A Stepping Stone
Along with the rest of the world, Nagaland observes International Women’s Day every year on March 8 with various organisations marking the occasion by sensitising people to women’s rights. It is an occasion to celebrate the achievements of women in various fields like social, economic and political, as well as spread awareness about gender inequality and gender-based discrimination. After flowing with the crowd for decades without much achievement to celebrate, people of the state, not just women, have good reason to celebrate this time around. Last week, Nagaland elected two women (from Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party) to the legislative assembly for the first time in the history of the state. Adding the cherry on top of the cake, the Neiphiu Rio-led coalition has inducted one of the women legislators — Salhoutuonuo Kruse – in the cabinet. It is a defining moment for the state- a defining moment because women’s representation in decision-making bodies even at village level has been minimal all these years. By giving a ministerial berth to one of the two elected women legislators in the highest decision-making body of the state, overriding many seasoned politicians, the state government has, in a way, sent out a message that it stands for women empowerment and gender equality. The gesture is also a sort of atonement for the failure of the society to leverage women in state politics all these years. These developments will no doubt encourage more women to enter politics in the future and help close the gender gap in political representation, though much of its success will depend on the performance of the two women legislators during their tenure. But we can say that women in our society enjoy equal political rights only if they can independently decide and vote for the candidates of their choice without any external pressure.
While the state celebrates women making inroads into the legislative assembly, one cannot undermine gender-based discriminations in various sectors, including social, education and economic, that remain unaddressed to this day despite being discussed extensively at various levels. Our society is still unwilling to let women enjoy rights as basic as alimony and property inheritance while the world has started looking at other nuances of gender equality. Failure to address these issues will ultimately affect women’s participation in political process. Now, all eyes will be on the urban local bodies (ULBs) and town councils election, which is expected to be conducted soon in the state with 33% reservation for women, as it will play a significant role in boosting women’s participation in decision-making bodies and act as a springboard to state-level politics by riding on their service and experience. To see change, social support is necessary at least during the initial period. Women have just taken baby steps in politics and many more are ahead.