Seven years ago, I was chairing a district-level meeting of the officials of the NSUI, the students’ wing of the Indian National Congress, in a small town in India. It was my first assignment after I was inducted as a National Secretary of the organization. As the meeting proceeded, two things struck me. One was the marginal number of women in the room – just two women officials out of the 21 people in the room. Secondly, the silence of the women throughout the course of the meeting. I observed them intently. Then, as we were breaking for tea, the male officials asked the women to serve tea and snacks. I was in shock, that the women who were their own peers, were expected to serve them.
This wasn’t a one-off incident. I saw this pattern repeating over and over again in my interactions across the country. Women in politics have always been treated as second class citizens. Despite having a seat at the table, they are relegated to the side-lines. More often than not, they are hesitant to speak up due to fear of being judged or lack of confidence. Even when they do speak, their voices are drowned out by the men or often mansplained. This is in addition to the inherent patriarchy, women are subjected to. The misogyny of male colleagues, gender-bargaining by women peers, and the sexism of the voters act as detrimental factors for women in politics.
These are all roadblocks that I have personally experienced as a first-generation politician. However, I also acknowledge that I am more privileged than many women who belong to more marginalised sections and suffer much worse. I have also seen many passionate women politicians drop out after a few years due to these challenges.
India, with 14.3 per cent women representation in the Parliament, is far below the global average of women in politics. The figure is even more dismal in the state assemblies. When we talk about this low representation of women in politics, it is pertinent to understand the challenges women face and redress them.
It is with this vision that Femme First Foundation (FFF), a non-partisan non-profit organisation, was conceptualised. Our organisation strongly believes that greater representation of the marginalised sections improves decision-making, which in turn enriches legislative institutions and subsequently, the society. Studies have shown that women leaders perform better than their male counterparts. To amplify this potential of women leaders, we aim to supplement their existing skillsets through trainings and mentorships, equip them with new knowledge and perspectives via a fellowship programme. The fellowship will also provide the women with a peer network with whom they can share their trials and tribulations.
During my time as a VVEngage Fellow at Vital Voices, I have learned the importance of using one’s power to empower. Jenny Shipley, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, once remarked to me, “Women need to hold women up. That’s the least we can do for each other.” Her words have stayed with me since.
FFF is my own small way of paying it forward. It stems from my staunch belief that the time for women is now, and this is a nudge towards that direction. (This article was published on SheThePeople.Tv and can be accessed here.)