• Women at the centre of Manipuri society, but on periphery of politics

    Digital Desk: In poll-bound Manipur, where women have long played a crucial part in society for almost a century, 10,49,639 women voters outnumbered the male electorate of 9,85,119, as in many prior elections. On the other hand, women are almost non-existent in decision-making and policy-making bodies and are on the periphery of politics. Women in the erstwhile princely state have played a prominent role in Manipuri society for over a century, dating back to British control. Women have dominated economic activity, mass agitations, household issues, sports and cultural activities, societal awareness, and the struggle against the drug menace and militancy. However, in a male-dominated culture, they (women) have a slim possibility of becoming a legislator, a minister, or at the very least a powerful administrative job. The world's largest and century-old all-women run market, 'Ima Keithal' or the 'Mother's Market,' is located in Imphal, Manipur's capital, and other smaller all-women marketplaces operating in various sections of the northeastern state enhance economic activities to a considerable amount. The Imphal Municipal Corporation has roughly 3,615 licenced women merchants registered in the market, which has a history of over 500 years. Imphal-based writer and political commentator Iboyaima Laithangbam said: 'Since the British period, the Ima Keithel has not remained only a simple marketplace or trading hub, but developed as an apex centre for campaigns on various societal issues and against anti-social activities.' Another Manipuri writer Rajkuamr Kalyanjit Singh said that men can purchase anything from 'Ima Market' but they cannot be a vendor or seller. With lakhs of looms in the northeastern state, Manipur has had a special place in the handloom business since time immemorial. The fact that women are the only weavers is one of the industry's unique characteristics. Despite women's central role in Manipuri society, they have a low representation in formal electoral politics and are on the periphery of politics, as evidenced by the outcomes of the assembly and parliamentary elections. In 1990, eighteen years after becoming a full-fledged state in 1972, Manipur elected its first woman member, the late Hangmila Shaiza (wife of late Yangmasho Shaiza, Manipur's fourth Chief Minister), from the Ukhrul Assembly constituency. Then, in the Assembly, K. Apabi Devi and W. Leima Devi (who later became a minister of state) were elected. Only one woman Lok Sabha member, Kim Gangte, was elected to the 12th Lok Sabha in 1998 from a tribal reserved seat in Outer Manipur. In the 2012 assembly elections, only three (five percent) women were elected, while in the 2017 assembly elections, only two (3.4 percent) women were elected to the 60-member legislature. In the five decades from 1972, Manipur has had fewer than ten legislators and one MP who are women. Manipur's Women's Work Participation Rates (WPR) are substantially higher than the national average. Also Read: Prominent Fashion Designer Sanjukta Dutta selected for New York Fashion Show According to the 2011 census, Manipur's female WPR in rural regions is 41.2 percent, compared to 30 percent across India. In Manipur's urban areas, females account for 33.2 percent of the population, compared to 15.4 percent across India. Despite the women's crucial and unequalled position in Manipuri society, social scientists, political observers, and pundits all agree that political parties and their leaders have consistently ignored them. Dr. Chinglen Maisnam, a retired Associate Professor from Manipur University's central varsity, believes that women are always considered as employees or a labour force, while men are treated as leaders or the dominating power. 'Manipur politics are mostly dominated by muscle power and money power leading to the insignificant women's participation in the state politics and electoral fray. Gender bias is very strong in the mindset of most leaders of the political parties,' Maisnam told IANS. Despite the prominent position of women in Manipur society and the increased ratio of women voters, according to writer Rajkuamr Kalyanjit Singh, women can still not participate significantly in the decision-making process through electoral politics and are on the periphery of politics. He said: 'Leaders of all political parties are always talking about political empowerment along with economic empowerment of women, but in reality the situation is completely different.'

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