almost 90% of women in these countries feel that violence breaks their resolve to join politics. From our comprehensive review of laws on violence against women, it is clear that none of the three countries has legislation that deals strictly with offenders to prevent violence against women in politics. We know that where laws are in place, prevalence tends to be lower and fewer people think that violence against women in justifiable,” says Dr. Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, Representative, UN Women’s Office for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka.
Except for a few chosen female politicians, most of the elected female representatives have a limited or marginal role in important discussions within their political party. Dr. Ranjana Kumari, Director, CSR said, “South Asia is home to one-fifth of the worlds’ population and one third of South Asian women experience violence throughout their lives which is also a common feature of South Asian politics. Candidates, their families as well as voters have routinely faced violence during elections. The violent nature of politics within South Asia often deters women from participating within the political sphere.”
The study confirms that the existing cycle of violence is also fuelled by current power structures and gender discrimination:
Almost 50% of respondents felt that the decision on a woman’s participation in electoral politics should be taken by her family.
Ninety percent of respondents felt that women should not ignore domestic responsibilities and that violence against women within a family increases when women are unable to fulfill domestic responsibilities.
Sixty percent of respondents felt that police do not respect women’s rights and most cases go unreported leading to a higher number of cases of violence against women.
Violence is rarely reported by the media, and is largely denied by the political system. Women in politics face multiple types of violence. While physical violence, verbal abuse and threat of violence are higher for India, character assassination is seen as a greater threat in Pakistan and Nepal.
Threats, kidnapping and killing were some other forms of violence quoted by women candidates. 45 % of women candidates in India faced physical violence and threats in comparison to only 21% and 16% in Nepal respectively. The study finds that women are denied their rights to participate in politics at every stage.
Women were denied a multitude of rights that could increase their participation in politics. These range from the right to vote, contest elections, access resources and education. The denial of the right to vote was commonly experienced by women voters while women candidates were denied their right to join a political party or to contest elections.
Women in politics, especially those who are first generation politicians, face discrimination at all level. They are usually not allowed to make decisions and are side-lined within political parties, as they are perceived to be less able to win political seats. They are not given tickets to contest elections.
Women also experience political isolation for not following party lines drawn by male party members and leaders. Women who belong to political families are perceived as representatives of the elite and controlled by powerful males, which does not serve the purpose of women’s empowerment.
“Violence against women is institutionalized through family structures, wider social and economic frameworks and cultural and religious traditions and is a widely accepted method for controlling women. Moreover, it is largely overlooked by law enforcement agencies and is ignored by those in power,” added Dr. Kumari. The study recommends that urgent action be taken at different levels. Law making: The study recommends the expansion of political reservations for women, with an extension of a minimum 33% reservation at all levels.
Political parties should analyze manifestos, and ensure that no tickets are given to those who have criminal cases, particularly against women. They should also include more women party members in central and selection committees and in Parliamentary committees.
Law Implementing Agency: The Election Commission needs to take steps to recognize protect, promote and institutionalize women’s participation in politics. Law Influencing Agency should create positive pressure groups for political funding and raising awareness amongst women voters.