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Gender Parity: Hee hee hee! Politics is indeed boys' club!

TIOL - COB( WEB) - 840
NOVEMBER 03, 2022

By Shailendra Kumar, Founder Editor

HEE hee hee! Ha ha ha! These expressions represent laughter which is globally accepted as the best form of therapy or cheap medicine! Roaring with laughter is a self-manufactured antidote to all forms of stress and wrinkling of cardiac muscles! Some philosophers have said that laughter is wine for the, um, soul and spirit! Robert Frost had observed that 'if we could not laugh we would all go insane'! Mark Twain went to the extent of treating laughter as the only effective weapon the human race possesses! At times, crying and laughing are the only two options left, and laughing makes better sense! Noted American poet Maya Angelou had commented: "I don't trust anyone who does not laugh"! Inspired by several rich commentaries of an esoteric group of philosophers on laughter, I ventured or, one may call it misadventure, to ferret out whether the third-termist Chinese President also laughs! Yuck, in vain! Rather his sly smile germinates weird and unsavoury goosebumps! One may like to verify this shard of fact from the former Chinese President Hu Jintao! Anyway, let's accept that it is immensely fiendish to decipher it! However, his statements delivered post-CCP's 20th Congress held in Beijing recently, may gin up the molecules of laughter in your blood cells! After engineering serious fractures in the geopolitical harmony and almost-overtly cushioning Russian invasion of Ukraine which has triggered utter chaos in the world, he has proposed that "China and the US ought to find ways to safeguard world peace"! Ha ha ha! Very sumptuous source of laughter, indeed! But frighteningly! Time to hold your belly!

Let's now whirl towards the grand denouement at the 20th Congress of the CCP. Many of them were perturbingly predictable such as his third term as General Secretary; tightening of his grips on the Politburo; greater reliance on state-owned enterprises to drive the economy and ultra-nationalism as the key boilerplate of his future economic and military meta-policies! What came as not-really-a-surprise was his open ill-treatment to the stated objective of gender parity in the China's upper crust of the political apparatus. And strangely, this is after oft-mouthing about his elevated goal to achieve higher gender parity at the UN Women forum on at least two occasions! For the first time in 25 years, there is no woman member in the seven-member papier mâché Politburo standing committee. The lone member who was sobriqueted as Covid tsar, Ms Sun Chunlan, was retired and the new faces in the party were simply deprived of even squinted glance! This is despite the conventional quota for at least one woman in senior leadership! She was one of the only three women who have thus far made it that far as political heavyweights in their own right - apart from the wives of powerful leaders in the last 70 years!

The CCP has over 100 million members and women account for about 30% but the pyramid of power politics ruefully proves too steep for them! Even if they are equipped with high-wire 'mountaineering' skills, they tend to find themselves on the edge of sand dunes - this is how the Chinese power politics is described! They are excluded from the leadership ranks even at the local and central levels. China has markedly developed economically but not socially - 23.6% is the gender parity data! It continues to be a patriarchal society. Mr Xi Jinping does not share the credit with his predecessors for firmly putting the feminist movement in eerie quietude - a la #MeToo movement! Will it ever change? If we go by Arthur Miller - "An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted"! In case of Mr Xi, the pillar of illusions has just got another 'lift' and would take at least a decade to run out of 'metaverse' chimera! A wrack of fast-moving clouds of gender parity can be seen fading away in the blue skies!

Interestingly, China is not a friendless pariah on gender parity issue so far as women's representation in power hierarchy goes! India has tragically not earned much honour on this count. Though women account for 48% of our population, their representation in Parliament has not up-ticked even by 10% in the last 75 years! Sacré bleu! It reached a new peak as per latest data from Parliament - 14.6% but looks awfully dismal and dwarfed! The canvas apparently looks more gloomy and bald if we trudge towards the State Assemblies. The national average mirrors the 'smoke-filled-room' syndrome - one short of double digit! And, of course, there are myriad reasons and glorious sagas of heavy-hearted legislative and political pledges. As a society we are blessed to have the unmatched elitism of N-number of goddesses but we spectacularly fail to allocate them a fair share in the calculus of power! Our political parties, including regional ones, often display greater depths in practising charlatanism on this issue. Female candidates account for only 17% of about 5000-strong IAS Cadre! When it comes to our judiciary, women account for only 10% of about 700 judges in the higher courts! A confidence-deflating record for the key pillar of the Republic which carries the onus to defend gender parity as a constitutional right! Unfortunately, women do not fall under any broad head of caste or religion which is the oft-resorted basic denominator for seeking votes!

