Gendering Democracy: Necessity and Challenges

UN Women Expert Group Meeting: Expert Paper

Authored by: G. Arunima

Categories: Statebuilding
Sub-Categories: Democratization and Political Participation, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)
Country: USA
Region: South and Central Asia
Year: 2019
Citation: G. Arunima, “Gendering Democracy: Necessity and Challenges,” Expert Paper, Sixty-Fourth Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 64) ‘Beijing +25: Current Context, Emerging Issues and Prospects for Gender Equality and Women’s Rights’ (New York, New York: UN Women, September 2019).

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Executive Summary

For whom is India democratic?

Newspaper headlines in recent times speak about atrocities and violence that cannot have any place in a functioning democracy. For instance, custodial torture of Assamese Muslim women; rape and intimidation of young women, even infant girls, by men in political office, or backed by the ruling dispensation; the Indian army’s excesses in regions that have witnessed political insurgency (Manipur or Kashmir), which has often taken the form of rape and violence against women; have all been subjects of intense political controversies, struggles and debates. Alongside, there are the more quotidian forms of discrimination, from declining avenues, and rates, of employment; wage differentials, between organized and informal sectors of the economy; low rates of education for girls and women, across sectors (primary to tertiary); declining sex ratios that signify patriarchal attitudes, and attendant violence, like a preference for sons that normalizes sex selective abortions, and the invisibility of a wide variety of quotidian forms of women’s (mostly unpaid) work, from quotidian domestic responsibilities to care-work.

Each of these render problematic the difficult terrain of rights and citizenship – and the tension between a liberal idea of equal citizenship that’s based on difference blindness and the disadvantages that social groups may experience as a result of their social location or self identification (Jayal: 4). How does one envisage a democracy that can not only have rights and freedoms, but also have enabling provisions that make it part of the lived reality of social groups across gender, caste, religion or class? How can gendering rights alter our idea of democratic rights, social justice and civil liberties?

Here I shall look mainly at the changing landscape of marriage in contemporary India, and use that as an entry point to think about the relationship between religion, law, gender and violence. This I will argue are inherently linked to the changing face of India, from being imagined as a secular democracy to being recast (albeit within the framework of democracy) as a religious majoritarian ‘Nation’. In other words, I want to argue (taking a cue from BR Ambedkar, framer of the Indian Constitution and radical political thinker) that the social is the site of the political. Therefore, the brief remarks here are a starting point for how one may rethink democracy, mostly understood as political, via the politics of gender – usually relegated to the domain of the social.