On May 17, the Kohima Press Club created history by electing its first woman president. The oldest press club in Nagaland has never had a woman president since its formation in the year 2001. Which is why, this is a significant landmark for the premier press club, also sparking inspiration and sending out positive signal to a society that is wholly yet to embrace female leadership in its truest sense.
The newly elected president, Alice Yhoshü, has broken barriers and defied odds by willingly coming forward to shoulder responsibilities that are often considered a man’s domain like most organisations in the state. In her team of five, there are two more women — one who won uncontested and the other elected to the post of general secretary. For the first time, the premier press club of the state will be headed by a woman.
The most interesting part of the elections to the executive council of the Kohima Press Club was that there was no consensus in electing any of the executive members but were all elected. This amplifies hope for the many other organisations out there and bears witness to capabilities of women as leaders. Especially because women’s leadership in Nagaland is still uncommon and many communities are still bound by traditional belief that such positions belong to men. The election of the woman president also brings to mind several instances of the past where many important decisions were made solely by men.
It further reminds one of the stark reality of politics in Nagaland where we have never had a woman MLA. Over the years, we have proudly claimed that Naga women are treated on par with men. This claim continues to persist whenever the issue of women contesting in elections arises. Naga women are probably better respected than most women in the rest of the country. She does get her share of freedom when it comes to pursuing education or following a career of her choice, and perhaps even to marry the man of her choice, but when it comes to politics, the patriarchal system of our society is still deeply entrenched in us. And the lack of women participation in the highest level of decision-making body in the state is a sheer reflection of this sad reality.
When the issue of 33% reservation for women came in, we still had issues and the society challenges it by saying that it respects gender equality, and that, any capable woman is free to contest, but not through women reservation, knowing fully well that our traditional bondages may still hold an aspiring woman back from entering politics.
Talk of social issues and important public gatherings, and they are filled with 90% of men. The handful of women present are either engaged in serving refreshments at the gathering or getting the presentations ready, and the rest of the rare few daring women are there because they apparently hold a place of importance. Nagas are also very fond of forming organisations/associations/unions and this is apparent from the increasing number of organisations. Most organisations have inducted women only as ‘girls/women welfare secretary’ and very rarely given the office of more important positions like the president or the general secretary except of course when it’s a women’s organisation.
Many people view holding leaderships in various organisations as the first stepping stone to joining/becoming politicians. And the lack of women holding important posts in most of these organisations somehow reflect how the society perceives women’s leadership.
There was, however, a ray of hope in the last general elections when a total number of five women filed their nomination papers — the highest ever in the history of Nagaland state polls. One of them came very close to winning and although we had to come back to a male-dominated government, these women contestants displayed immense courage and chose to break strong barriers that wall the gender fabric of our society despite lots of difficulties and challenges.
It takes courage to act to the call of their hearts. To say, ‘I will enter politics and serve our people.’ To take the road where only very few women have taken before. To be called names they would never have imagined otherwise. To be told ‘we would love to support you but then, you are not a man!’ To be filled with passion for the task ahead only to be disappointed by the very response of their community just because she is a woman.
The hope is that someday, we will break free from all these shackles and unhealthy perceptions. That we will also see better days when a sitting woman MLA does not sound strange on our tongues. That there will be equal representation of men and women in our legislative assembly. Someday.
We may not foresee it, but I truly believe that then, we will be in a better position than now. Perhaps not all women are cut out for the role. Perhaps not all of them will be the best fit. Just as not all men are. But those women with the heart of a politician (in its truest sense) will definitely make a world of difference in the Nagaland 60-member legislative assembly. And to begin with, we have to get used to the idea. The idea of women leadership. It was a good start to have five women contesting in the last Nagaland state assembly elections. More should follow and in the near future, some will definitely rise to be MLAs in a state that has absolutely no women participation in this respect so far.
As for now, our hopes rest on women leaders. Women who take up leadership with all seriousness, and in all sincerity. Women who brave situations and come forward to take on huge responsibilities whatever the cause may be. Or no matter how small an organisation she heads. Because everything starts small. It is through small things that great things take flight. And someday, hopefully there will be women MLAs in the state assembly, not only representing the cause of Naga women but also the voice of the people in general.
(Vishü Rita Krocha is a poet, author and a journalist by profession with experience in the field for over ten years. She also runs a home-based publication house called PenThrill Publication House. Views expressed are her own)