Aizawl: Women, it seems, have hardly any room in politics in the hill state of Mizoram. As opposed to 194 men contesting for the 40-seat assembly, only 15 women candidates were in fray for this year’s elections.
Ironically, the state has a higher number of female voters as compared to their male counterpart — 393,685 female voters against 374,496 male voters.
Although the 2018 election has seen an increase in the number of woman candidates, from six in 2013 to 15 this year, how many of them will actually make it to the assembly remains to be seen. Currently, Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu is the only woman MLA in the ruling Congress government of the state. Chawngthu made it to the ministry after nearly a gap of 27 years. By winning the 2014 by-poll, she became only the second woman to be inducted into the ministry, with the first one being Lalhlimpuii Hmar from MNF in 1987.
Among the woman candidates, BJP had fielded six, Zoram Thar and Congress one each, Zoram People’s Movement two and National Congress Party one, along with other parties in the fray. Incidentally, major opposition party Mizo National Front (MNF) didn’t field any woman this time around.
Interestingly, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), which is looking to open its account in the state assembly, had fielded the highest number of female candidates, and had also submitted a memorandum to all political parties to field woman candidates in the poll. The move of the saffron party is being seen as a move to catch up on the Mizo woman’s increasing demand for participation in the decision-making process.
Whenever asked about the reason for political parties to shy away from fielding woman candidates, leaders often reasoned that woman candidates do not attract enough votes. This argument can be backed by the fact that the women who had contested in six assembly polls between 1989 and 2013 had all lost the elections.
When asked about the reason for such less woman participation in the political affairs of the state, Lalnipuii, former president, Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (MHIP), one of the leading woman rights organisation in Mizoram, said, “It may be because of the low status of women in the Mizo society. Society people, especially the men, have a very low opinion of women and I feel that this is an important factor for the low participation of women. Although there are women in Mizoram working as higher ranking officers, they still don’t have a say when it comes to the state’s politics.”
Traditionally, the Christian-dominated Mizo society has had norms which deprive a woman of inheritance of her husband’s property in case of a divorce, and the daughters could even inherit their ancestral property. In case the daughter is the only child, the property would go to the nearest male relative and not the daughter. But, in 2014, a new law — Mizo Marriage, Divorce and Inheritance of Property Act, 2014 — was enacted, which allowed divorced Mizo women to inherit property of their former husbands.
An example of how difficult it can be for bringing a change in the patriarchal society, Lalnipuii cited, “While I was working with MHIP, I worked very hard to get the divorce law passed, but I was shamed by the women themselves, who accused me of having ulterior motives, and that I was probably going to get divorced which is why I am trying to get this bill passed.”
“Woman work very hard and I believe that there are more women farmers in the state than men, there are women working in offices, markets, at home. You may see women walking around, working, wearing modern clothes, and this may give you the impression that they have all the freedom in the world. But this freedom is limited; it does not necessarily improve their status in society. They are still at the mercy of men.”
Talking about herself, Lalnipuii said, “I still think that society is still very patriarchal. I was the first Mizo to attain a Master’s degree in chemistry in 1964, but I did not get the opportunity to pursue my career at all. I got married and took care of my children, until I joined MHIP.”
Mizoram has a comparatively impressive sex ratio with 976 females against every 1,000 males, as per the 2011 census. However, more than half of its population have remained with few rights when it comes to issues like marriage and inheritance. This is all the more baffling because Mizoram has a higher female literacy rate at 86.72%, as per the latest census.