Over the years, women empowerment issues have always been brought up within the human rights discourses. The idea is how better we can engage women in policy and decision-making process. The 73rd Amendment Act to the Constitution of India ensuring reservation of 33% seats for women have inspired them to take a decisive role in formulating policies at various level. And, therefore, they have made it to the higher echelons of policy and decision-making forums.
However, women in Ladakh is a ‘minority’ in so far as their representation and participation in decision-making institutions are concerned. This can be understood as a way not to involve women in the process of development. Suffice it to say; the participation of women in local politics (i.e. Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council and Panchayats) has been neglected. And this negligence is being seen as the issue of justice, equality and representation that challenges their longtime exclusion from the decision-making process.
The results of the last General Council’s election held in Leh show that all the 26 elected seats of the Council are occupied by men. Although five women candidates also contested, all of them were defeated. This shows that there is a lack of support for women to be in policy and decision-making positions in Ladakh.
However, in other sectors, women in Ladakh are proving their potentials in both the formal and non-formal institutions. Unfortunately, the onus is mostly on women who carry out domestic as well as community-level work, as their spouses remain out of home for most of the time. While the popular perceptions towards women in Ladakh are being taken as more liberal and equal, yet they are also devoid of some basic legal rights. It is hard to believe that even basic amenities for women are lacking like availability of public toilet for women, street lights causing many incidents of eve-teasing and many other similar things. Nonetheless, in most of the cases of cyber crimes, women are being targeted and victimized by viral audio and video clippings. One must ask why the character of women has always been questioned when men are equally responsible for all the wrongs. Above all, the stereotypical mindset of men against women further reduces their space in the decision-making process. As a result, many issues related to women like growing sense of insecurity, domestic violence and fear of sexual harassments are not visible in the political and decision-making realm to bring about an overall development of women in Ladakh.
In the mid-1980s and 90s, the researchers and social activists like Reises, Mann and Helena Norberg observed the practices of polyandry and primogeniture in Ladakh. And traditionally women were not given an equal share of the parental property, yet in absence of a son, daughters inherited the family property.
At the community level, the initial roles of family pattern become a replica at community-based functioning. Women social activists in Ladakh slammed men for dominating roles at the village level. Some disparities between men and women do exist in the peripheral regions of Ladakh. Therefore, some local feminists believe that men often sit on chairs at the community level meetings, whereas women are made to sits only on carpets. Men are considered more skilful than women to supervise various works. According to Baseline Survey on the minority in India, female work participation in Leh district is below the national average.
In political history, almost all the dynasties were ruled by the kings. In the post-independence India, Ladakh has had hardly any female elected representatives at the level of Union, State, Council and Panchayat bodies. Until now, Ladakh has witnessed two times Panchayat elections, three times Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council elections in Kargil and five times in Leh district. In both the decentralized institutions, the role of women in local policy and decision-making process has been very limited.
In terms of religion, both Buddhists and Muslims in Ladakh have monks and Imams as their spiritual heads. Divinities are seen as dangerous to women largely due to the belief that women may not be able to enter the sectional room of the temple such as deities’ house. Nuns have no say in monastic decision-making process.
Psychologists associate decision-making with cognitive analysis which is directly related to the science of mind and rationality. In the decision-making process, the person has to be mentally strong, intelligent, bold, decisive, and pragmatic. It is assumed that emotionally governed people fail to give a rational decision. This assumption has been proven wrong as today women have succeeded at many levels. In the case of Ladakh, the responsibilities taken by women, as a supportive agent, shows their capability and ability to guide the society.
Civil societies’ campaign making people aware of their rights and duties, and local elected representatives regulating the village affairs through proper implementation of Panchayats, would maximize women’s participation in the local governance. If government officials demonstrate seriousness in executing rural governance, it will strengthen the participation of marginalized sections of our society, including women.
At the community level, the position of women can be improved through effective community work procedures like community meeting, supervision, discipline, division of labour and workspace for women. Women Alliance of Ladakh is an example in Leh district that it has enrolled more than 5000 farming women from 100 villages aiming to enable their voices, involving in the decision-making process and empowering them through decentralization process.
Moreover, introduction of institutional mechanisms for gender equality at the level of local government, elaboration of a law of gender equality, elaboration of employment policy with due consideration of gender parameters, support for small business development and promotion of entrepreneurial woman, support of gender-sensitive social protection policy and elaboration of legal mechanism against domestic violence must reach each and every sectors in Ladakh. Although gender justice is hard to achieve with a uniform law, its aim should be uniformity of rights.
The writer is a Research Scholar, Central University of Jammu. You can share your views and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org