May 14, 2007

Nagalim: Women’s Political Participation Secured

A long awaited reservation policy for women in municipalities and town councils will bring equal representation of men and women in Nagaland’s decision-making bodies.

A long awaited reservation policy for women in municipalities and town councils will bring equal representation of men and women in Nagaland’s decision-making bodies.

Below is an article written by Rosemary Dzuvichu and published by Kangla Online:

Empowering women in Decision Making bodies in Nagaland is not going to be an easy task, both for women as well as the State Government. The long awaited reservation policy for women in Municipalities and Town councils came into being after numerous representations to the Governor of Nagaland, recommendations to policy makers, including a law suit. The Nagaland Municipal (first amendment) Act […] will satisfy the long felt demand for gender equity in decision making bodies in Nagaland and Naga women are preparing to meet the challenges and work in partnership for development. Thanks to the former Governor Shri Shyamal Datta, who was a champion for empowering women, the Act not only ensures one third reservation of seats for women in all municipalities and town councils, but also a rotational reservation of the offices of Chairpersons, in proportion to the number of seats reserved for women .

The Act clearly stipulates that seats in every Municipality shall be reserved for SC,STs and women in accordance to the provisions contained in clause (1) to (3) of Article 243-T of the Constitution of India. The Government of Nagaland has notified the allotment of seats to be reserved for women, by rotation in different wards of all municipalities and town councils in Nagaland. Therefore the reaction of the male Town Councillors/Municipal Councilors to the amendment of the Act is expected, as the Act states that “all male members who were directly elected from those wards in the Municipalities which have become reserved for women, including women belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes under clause (10 to (3) of Article 243-T of the Constitution shall be deemed to have vacated their seats upon notification of the reservation of seats under clause (3)”.Thus all Councillors who have been elected from the wards allotted now as reserved for women, are supposed to
have vacated their seats upon the notification.

However, keeping in view the welfare and rights of elected Councillors, the Act ensures that the Government shall constitute as many number of single member Committees, as are equal to the number of such members who have vacated their seats, and designate them as Chairman of such Committees with specific functions. The Chairmen so designated shall thereupon be deemed to have become members of the respective Municipality under Article 243-R (2) (a) (iv) of the Constitution. Therefore, Councillors who have vacated their seats from the allotted wards for reservation, will still be members of the Municipal or Town Council till the end of their tenure.

The news item in a local daily “Civic storm over reservation move” is very discouraging and a strong indication of the patriarchal mindset that exists in the state. The Constitution guarantees the protection of women and their fundamental rights and women in Nagaland have come of age, to deliberate and demand their rights as equal human beings. There is very serious gender inequality in Naga society, particularly in all decision making bodies and this amendment will definitely create the space for women to have a voice in decision making. Women have been deprived of their rights and discriminated for generations, under the guise of certain customary practices and tradition, which are being debated in many tribes today, by activists and strong women organisations.

One is confident that many political parties (hopefully) have started identifying active and socially conscious women in all reserved wards for
their candidates. However, Apex women organisations in all towns should prove their worth by encouraging capable women candidates to be elected by ‘consensus’, instead of spending enormous sums of money and avoiding corrupt practices of elections which is rampant in Nagaland like booth capturing, proxy voting etc etc, for this first election. If political parties are serious about empowering women, it should not be difficult to convince party leaders to listen to the voices of women organisations, and elect efficient women who can contribute to the development of their towns, without any animosity over candidates. Elections for the reserved seats, in the next six months must prove that women are ‘capable’ of working in partnership for development in the state.
The fear of Councillors that ‘women running booze joints will jump into the fray and lower the functioning of the municipalities ‘is ridiculous.It must be noted that in the Act, there is no bar for women earning their livelihood by selling liquor to stand for election into the town or municipal council. Many Councillors in many towns in Nagaland will agree, that the best and hardest campaigners very often, are these women who have supported their entry into the town or municipals, by hosting and sponsoring ‘free drinks and food’ and campaigning for their candidate at the same time. In spite of the Prohibition Act in the state, (which has now become a mockery of the very definition), it is an open secret that these sellers are some of the richest too! We must not forget that many educated, successful Nagas today are the children of women who make their livelihood by brewing and selling local liquor. If they are women who have educated and supported their families through their own enterprise, are committed to improving the social conditions of the people and developing the towns, there is nothing that prevents them from contesting. Many of these women are also well educated and would understand the responsibility that a Councillor takes upon himself or herself. This is not to say that Naga women are going to encourage all booze sellers to jump into the fray, but their business must be accepted in its hard reality, without moral judgement clouding their capability. Health, sanitation and cleanliness, good drainage systems, good roads, adequate power supply, good and safe drinking water, good town planning and beautification, regular monitoring of prices of essentials, safety and security of citizens are very important issues for all women, irrespective of professions.

The citation of Article 371-A or the “unique social fabric of the Nagas” in the face of positive changes, many a time, by our politicians, especially, in the case of empowering women, is highly debatable. The State Government and Honourable members of the Legislative Assembly must remember that women represent the other half of the population in the state. Gender equity and justice must exist for a society to progress and develop. We look forward to seeing a better Nagaland with efficient women Councillors and women Chairpersons in our towns and municipalities.