With polling day looming, political parties in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu are doing their damnedest to appeal to women voters. However, both young and not-so-young women wish they had leaders from their fraternity to choose from in the election.
Political Parties Woo the Women Voters
Considering that women hold such sway in the state's elections, political parties have dedicated a separate part to them in their manifestos.
Earlier this month, the state’s main opposition party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), promised $14 (INR 1,000) per month on the ration cards of women whose families qualify for subsidised rations, subsidies on gas cylinders, free bus passes and $326 (INR 24,000) as maternity assistance.
A week later, on 8 March, the State’s ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party upped the ante by offering $20 (INR 1,500) per month to the same group of women and a washing machine.
But the women of Tamil Nadu aren't really looking for assorted hand-outs and bribes. Sputnik spoke to a section of them to understand what matters.
Price Rise, Equality and Job Security
Shweta Krishnamurty, a 31-year-old management student, said: "For a woman like me, issues such as security and equal representation of gender in politics matter more than other issues."
She added: "Do you seriously think we need freebies? Name one state where direct cash transfer helps to empower the state's women."
M. Sudha, a 43-year-old housewife, who used to work in the hospitality sector, is worried about the rocketing price of the essential gas cylinder and redundancies affecting women because of coronavirus.
"I was working in the human resources department of Oyo Rooms, a hospitality company. It laid off 600 to 800 employees in December 2020. Now, it's so hard to find a new job. Why is no one talking about it?” Sudha stressed.
Sudha also complains about sexist remarks made by some male politicians in the state. "I'm not happy with the way male politicians’ maintain sexist overtones and later everyone ignores them."
Her comments also referred to state leaders such as Dindigul Leoni, who said that the milk of foreign cows was "turning women into barrels" while he was campaigning last week.
Low Representation of Women in Politics
Political Observer Garima Tiwari, who has been working with the C-Voter international polling agency for more than 20 years, explained that although 50 percent of the places in municipal and village councils - or panchayats - have been reserved for women, in state government the number has only climbed above single digits twice - in 1962 and 1991.
"The ruling party AIADMK has never had a female leader representing it in both Houses of the parliament. Similarly, the DMK has had only one female leader Kanimozhi and that was because of who her father was — M. Karunanidhi, a stalwart in state and national politics," Tiwari said.
According to Tiwari, although all the parties are trying to woo women voters in the best possible way, if parties had actually included women members, their job would have been easier.
Tiwari also mentioned late Jayaram Jayalalithaa, the six-time women State chief, and how her death in 2016 created a vacuum in the political leadership and for women voters.
"When Jayalalithaa took over the reins of the party in 1989, female support moved entirely to her and remained with her as chief of the state until she died," Tiwari said.
"But is her support base still with her party AIADMK? We have to wait and see," added Tiwari.
The election result will be announced on 2 May.