‘Women issues need to be at the centre of electoral pursuits’
Dimapur, March 21 (EMN): Women and gender diverse persons are ‘nearly absent’ from elections even though their share as voters are on par with men. Irrespective of their vote share as equal citizens in a democracy, women’s issues need to be at the centre of electoral pursuits, for them to be reflected in policy and governance, stated senior journalist Smita Gupta.
She was addressing a panel discussion via Zoom on “They wrote the elections” to mark the 20th anniversary of the Network of Women in Media India (NWMI) on March 20.
According to the NWMI, elections are all male affairs with male anchors, male analysts, male reporters and focus on issues that appear gender neutral. Issues, however, are highly gendered, even the seemingly neutral ones.
‘Journalists shape the public narrative and this influences public opinion and policy. We shouldn’t cover women just because we need their voice but because it’s important to society’, Smita Gupta asserted.
Gupta, who has been working since 1979, recounted that when she first started as a journalist, women were assigned only as sub-editors and were hard to be accepted as reporters.
She recounted that during elections, when men were assigned to cover elections and hard news-topics, ‘women were left hanging around in office’.
Women, she lamented, had to push their way forward to ‘prove themselves as they were thought of not understanding politics’.
“Even after all these years, women don’t feature in stories even though their votes are not always in consonance with men simply because it is harder to speak to them. Many women lack the self-esteem to understand that their opinions matter,” she pointed out.
Another panelist Ninglun Hanghal, an independent journalist based in Manipur, pointed out that in Manipur coverage was still limited to visual representation when it comes to women in elections, focus on queues of women voters and women participation while reportage still lacking real issues.
“The coverage during the Manipur elections was about the number of women voters, their colourful clothes when they come to vote. Even when journalists interview women, the discussion is superficial, not about the issues that matter to them,” Hanglal reiterated.
Founding Editor of The Voice Babita Gautam a panelist of the discussion pointed out that mainstream media doesn’t cover the issues of Dalit voters, which is very different from upper caste stories. On the future for women in politics she said ‘if women are allowed to come in, they can platform their issues’.
Kavitha Muralidharam, a bilingual independent journalist stated that “in Tamil Nadu, women are more willing to speak to journalists (compared to in Northern India). Women see the election campaign as an opportunity to speak of the issues that matter to them”.
Founder of Behan Box Bhanupriya_Rao who was the moderator of the discussion remarked that the exercise of elections is never-ending in India — from the local body to national level — but it has remained a male bastion. According to Rao, there’s enough research that shows that women form the bulk of party workers but they face intense harassment and are not moving up the ranks.