Women living in poverty carry the overwhelming burden of domestic responsibilities. They tend to have multiple roles as wives, mothers, daughters, community carers and income-generators.
Two years into her tenure, Lakshmi has realised a number of infrastructure projects including the building of roads and ponds. Lakshmi has also used her role to encourage women to raise awareness of government health facilitiesâ available to family members.
One of these women is Lakshmi Priya Nayak. Early marriage stopped her from continuing her education, and she supported her husband and their two children by managing a grocery shop in her village.
This means that major changes in womens political activities, other than exercising their right to vote, have been long in coming. Today, women are struggling to gain equal participation in political office alongside men. Of interest is the use in over 41 countries of parity quotas and quota laws to achieve political gender balance. Responding to strong pressure by womens organizations, gender quotas have appeared in many new constitutions, like the one of Rwanda, and recently in the constitution of Iraq. This means that a certain number of parliamentary seats are reserved for women. The seats are distributed among the political parties in proportion to the number of seats awarded in parliament. In South Africa, a municipal law stipulates that 50 percent of all candidates for the local office have to be women. India in 1992 enacted a 33 percent policy to reserve seats for women in Parliament and throughout the State Government. The final effectiveness of this policy is unknown, but so far, as many as one million women have gotten an opportunity to enter institutions as members and office bearers; many more have participated in elections and as campaigners for state legislatures. Most dramatic has been the change in the landscape of local politics. In some cases, women for the first time have sat with village leaders, and sometimes even had a turn heading village affairs.
VSO works with some of the most disadvantaged women and girls in the world. At the grassroots level, we are working with them to improve education outcomes, maternal and sexual healthcare and economic independence.
Similarly Iran, which had granted women suffrage in 1963 and passed numerous womens equal rights legislation in the 70s, repealed all these gains when the revolutionary government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. Women were eliminated from all decision-making positions within the government, dress requirements were enforced, and womens organizations were declared corrupt and disbanded. The future looks brighter today. A growing urban, middle class is making some progress by situating womens rights within the cultural framework of Iran, and noting that in order to modernize, Iran must improve the status of women.
National Needs Come First: In countries fighting for their independence from colonial rule there was pressure on women to wait their turn. Even Gandhi, who had brought women into the public struggle for self sufficiency from Great Britain, stated that although he wanted women to take their proper place by the side of men, the timing was wrong for a votes for women campaign; women instead should use their energies helping their men against the common foe. Women suffrage supporters, too, tended to be more nationalistic than feminist, arguing that votes for women were necessary so that they could imbue their children with ideas of nationalism.
Feminist and suffrage supporters in non-western regions tended to be accused of blindly imitating Western women, who were perceived as aggressive and shameless. Japanese womens internationalism was attacked using this very argument. In the years leading up to World War II, members of the Japanese Diet increasingly portrayed womens suffrage as immoral and as running counter to Japanese customs.
Fear of a Lose of Female rights. Some women and men worried that if the concept of male protection of women were broken, women would be forced to compete with men in areas which they were not prepared to. Giving women political independence would even change male/female roles in the family structure, severely damaging it.
Many Women didnt Want it. This rationale swayed many a male legislator. It is true that at times even well educated women in countries with high percentages of female illiteracy joined men who claimed that as long as the majority of women were still illiterate and ignorant, it would be dangerous to extend them the vote. The anti-suffrage groups in the U.S., for example, were mainly led by women.
In 1956 in Egypt, thirty-three years after feminists had first demanded suffrage, the revolutionary government granted women the right to vote. But from the start, the state and official Islam obstructed womens political rights by banning feminist organizations and suppressing the public expression of their views. Thus the same year that the state granted women the right to vote, women were suppressed as independent political actors.
Esther is part of the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA), a membership organisation supported by VSO to address issues facing women in politics, and build up their capacity to participate.
Conservative Kuwait lawmakers recently blocked womens vote by arguing that giving women would essentially double womens power. Citing claims that Islam and Kuwaiti custom bar women from holding office, the head of the Parliaments human rights committee in May, 2005, said that men are technically the head of the nation here.