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Political leaders must address women’s aspirations in their election agendas.
It appears that no political party sees fit to have gender on its election campaign agenda. Arvind Kejriwal has a token line on safety, saying women will be more secure if the Aam Aadmi Party comes to power in Delhi. But that is simply cashing in on the dismal state of affairs in the world’s rape capital. Strangely, women have disappeared from the discourse of political parties. Politicians pay a good deal of attention to other demographics — youth, middle class and poor — which they believe influence election outcomes. Women are not considered an important demographic, not as youth, not as middle class and not as poor.
This despite the fact that, in recent times, gender has thrust itself into the popular consciousness because of the extreme violence inflicted on women. With more women emboldened to report crimes committed against them, there has been an unceasing litany of sexual violence against women of all ages, castes and classes. The perpetrators are varied — politicians, godmen, rich, poor, adolescent, young and old men.
Speeches of key political party leaders remain gendered and stuck in time, framed in terms of traditional gender roles. Because Rahul Gandhi is a youth icon and a popular political leader, I use his recent speech in Rajasthan as an example. One would have expected him to be more sensitive to gender nuances, but what are we to understand of his repeated exhortation that “the poor labourer who looks skyward” should dream that “my son will fly in that plane one day”. Why only the son, why not the daughter? Is she not capable of dreaming of flying a plane? He goes on to say “we brought in the land acquisition bill to let the farmers’ sons dream big, to respect your blood and sweat”. This after the government passed an amendment to the Hindu Succession Act, granting women rights to ancestral property, including land.
In the same rally, Rahul Gandhi said “kisan pasina deta hai, laga rahta hai”. There is no mention here of the fact