The records of South Asia in general is equally bad (Bangladesh has reduced the marriageable age from 18 to 16) notwithstanding the fact that some of the heads of the governments and the States are women. It hangs around 18% which is the lowest in the world! On the global scale, as of September 19, 2022, 28 countries had women heads of State or government. Only about 21% of government ministers were women - only 14 countries have achieved 50% women in cabinets. Five most predictable portfolios held by women are family, children or elderly welfare ministry; social affairs; environment, labour and gender equality. As against 11% in 1995, only about 26% of all parliamentarians are women. Only 5 countries have 50% or more women in parliament in lower houses - Rwanda, Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico and UAE! About 27% countries have women accounting for 40%. Most of these countries enforce gender quota. Latin America has over 30% women representation in Parliament; 26% in Sub-Saharan Africa; 21% in Western Asia and less than 20% in Central Asia and Southern Asia. At the present pace, the gender parity may take more than a century!

Europe also hovers around 25%. Spain tends to stand tall with a female-heavy cabinet. In 2018 polls, 26 women won seats, jockeying up female participation to 47% as against 41% in 2018. Spain has thus surpassed Finland and Sweden to claim the crown as the most women-heavy parliament in the EU. The average share of women representation in EU is about 32% - a decent jump from 24% about 10 years back! Eastern countries particularly lag behind in Europe. For instance, Hungary accounts for only 13% representation. In case of Latin America, Bolivia stands out with almost 50% lawmakers being women at every level of government. But again, this is because of the constitutional amendment. Quotas were introduced in 1997 when only 9% of the House were women. Its electoral law mandates that half of all party nominees must be female. The story is not different for the US. Politics is indeed a boys' club in America. Women were not allowed to vote until 1920! For the black women, a dawn was recorded only in 1960s when civil rights legislation squashed some States' voting laws. Weird and shocking but women faced sexist rules until 1993 when they were not permitted to wear trousers on the floor of the US Senate! Cultural biases and general opinion about women's roles is that politics is not the vocation meant for women!

The million-dollar question is - Is it fair to blame Mr Xi or even the Iranian theocrat whose 'morality police' excesses have sparked sustained protests and clashes with the security forces? Was it always so discriminatory for women even in the ancient civilisations? Perhaps yes! A quick glance through the Greek history reveals that though ancient Greeks worshipped goddesses such as Athena, Aphrodite, and Artemis but women did not do well even in the early models of democracy! New tour d'horizon has thrown light on brilliant women such as Aspasia who moved in the same club of Socrates and Pericles but women in general were strictly assigned conventional roles like in the Chinese society such as wives, mothers, vendors, laundresses and weavers. They were denied citizenship and had no legal or political identity. However, priestesses used to be put on high pedestal and had a role beyond the traditional sphere.

In a nutshell, the discrimination against women is embedded in all civilisations and the contemporary societies vigorously need to take some substantive legal and social measures to inch forward towards respectable percentage of gender parity! A complex web of tangles, indeed! But, developed as well as emerging economies need to behave more like Sparta, a society parallel to the ancient Greek, had given women greater freedom and roles in their politics besides letting them train as warriors! Time for emerging economies to let women climb the ladder of politics and also administration along with the corporate world if higher growth trajectory is to be realised and the developmental gaps against Western economies are to be bridged at a faster pace! Yes, it is doable but entails a tectonic shift in patronising attitude of 'self-serving schemers' of patriarchal power-peddling politics! Let the female talent bloom to overcome the lurking economic gloom! The only coup de maître for rapid growth is higher productivity which cannot be realised by denying parity to a major swathe of mankind! Time to go red-faced and to stoke our beards! Let's not box ourself in! Ouch! Have I trodden on a thistle?