Mizoram Assembly polls: State sees highest women candidates in its history, yet female representation remains low
With just 15 women among the 200 candidates contesting the Mizoram Assembly polls, women's representation in politics is among the lowest in the northeastern state
Aizawl, Mizoram: Walking through the streets of Mizoram, a common visible trend is that most shops, vegetable and fish markets, and countryside restaurants are mostly run by women. Like other tribal states in the North East, women play a dominant role in Mizoram society as well. However, their participation in politics doesn’t reflect this trend, with women comprising only 15 out of the 200 candidates contesting the state Assembly polls.
This, however, is still the highest number in Mizoram’s history, where the number of female candidates has never exceeded eight. The question here is: does this minimal participation in politics reflect women empowerment in the state?
There are approximately 7,68,181 eligible voters in Mizoram, out of which 3,93,685 are women, as per the election commission data. The BJP, which is contesting in 39 out of 40 seats in the state, has fielded six female candidates. The Zoram People's Movement (ZPM), a regional party in the state, has named two woman candidates, while the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have fielded one woman, each. The Mizo National Front (MNF), a significant regional party in Mizoram, has no women representation in this election. The remaining women candidates who are contesting the election are independent.
At present, Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu from Congress is the only woman in the state Assembly. Chawngthu won the Hrangturzo constituency bye-election in May 2014, after Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla vacated this seat to keep the Serchhip Assembly constituency with him. He had contested and won both the seats in the 2013 polls. Vanlalawmpuii holds the portfolio of fisheries, sericulture and cooperation, and is only the fourth woman ever to have been elected as an MLA in Mizoram’s state assembly. She is re-contesting from Hrangturzo constituency this election.
The first woman legislator to be elected in Mizoram was Thanmawii in 1978, followed by K Thansiami in 1984 and then Lalhlimpuii Hmar in 1987. No women were elected between 1987 and 2014.
'Cong, MNF ignored women's issues?'
Chawngthu believes that women in the state are struggling with several issues like in other parts of the country, but that these can be solved only by equal representation of both genders. "Our government has implemented the Mizo Marriage, Divorce and Inheritance of Property Act to protect the rights of women and uplift their socio-economic status. There was a plan to create a women and child development department in the state. The government has also given certain rights and privileges to women by providing seat reservation in local bodies, like the village council, local council and municipality council. Mizoram is a tribal state where both men and women are deprived of many facilities which people of other parts of the country enjoy. But there is no direct link between development and participation of women in politics.”
Also known as O.Pi by her friends and family, the minister is an advocate for women empowerment. She is currently the Chairperson of the Mizoram State Commission for Women and previously held the post of president of the Mizoram Pradesh Youth Congress Committee. Her father, C Chawngkunga, is a senior Congress leader and a former minister.
Chawnghthu mentioned that apart from government effort, social organisations like Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (MHIP) have also been engaging in activities for the development of women. They fight against atrocities committed against women, extend help to the destitute and on various occasions, provide family counseling to women, all with the support of the government. She adds that the government has taken effort to empower and uplift the status of women in every sphere of life.
F Lalremsangi, BJP's candidate from Aizawl S III, a Scheduled Tribe (ST) reserved seat, says that the the state Assembly needs more female representation to bring balance in different sectors. “Women in Mizoram are deprived in each and every sector. There's a need for more women in the Assembly to address those issues. When we look at basic sectors like health, employment, etc, women are far behind than men. Both Congress and MNF have ignored women’s issues, and the lack of women leaders in both parties is one of the reasons behind this," she claims.
Women could be more efficient administrators
Talking about the difference between women in Mizoram and other parts of the country, Lalremsangi said, “Women here are brave and independent. Six women are contesting from BJP, but many more are campaigning for us. We read in newspapers that BJP is against beef, but in Mizoram we eat beef and the party doesn’t have an issue with this. We are free to express ourselves and this is going to reflect in the Assembly if we all win.”
Apart from basic development, Mizoram is struggling with drug addiction as well. Social activist and a member of BJP, Vijay Lakshmi Rai believes that these issues can be solved by women more efficiently. "Drug addiction is an international issue and Mizoram is no exception. A large section of the youth are getting addicted, they get easy access to drugs because our state shares a border with countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh. The lawmakers of Mizoram are busy with other issues, but they aren’t aware of the fact that drug addiction is destroying our backbone," she said.
President of the National Mahila Congress, Sushmita Dev, says that an increase in women’s participation in politics is extremely important, as they are known to deliver better governance. However, she blames the BJP government at the Centre for poor participation of women in Mizoram polls, saying that the BJP government had majority in the Lok Sabha, and if it wanted it could have passed the Women's Reservation Bill. The bill was passed in 2010 in Rajay Sabha, but remained stuck in the Lok Sabha, because of differences between Congress and its allies.
“It feels good that more women are contesting this year in Mizoram, but with the (Women's Reservation) bill, there would have been a stronger number of women candidates in Mizoram and other parts of the country,” she added.
With inputs from Ezrela Dalidia Fanai
The authors are freelance writers and members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
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