Northeastern states took major strides in women’s empowerment in last one year

IANS Photo

Agartala, March 8 (IANS) Unlike previous years, women’s empowerment got a major boost in the last one year in northeastern states.

A record number of women became ministers and legislators and thousands of others got involved in diverse economic activities through Self Help Groups (SHGs) and various other fora meant for their economic empowerment.

History was made when a record number of 17 women got elected to the state Assemblies of four northeastern states, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram in last year’s Assembly elections.

Like previous years, this year too, women voters outnumbered men in several northeastern states like Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland.

Tripura is one of the very few states in the country where 33 per cent seats were reserved for women in government jobs as part of its ‘State Policy for Empowerment of Women’.

In April, Nagaland will hold civic body polls and 33 per cent reservation has been made for women candidates.

The terms of the civic bodies ended in 2009-10 and the elections to the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) in Nagaland will be held after a gap of 20 years, as many powerful Naga organisations had earlier claimed that reservation for women in ULBs would go against their community's customary laws.

Article 371A grants special protection to the traditional, customary, religious and social practices of the Nagas and also on ownership and transfer of land and its resources.

It was only after a series of agitations and extensive consultations with tribal bodies, Naga tribal hohos, civil society organisations and all stakeholders that the state Assembly in November 2023 passed the new Nagaland Municipal Act, 2023 with 33 per cent reservation for women.

So strong were the sentiments against participation of women in the ULB polls that in 2017 violent protests were witnessed after the then Naga People’s Front government led by former Chief Minister, TR Zeliang, tried to hold the elections.

Two people died and scores were injured in the 2017 protests while government properties and offices were also vandalised. The agitations eventually led to the fall of the Zeliang government.

However, in 2023, signaling the change in the mindset of society, a record 17 women were elected to Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram Assemblies.

In fact, Tripura scripted history in the region when nine women were elected to its Assembly, followed by three each in Meghalaya and Mizoram and two in Nagaland.

For Nagaland, which had been up in arms about reservation for women in ULB polls, it was a coming of age of sorts, as for the first time in 60 years of statehood, two women, Hekani Jakhalu and Salhoutuonuo Kruse of the ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), were elected to the Assembly from Western Angami and Dimapur-III constituencies respectively.

This was a far cry from the 2018 Assembly elections in Nagaland when five women contested and none were elected.

It was a similar story in other northeastern states as 24 women fought the 2018 Assembly elections in Tripura and just three won. In Meghalaya 32 women tried their electoral fortunes and only three were successful. None of the women candidates won the 2018 Assembly polls in Mizoram.

While Meghalaya is a matrilineal society, in Mizoram the society is patriarchal and the state’s main political parties hardly ever nominated women candidates for the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.

In such a bleak scenario, the BJP government in Tripura led the way in women’s empowerment by reserving 33 per cent government jobs for women.

Tripura Chief Minister, Manik Saha, while addressing a seminar on women empowerment in the farm sector said, “We introduced One Stop Centre scheme the Tripura Mukhyamantri Matru Pushti Uphaar Yojana. The number of SHGs increased to 56,479 this year from 4,000 previously and as many as five lakh women are involved in these SHGs and they earn a reasonable amount from various sectors.”

In 2023, Tripura set itself a target to make 90,000 women ‘lakhpatis’ through SHGs by December this year.

The Chief Minister said, “If women are not empowered, a country cannot develop. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked us to talk to the beneficiaries and we are doing this and trying to resolve their problems.”

In violence-hit Manipur, a non-profit organisation, Eta Northeast Women’s Network, has been providing emotional and mental succor and livelihood avenues to women hit by the strife.

Eta has been counselling hundreds of distressed and displaced women living in relief camps since the ethnic riots broke out in May 2023.

Eta’s founder-chairperson Sophia Rajkumari told IANS, “We are now providing skill training and mental support to hundreds of women in 12 relief camps in three districts -- Bishnupur, Kakching and Imphal East. Gradually the number of beneficiaries and number of relief camps would be increased.”

Rajkumari, a lawyer-turned-social activist added, “After providing essential skills for manufacturing various items like incense sticks, clothes, blankets and confectionery items, we are providing them with initial interest-free capital to embark on entrepreneurial ventures and are connecting them to potential markets and customers. We also ensure that all the proceeds go to these women.”

In the midst of misery and conflict in Manipur, Eta has emerged as a beacon of hope and economic empowerment of women seeking refuge in relief camps.