Arvind Kejriwal took the oath as Delhi's Chief Minister for a third term on Sunday and announced that he will be carrying forward his old cabinet into the new term. The problem: it has exactly zero women ministers. This is at a time when women's issues were a major focus of the Aam Admi Party's (AAP) election campaign.
The party swept the state assembly polls, securing 62 of the 70 seats, and women candidates had a major role to play in this victory. Of the nine woman candidates fielded by the party, eight of them managed to win seats. Atishi Marlena, Rakhi Birla, Raj Kumari Dhillon, Preeti Tomar, Dhanwati Chandela, Parmila Tokas, Bhavna Gaur and Bandana Kumari all emerged victorious and only Sarita Singh suffered defeat. In 2015, the party had fielded six women candidates, all of whom won the election.
What came as a shock to many that Atishi Marlena, the candidate who won the party the seat from Kalkaji, and is known as the star who transformed public school education Delhi, was excluded from the cabinet. Ironically, even the Department of Women and Child Development is being headed by a man. How can AAP call themselves a party that cares about women when it is not giving its own qualified, competent women an opportunity to take up leadership positions?
The current cabinet consists of Arvind Kejriwal as CM, and Manish Sisodia, Satyender Jain, Gopal Rai, Kailash Gehlot, Imran Hussain, and Rajendra Gautamas as cabinet ministers. On being asked about the absence of women from Kejriwal's cabinet, AAP leader Manish Sisodia said that there was 'nothing wrong with it.' “People will decide who will be Chief Minister and who will be in the cabinet will be decided by CM. If CM thinks the same cabinet should be repeated then there is nothing wrong in it,” he said.
The party's idea of women's empowerment seems to be skewed. On one hand, they insist that women's issues are of key importance to their government, on the other hand, during their election campaign, the party chief encouraged women to step out to vote by 'discussing who to vote for with their husbands and family'. How can you formulate policies for women's empowerment when you think women aren't even informed enough to decide who to vote for by themselves?
This statement is particularly tone-deaf because it is in the same city that women are at the forefront of raising their voice against social injustices--like the anti-CAA protest that is being helmed by the women of Shaheen Bagh.
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Here's a reality check for the party: women voters form a large chunk of Kejriwal supporters. Women voters gave the party a 25 percentage point lead ahead of the Bharatiya Janata Party, according to a poll-eve survey conducted by Lokniti-CDS. This means that it was the women voters who were responsible for the wide margin of winning seats between AAP and BJP. Women were also 11 percentage points more likely to vote for AAP then men.
It's safe to say that the party's victory can be attributed to large support from women voters. Had they 'consulted with men', the party would perhaps not be forming a government in the national capital region for the third time in a row. Then why is it so hard for the party to nominate women leaders for its cabinet? The party needs a fresh approach towards women's issues because if they don't, they will lose support from their largest voter base.