This unique first of its kind Womens Parliament has been organized by National Alliance for Women to show that women can and will pave the way for a democratic, secular and inclusive politics in the country. The first womens parliament has two parties : the ruling Progressive Party and the opposition Democratic Party . The ruling party nominated Ruth Manorama from Bangalore as the Prime Minister and also set up a 28 member cabinet along with council of ministers, which including names like Meera Shiva as Health Minister and Dr. Neelavalli from Tamil Nadu as the Finance Minister. The leader of Opposition was Neelam Chaturvedi from Uttar Pradesh.
When asked what NAWO wanted to achieve by holding this alternate Parliament, NAWO president Ruth Manorama said, The aim of this Womens Parliament is to create women leaders to build their capacities to enhance political participation, provide and create an alternate political space where issues can be discussed from a gender perspective and prepare a roster of women who are aware and knowledgeable in local and national issues and can raise their voices on these issues.
The question hour clearly reflected the levels of political maturity and preparedness to take part in the legislative process among women. It was a lively affair where important issues like violence against women, the state of land distribution in the hands of women, trafficking of women and the housing situation of the urban poor were discussed.
Showing how serious NAWO is about the issues at hand, the first bill to be tabled and passed in this unique parliament was the Constitution Amendment Bill 2009 for Womens Reservation which allowed for fifty per cent reservation in the Parliament. The other bills to be tabled during the first day were the Domestic Workers (Regulation of Employment, Conditions of Work, Social Security and Welfare) Bill 2009 and the Right to Recall bill, 2009.
One of the highlights of the parliament is the Union Budget which will be presented on the second day on November 3. This will reflect the difference in the thinking of women MPs as compared to their male counterparts. It will show how women are concerned about health, education, food security and violence against women as grave issues which need to be tackled and where funds need to be allocated.
Some of the prominent women leaders representing the various regions taking part were Ruth Manorama, well known social activist who won the Rights Livelihood award in 2006, Dr Pam Rajput- NAWO, Mohini Giri,-former National Commission for Women chief, Mira Shiva- social activist and Sheeba George, social activist from Gujarat and NAWO secretary.
The presidential address by, prepared by Shashi Sail, NAWO treasurer, was laid on the table. It stated, We do believe that a strong and vibrant democracy is possible only when parliament is inclusive of the people it represents. It is truly a sad commentary that in a list of 133 countries India stands at 104th position with less than 10 percent women in Parliament. Not at all representative of almost one half of the total population of India.
The address went on to specify the goals of NAWO, The Womens Parliament as conceived provides an alternate space and vision for the country, as a challenge to the systems of Patriarchy and the dominant economic system of Neo-liberal capitalism.
Ahead of the Presidential Address,the Womens Parliament began with the customary oath taking ceremony by the women MPs who represented their regions. This was followed by the election of Dr. Pam Rajput, from Chandigarh, as the Speaker. After the presidential address which followed, prime minister Ms. Ruth Manorama gave the motion of thanks.
The process of electing representatives from almost all Parliamentary constituencies of India began a year back in a democratic fashion and women from all walks of life were encouraged to represent their regions resulting in lawyers, teachers, professor and social workers coming forward to take up this challenge.
Explaining the process, Dr Pam Rajput, Vice president of NAWO and convenor of the Womens Parliament said, We prepared a manual, then had a training of trainers, (TOT) and then the trainers trained all the women in each state for three days in parliamentary proceedings prior to this event. All the women are capable leaders in their own rights.
Dr Rajput who has designed the whole structure of the first ever Womens Parliament said, this was serious business and they would conduct it just like the Parliament complete with question hour, zero hour, call to attention notice, star questions and all the proceedings.
Finally , five women MPs declared their vision statement at the Parliament. Also a tribute to the women leaders was paid on the first day.
The four day parliament will end on November 5, Thursday after which NAWO will reflect on the issues discussed and come to conclusions on the way forward which will be revealed to the media on the final day.