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Elections 2019: Equality, Safety, and Land Rights Top the List of Demands by Women

Several women came together before Lok Sabha Elections to oppose the lack of accountability of the government towards increasing violence and inequality against women in India.

Women across the country marched for their constitutional rights in New Delhi on 4 April 2019. These women were raising their voices against growing gender-based violence and inequality. In light of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, these women are opposing any political power who is complicit in furthering prejudice.

The first kind of inequality at issue is the number of missing women voters. Based on the 2011 national census, India was expecting 451 million women over the age of 18 in 2019. However, there are only 430 million women in the electoral rolls. This creates a shocking gap of 21 million women who have been denied their right to vote, even though the overall turnout of women in national elections is expected to be more than men in the ongoing elections.  

Through their slogans and banners, the women gathered for the march carried a central message: India has undergone a period of increased hatred and violence towards women over the last five years. “Women are not safe anywhere because of the area in which we work, an incident takes place every day”, says Anita from Gurugram, who was a part of the march. Another protestor, Rekha Sharma, noted that the government’s assurances about women’s empowerment are all bogus and are only scrawled in papers. “They say ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ but nothing happened”, she added. Today, many women are voting independently of the influence of their husbands or other relatives. They are making their own voting decisions on welfare measures related to women’s education, health, employment, and safety in public places.

The rationale given for Prime Minister Modi's 2016 "demonetisation" scheme was to eradicate so-called 'black money' from the economy. However, this policy created chaos on the ground from the very first day. In the days and weeks after demonetisation, people lost their day-to-day livelihoods, jobs, and even lives. How can a government accept such a catastrophe in the name of “national good”?

The flagship “Make in India” Project is far behind its target too. The Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) created only 27.5 lakh jobs against 10 crore jobs under the ‘Make in India’ programme alone. “Nothing has been done. Even under Pradhan Mantri Ujawala Yojna there is no connection. We saw in the news that Sambit Patra is talking to a woman and that woman is still cooking with wood”, said Anita Kapoor, a member of Shahari Mahila Kazmgar Union.

When we asked women what issues they wanted to be addressed in the coming election, they all agreed on one area:  the safety and equality of women should come first. Besides trying to create awareness about women’s education and building toilets, the current government has failed to deliver on women’s safety and security. “There is an environment of hatred in the country right now, where women are not safe, especially their equality, work or anything else”, adds Anita. Women are demanding their constitutional rights and a political system based on gender equality. While discussing how women lack land rights and other entitlements, Anita emphasizes that they don't want more false promises of development or national progress - the facts on the ground are contrary.

According to World Bank data, 55% of Indian women are employed in the agricultural sector. Additionally, women working in agriculture are only paid 70% of men’s wages for the same work.  

It has also been reported that women own less than 2% of the farmlands which means they lack legal documentation of their land ownership and are hence unable to avail any farm loans. This reflects the grim situation of gender parity in land holdings.

A closer look at the number of women MLAs to the total number of MLAs in different states of India shows that women are highly underrepresented in Indian politics. Therefore, we need to make sure that issues raised by women are addressed in the 2019 elections.

Video by community correspondent Neelam Jajoriya.

Article by Grace Jolliffe, a member of the Editorial team.

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