Women must have it all: BJP's Malavika on gender equality

Fresh from the success of the film ‘K.G.F: Chapter 1’, actor-politician Malavika Avinash is all set to delve deeper into politics in the year 2019.  On the occasion of International Women’s Day, the eloquent BJP spokesperson from Karnataka shares her views on representation of women in politics,  safety of women in India, prevalence of #MeToo and much more.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Balance for Better’. Do you think this ‘balance’ between the genders exists in the field of politics?

The imbalance is shockingly palpable in politics. Although there is 50% balance in voting, in terms of representation at the Assembly and Parliament, it’s abysmally off the mark, a mere 11%. Thanks to Modi-ji, for the first time in 70 years we have an equal representation on the Cabinet Committee on Security with (Minister of External Affairs) Sushma Swaraj and (Defence Minister) Nirmala Sitharaman holding key portfolios. But we have a very long way to go as a society in terms of achieving balance in representation. 

What’s the knowledge or preparation a woman needs to bring to the table before pursuing a career in politics? Where does it all begin?

Just as much as none really is prescribed for a man, so it is for a woman. Even to contest an election in India, the laws do not mandate a minimum educational qualification. However, it helps to be aware of the local issues that affect the common man at the ward level to begin with, like water, electricity, sanitation, roads, etc. Like it has been the case all over the world, lawyers have been good or might I say better law-makers.  

How big is the issue of gender parity in our country and what steps should any government take to bridge the gap?

We are indeed under-represented and will stay so until we get a minimal legislation for at least 33% reservation passed in Parliament. A good precedent to be followed is the law that mandates 50% reservation for in women in Panchayats across the country and particularly in Karnataka where it extends to local bodies and City Municipal Councils including the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike where 50% of the seats are reserved for women. 

It’s strange that voting rights for women during the Constituent Assembly debates were a taken and incidentally 15 women members were part of it way back in 1946. Unfortunately, the bill for 33% reservation has been a neglected matter for many decades now in the Parliament . 

How difficult is it for women to break the glass ceiling and go up the ladder in politics?

It is as easy or as difficult as elsewhere, in any other profession. The unique issues of politics in India specifically is the increased stress on caste and cash spends as determining factors in electoral politics.

So typically wives, daughters of established politicians or those with access to top-leadership get a head-start. The average middle class woman with no political background takes several years before finding a foot-hold. 

Why do you think women generally shy away from the field of politics? 

It’s like being thrown into an ocean left to swim across all by yourself. There are no particular rules to play by or a manual to follow. No particular qualification to have  and success is not proportionate to your talent or hard-work.

You are blamed by the people for both what is within your control and without. There is no off day or time restriction making it tougher for women who have homes to run, too, and politics is essentially about personal rapport both with the constituents and the party leaders.

Do you think women in India are safer now than at any other point in history?

Our Sanatana Hindu Dharma as a civilisation has a recorded history of about 10000 years & traces back to before that too. Islamic invasion followed by colonisation has damaged the social fabric of an otherwise peaceful, non-combative people!

But that’s a completely different subject. Women’s safety in the present day is a challenge in every society and is so across the world, however developed economically the country may be. We are as safe or as unsafe as any other democracy in the world. We have the most effective and well thought out laws and legal recourse in place in India, but somehow that hasn’t acted a deterrent.

The Justice Verma Commission recommendations rendered several amendments to the existing laws making them more stringent post Nirbhaya. The term Juvenile was re-defined and lowered to 16 from 18yrs in 2016 in rarest of rare cases. The 2018 amendment of the 2012 POCSO law enables the award of death in cases of aggravated sexual crimes against children. But all of this hasn’t borne the results expected.

Increased and recurrent sensitisation at every level is the only way forward. And of course the Legal constituents must improve upon the rate of conviction of the offenders which is also very low. 

How should women who choose to be in politics tackle obnoxious people of the opposite sex?

Being in politics means being in public life which involves establishing a rapport with all adults with a franchise to vote. Like every other woman elsewhere, the perils exist and women find the strength and the means to fight it on their own. Unlike in other professions, politics is voluntary not an employment which involves a salary, perks, benefits or legal recourse for employment related issues.

Is #MeToo as much of an issue in politics as it is in other professions and how does one deal with it?

Sexual overtures are encountered by every single woman. If you ask me there can’t be a woman on the face of this earth without having faced an uncomfortable look, touch, overtures at some point in life as a child, as a teen, as a woman or even in old age.

Like I said already, since politics is voluntary not so much a job, reporting of such incidents will be near zero. Even in the #MeToo movement, there have been several unverifiable personal accounts on social media but where are the police complaints? How many men were arrested, punished? Journalists were perhaps the only community in India which got some justice!

To me personally, perhaps because I started as a child artist and have been in public life for a long time. No such uncomfortable overture has affected me enough for me to recall or recount it as a #MeToo account. 

Being a distinguished lawyer yourself, could you shed some light on why the #MeToo movement seems to be dying down? 

Law always demands evidence. Most of these accounts recounted are moments when the two are alone with not even a witness, let alone evidence like CCTV footage. Plus the overtures are subtle, the women are caught off-guard and generally to the survivor, the sexual advances perhaps don’t seem violative enough to be reported as rape at that point in time.

Additionally, most of the experiences involve men seeking a sexual favour in exchange for something and the men are in positions of power holding the woman’s job to ransom.  

Sexual Harassment at WorkPlace law in India following the famous VishakhaVsStateOfRajasthan is very sound. It is the setting up an Internal Complaints Committee and requisite machinery to ensure effective implementation of the laws that are to be taken care of by the management of different organisations.

Women also need to be pro-active when such an incident occurs and lodge a complaint immediately instead of waiting for a chorus to begin so they can recite their story…. writing out the experience on a social media wall long after the occurrence in hindsight is of no avail except some personal satisfaction or relief! In many cases involving celebrities it has invoked more curiosity, speculation and mud-slinging lowering the seriousness of the crime. 

Can women really have it all in terms of work-life balance? And as an artist and politician how do you manage to strike that balance?

The balance and harmony are to be found within more than without. All of us play multiple roles of wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, boss apart from being home-makers, professionals and some how when you love what you do, the balance happens! It’s just important to give everything your fullest at that point in time, whether it’s making a cup of coffee for your spouse or drafting a law or enacting a pivotal scene in a film. 

The women must have it all… Work and family in full measure or it’s a deprivation to society and the process of nation-building. I am predominantly a politician now, a full-timer with BJP since 2013, however acting still remains my first love and home and family supersede all else!