Women in India are held back by patriarchy in multiple forms and the same can be observed when it comes to their participation in elections. Due to lack of transparency and deliberate complexity around procedures related to the working of government, state machinery, bureaucracy and politics, women lack participation in the elections. One of the popular notions which still continues in rural areas is that women could only contest from the reserved seats.
For dismantling any such existent beliefs, Netri Foundation is working to increase the participation of women in politics at all levels. The foundation is a political ladder for women from various walks and it helps them lead their way to the parliament. Training, capacity building and mentorship is at the centre of their approach.
At the grassroots level in our country, there is still a need to work with women to imbue political aspiration in their minds. It is usually observed that women disappear after one term of being a sarpanch. Netri Foundation is India's first women's political incubator and accelerator whose aim is to increase the participation of women in politics.
The foundation wants more women to run for elections and ultimately view them in positions where they can work towards gender-sensitive and inclusive policies. The vision behind the foundation is mainly ensuring gender-equity in representative politics. The foundation is one of its kind that trains women in realizing their political ambitions.
Kanksshi Agarwal, the founder of Netri Foundation, also works as an independent policy researcher and political strategist and has worked extensively in this field.
"Politics is one of the biggest tools for change and it drives our lives. Right from what I earn, where I spend, the environment I live in, the future of my children, education, health- everything is ultimately decided by politics. So if we wish to see gender-inclusive policies, we will have to have gender-equal politics and that is just the beginning," says Kankshhi.
Looking back at the past 68 years of our representation in politics, the total participation of women in parliament has only increased by 9 per cent. If the participation continues at this rate, it will take another century to attain for gender equity in politics. This brings light to the point that working towards safeguarding the constitutional values and promote equity as well as equality is utterly crucial in a democracy.
"I recently asked one of the participants in our Bihar training programme, if she'd like to contest elections, and she said, "I am still young". There is a lack of understanding and preparedness. Women are not told that they can use politics, and quite early on, as a tool for change," says Kanksshi.
She wants to change that perception by creating effective future leaders, who can build their public narrative, identify and deal with issues from a gender perspective, and also use technology to generate attention to their work.
Sharing an impact story with The Logical Indian, Kanksshi says, "A woman in UP was exposed to our training and workshops and was extremely participative in one of our workshops. She was keen on helping women understand their reproductive rights. After the workshop on importance and ways to use politics as a tool for change, and my question whether anyone would run for sarpanch elections- she immediately decided she will challenge the then-current sarpanch whose family has been in power for decades."
The foundation worked on her campaign ideas and she wanted to rally on reproductive rights and nutrition of women. Even though the elections have not been conducted in her area, she still continues to work on the causes and is determined to run for the next election and her outlook towards being a sarpanch changed.
Amid the lockdown, carrying out operations and continuing with the training wasn't easy. It was difficult to travel to their targeted states and geographies and elections were around the corner.
In politics and ground-based training, maintaining personal contact with people is essential. They took the lockdown as an opportunity to go completely digital which was already on their plans. Apart from this, one of the major struggles that they had to face is to convince women to be in politics.
"We do come across a patriarchal mindset, which is also internalised by women themselves, and they seem to be comfortable with the status quo. In any group, though at-least 20-25% of women are politically aware or become interested after the training workshop is over," shares Kanksshi.
Besides this, they also have to face obstruction from local men who accompany women or represent them in meetings. At times, the male members of the family refuse to even pass the phone to their wives and mothers when they contact them for training. The limited digital access of women and control over most of their resources becomes a challenge.
"While we believe that men are allies and we aim to work with them, still these workshops are exclusively designed to create safe space for women, and men's presence can be intimidating and defeats the purpose," adds Kankshhi.
The foundation maintains a committed volunteer base, across the world. They even have interns working with them from different parts of India, London and France. The team at Netri foundation including volunteers and leadership is majority constituted by women.