Fair. Balanced. American.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

It's the gender, stupid

The primary front in religious conservatives' battles, be they Christianists, Islamists, or "traditionalists" comes down to gender. Corollary: the one thing that matters to them more than sending homosexuals to the ovens is crushing women. Recent events in India provide confirmation:
The upper house of India’s Parliament passed a bill Tuesday that would amend the Constitution to reserve one-third of the seats in India’s national and state legislatures for women, after the measure stirred two days of political chaos that could whittle the governing coalition’s majority to a dangerously thin margin.

The vote, which is an early step in the process of amending the Constitution, brought pandemonium to the floor of the Parliament, as a small group of regional caste-based parties waged a fierce fight to block it, arguing that it would diminish their influence.

The parties, allies of the governing coalition led by the Congress Party, have threatened to withdraw their support, which would reduce the coalition’s voting majority to single digits and jeopardize crucial legislation like India’s budget, which was just introduced. The chaos surrounding the bill threatens to undermine what has been an otherwise stable coalition government, analysts said. [...]

Critics of the amendment say that it will only worsen what is already a big problem — powerful men substituting their daughters, wives and sisters as proxies in political office.

The amendment would effectively make nearly half of the seats in the lower house of Parliament reserved, which would only heighten the competition for the remaining, unrestricted seats. Muslim politicians said they would suffer under the bill as well. Syed Shahabuddin, a former member of Parliament, said in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the amendment would cut Muslim representation in half.
Now, I will admit that having women serve as proxies for powerful men is a problem. But proxy voting in democracies is hardly unique to India. What are John Roberts and Clarence Thomas and 40 Republican U.S. Senators if not proxies for multinational corporations, their foreign shareholders, and the Council of Conservative Citizens?

Women live longer anyway. As their overfed husbands' carcasses drop off, these widows and daughters can accumulate tremendous political power. Sonia and Indira Gandhi are themselves proof of the unprecedented power that can come to women by way of dead men: they are without question the two most powerful figures, of any gender, in Indian politics since the founding of the republic. So, incidentally, were wives and daughters like Corazón Aquino, Benazir Bhutto, and so many others, particularly in Catholic and South Asian countries. Nepotism, again, is hardly unique to the Third World: what was the second Bush presidency? What was the Jeb Bush-controlled 2000 recount process in Florida if not a triumph of nepotism? And finally, nepotism isn't always tragic: our democracy would have been far poorer without Ted Kennedy, the greatest, most consequential, senator in American history.

It's not as if Muslims would suddenly go from 20% of India's population to 5% by virtue of this change in the cconstitution. Muslims' power in the voting booths would be unchanged. The only difference is that they would be forced to vote for women, something they are not accustomed to and something their religious leaders are paid to oppose on principle, thanks to the Saudi funding that the Republican Party helps provide through its opposition to American energy independence.

Well, guess what. Muslims and Indian caste "traditionalists" need to be dragged into the 16th century, no matter how much they may kick and scream. The mere existence of women Muslim members of parliament in the second (or third) largest Muslim nation in the world will be of huge importance to humanity, a simply monumental change in Islam's modern socioreligious history.

Indian Muslims will have to choose between having representation of any sort and having a few women MP's. When the choice is presented to them this starkly, they will choose the latter option. The rules of the game matter: they will structure future history. Permanent women legislators will constitute a huge  blow to social, political and religious patriarchy in India. But the whole world will benefit.

No comments :