In a historic first, an all-women political party was launched in Mumbai on Monday, with the intent to contest 283 of the 545 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general elections.
Founded by a of social activists from Telangana, and spearheaded by professional and social activist Dr. Shwetha Shetty, the National Women’s Party (NWP) describes itself as “a party of mothers.”
Among its key agenda is 50% reservation for women in the Lower House of the Parliament.
Shetty pointed to the 22-year delay in reserving 33% seats in the Parliament, saying that governance in India is still marked by a predominantly male hegemony which denies women an equal say in policymaking. Claiming that this poses a crucial obstacle in achieving “women empowerment,” she said, “This party is a historic step in our mission to ensure equal representation for women in Parliament.”
“There only 11% women in Parliament. We have the right for 50% representation. We will fight for it,” she said. “We have taken the first step,” she added. The party will consider enrolling men after ensuring that more than 50% of the office-bearers are women, she noted.
“Our ideology is to remove gender disparity in politics and thus create equal importance for females in the patriarchal Indian society,” Shetty told the media at the formal launch. Her party, she said, will particularly represent underprivileged women and end “husband raj” in local , Assemblies and Parliament.
Stage of completion
Shetty said in December, that she had wanted to start a mass movement ever since she started working with an NGO in Telangana. “NWP has the support from 1.45 lakh women members of Telangana Mahila Samiti and the numbers are persistently increasing across India,” a press release from the NWP said on Monday.
It was previously launched in Delhi and Bengaluru. At the launch of the party at Delhi Press Club in December, Shetty was accompanied by Ritu, an acid attack victim and Pooja, a domestic violence survivor, both hailing from Haryana.
The party is currently in the process of shortlisting the list of candidates to go to polls, according to reports. Shetty claims that the NWP has already been registered with the Election Commission of India, requesting it a stove, cylinder or bangle for the party’s symbol on the ballot.
The party’s logo bears the graphic of a woman draped in a saree with folded hands.
Vision and campaign strategy
“With this initiative, the NWP plans to create an environment for development of women which enables them to their full potential and help achieve the goals of empowerment,” Shetty added.
As part of its election campaign, the NWP will also launch a mobile app called “Mahila Rakshak” to dispatch first responders and assist women during distressful circumstances and emergencies.
“Safety is of utmost importance considering the growing incidents of crimes against them,” the party convenor added. India was voted the most dangerous country for women in a global poll last year, in the wake of two horrific gender crimes recorded in Kathua and Unnao.
In a novel move, the party plans to convene a Youth Parliament for every state to provide academic and practical training to all women in the country. This will act as a political school and serve to encourage women in becoming more involved in the country’s political process, said Shetty.
A political endeavour worth looking forward to
With widespread gender-based discrimination across the country, the role of an all-women’s party is immense in terms of reclaiming the domain of public service. Although segregation, historically speaking, does not quite achieve the goals of female empowerment, in this case, electing more women representatives to the Lower House means key decisions and laws will be passed keeping the interests of women in mind. But the NWP has already struck radical principles off its manifesto, by responding neutrally to the Sabarimala issue.
Shetty like a seasoned politician spoke at length about some of the burning issues pertaining to women in India. However, when it came to the issue of the continuing protests against the historic Supreme Court verdict to allow women of menstruating age to enter the Kerala temple, Shetty seemed unwilling to take the opportunity to slam the temple authorities and right-wing outfits for the mayhem.
“It is not a question of equality. Women younger than the age of 10 and older than 60 are already going there. So this is not an issue at all,” she said, missing the beat that could put her among the few female activist leaders.
However, on issues like the #MeToo movement she said that there should be more platforms that gives voice to survivors’ experiences. The NWP’s position on intersectionality in representation, and what it would do to decrease the gender wage gap is not clear yet.
In the absence of a campaign website or official manifesto, the vision and fate of the NWP difficult to map, even though fringe parties usually end up providing to the larger mainstream ones, as political battles in India are mostly bipartisan. In contesting for the Parliamentary seats, the NWP has also agreed to ally with parties who will support the idea of 50% reservation.
The party chief said that the party is looking to raise funds from dedicated women who work for gender equality and social justice. “We are not commercialising this. Women are coming forward to help us. Some men who share our ideology are also helping us,” she added.
Moreover, the NWP needs to field strong and well-known candidates, from across the socio-economic spectrum, to boost visibility and clout amid this chaotic campaign season. That said, the idea of an all-women’s party is invigorating to say the least and worth keeping an eye out for, in the #MeToo era.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius