Debates or discussions on women’s issues in Sikkim are almost non-existent, but of late the opposition has suddenly taken it upon itself to defend women’s honor because the Chief Minister allegedly made fun of menstruation.
There are many things right and wrong here.
The right of course is that there is at least something related to women is being talked about. Now whether there is any substance in this is debatable but it is something. Secondly, menstruation is being openly discussed so maybe, just maybe, what the ruling party is offering as a justification for the CM’s comments is true and ironically, has been proven so by the opposition choosing to make it an issue. The CM wanted to initiate wider discussion on menstruation and the opposition has helped him in this endeavour.
What is wrong is that, election or no election, the more pertinent issues related to gender equality are still swept under the carpet, with even the opposition refusing to take them up.
As a woman, I don’t really care for what the CM said about menstruation, even if he made fun of it, because the real insult has been served to us for years and continues. That, I am a nobody without a father or a husband or a brother is an insult. My identity as a Sikkimese is determined by whether I was born to a Sikkimese man, am married to a Sikkimese man or have a Sikkimese man as a brother.
That I have a mother means nothing is an insult.
The State does not care who or what your mother is because she too, is a nobody. Your mother’s name is optional, not mandatory. Oh, and that the opposition chose to make, of all things, the menstruation comment an issue is an insult too.
This denial of identity is directly linked with inheritance rights, which of course is linked with land rights. Land has always been used as a powerful weapon to disenfranchise minorities and land has always been seen as a man’s right. Do the math. The State has been saying men and women now enjoy equal inheritance rights following the passing of the Sikkim Succession  Bill by the State Assembly. However, ten years on, this Act is yet to be officially notified. One can’t help but wonder why.
Why is it that only women married to non-locals lose their Sikkimese identity? Why not men married to non-locals? No answer to these questions can be devoid of sexism in some form. It is confounding that such an unfair and discriminatory practice exists in the 21st Century. A number of reasons could be cited – politics, lack of awareness, culture and traditions but none could be more powerful and debilitating than the years of internalized patriarchy.
Nari or cheli morchas do not signify women’s empowerment, elected women’s representatives could. How many of those have we had? Four in 2009-14 is the highest number of women legislators the State has seen so far. There were 110 men and only 11 women contestants in the last elections. Out of this, only three women got elected. In North Sikkim, women voters outnumber men in two of the three assembly constituencies in the district. Dzongu in North Sikkim has 4,190 women electors against 4,125 men registered as voters there and Lachen-Mangan has the numbers 3,564 against 3,511 in favour of the women. We have never had women representatives from these constituencies.
Okay, maybe that is a little too farfetched; more women law makers might take some time. Let’s look at what the common woman can do. Voting for political parties that will raise the issues we care about. Women have after all been consistently outperforming men in exercising their franchise; even setting a national record in the 2009 election with 82.77% turnout against the 81.46% male voter turnout. In the 2014 Assembly election in Sikkim, the female voter turnout was 81.33% while the male voter turnout was 80.29%. You may say that’s just about 1% but even so, it is a difference that could make a difference.
Ladies, it is high time we leverage this and build pressure in the political space because it is dominated by men and it is their agendas that reign supreme. Raising a storm over issues like the CM’s remark on menstruation can come later when the more bigger hurdles have been crossed otherwise it runs the risk of trivializing women’s issues which can do more harm than good. Women need to take themselves more seriously for political parties to do the same.