Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin, Where Are the Women in Your Cabinet?

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On the first day of taking over as the head of Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister MK Stalin announced free travel for women in the state and in town buses. While this has been lauded by many in the state, that was earlier governed by a strong woman leader in J Jayalalithaa, the question still remains: Dear CM Stalin, where are the women in your cabinet?

On 7 May, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief Stalin, along with 33 ministers, was sworn in at Raj Bhavan in Chennai. The list of ministers featured only two women – Geetha Jeevan and Kayalvizhi Selvaraj.

"“The cabinet looks like a boys’ club. The sad reality is that we are not surprised because we never expected the Dravidian party to show fair women representation.”" - Shalin Lawrence, Dalit Writer

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Only 5% of Elected Representatives Women

Only about five percent of those who won the Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections 2021 are women. The state had elected 21 women (about nine percent) in the 2016 polls.

A total of 12 female candidates were voted into power this Assembly elections – seven from the DMK and five from the AIADMK. Many of them are incumbent leaders in their respective constituencies or have at least held power previously.

The elected representatives in the DMK-led alliance includes Varalakshmi Madhusoothan (Chengalpattu), V Amulu (Gudiyattam), Kayalvizhi Selvaraj (Dharmapuram (reserved)), Sivakami Sindhari (Krishnarayapuram (reserved)), A Tamilarasi (Manamadurai (reserved)), Geetha Jeevan (Thoothukudi) and Vijayadharani (Vilvankode).

It is important to note that less than a tenth of contestants in the 2021 polls were women within the ruling and opposition parties.

Makkal Needhi Maiam, headed by Kamal Haasan – that has constantly criticised other parties for poor representation of women in politics – saw less than 8 percent women candidates.

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No Women Leaders for Chennai

While DMK swept the election in Chennai, the result does not look gender-based. No female candidate was proposed by the party in the state capital.

It is to be noted that there are no elected women representatives from Chennai's constituencies. Candidates like AIADMK's S Gokula Indira, BJP's Khushbu Sundar and AIADMK's B Valarmathi lost the election.

Incidentally, former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa was the last woman candidate to win an Assembly election in Chennai, back in 2016.

Tokenism or Dynasty Politics, the Way for Women to Get Power: Analysts

N Kayalvizhi Selvaraj, who defeated Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Tamil Nadu unit chief L Murugan in Dharapuram, has been handed the Adi Dravidar Welfare department and P Geetha Jeevan has been made the Minister for Social Welfare and Women Empowerment.

“As usual, a woman is given the Adi Dravidar department, as typical tokenism. Yes, this is an excellent space and receives a lot of funding from the Centre but there is not much scope for growth. Why can’t women be designated other departments, even tourism? This kind of an allocation has been the trend for decades and this is unfair governance,” Lawrence added.

Political analyst Sumanth Raman pointed out, “Like the rest of India, women can’t really make a mark here unless they have their families or husbands pushing them. For example, Geetha Jeevan’s family has been the face of the district for the past three years – which helped her win.”

He also took a jibe at the DMK chief for engaging in dynasty politics, stating that even among MPs, there is Kanimozhi, who is related to Stalin and Thamizhachi Thangapandian, who is the sister of Thangam Thennarasu, a prominent minister and DMK loyalist.

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Jayalalithaa was Pro-Women, Not All of AIADMK: Analysts

It is to be noted that in the 2016 elections, women outnumbered men by a wide margin of 3.6 lakh votes, and the verdict was an incumbent All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), led by Jayalalithaa, winning a successive term – a first in the state in over three decades.

However, clarifying the perception that AIADMK was fair to women, political analyst Raman stated that it was Jayalalithaa, who was at the helm of the party, who orchestrated pro-women policies and not the entire party, which is why there is no strong women leaders even in the AIADMK.

“AIADMK had the Jayalalithaa factor and so, was heavily promoting women candidates and schemes. Even in the previous government, we had only four ministers in the cabinet but Jayalalithaa had a style of picking women who may not be known to all but could handle the portfolio. We can’t expect that with the DMK or even AIADMK,” said Raman.

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Senior journalist Sandhya Ravishankar pointed out that while Jayalalithaa’s gold scheme encouraged the education of the girl child, the present government needs to focus on expanding employment opportunities and safety for women.

“Support has to be given for young women who are working outside their home districts, such as hostels; even the scooter scheme can be renewed and extended to young working women, which will actually motivate them to go out to work,” she said.

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