Matriarchal but still patriarchal: Meghalaya women yearn for control in politics

Children receive their mother’s last name, husbands move into their wives’ homes, and youngest daughters inherit family property. But with only four women legislators in the House of 60, the empowerment promised by Meghalaya’s matriarchal society has only been half delivered.

Ahead of the February 27 assembly elections, women across the social and political spectrum say it is empowering, but only up to a point. Although millions of women in Khasi-dominated Meghalaya enjoy many rights and privileges, the political odds are stacked against them in the patriarchal power circuit.

As the election campaign gathers momentum, it is a frequently debated topic from political party offices to the streets of this picturesque state capital.

“In matters of politics and governance, women are still kept in their little cells here. They are confined to their four walls.

The NPP, which heads the current Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government in the state, has fielded six women in the upcoming elections.

“There are few women who have come forward but it is nothing significant. Behind every successful male politician there is a battalion of women. are aiming,” said Ampareen Lyngdoh.

His younger sister Jasmine Lyngdoh is contesting from the nearby Nongthimmai constituency on an NPP ticket.

Other parties are also aware of the changing discourse in the state where Khasis are the largest ethnic community.

According to Election There are 36 women candidates in the fray for Meghalaya’s 60-member assembly, the commission figures – up from 32 candidates in 2018 and up from 24 in 2013.

The skewed equation is reflected in the number of women elected. There were four women legislators in the 2018 and 2013 assemblies. And in 2008 the figure was one. Women – who make up almost half of the state’s estimated population of 38 lakh – are hoping that changes.

Trying to regain its lost glory, the Congress has taken the lead and has fielded 10 women.

He said, ‘Our party gives proper representation to women and this has created a stir in other parties as well. More than half of the population in Meghalaya is women. This is the time when we should come out. As a matriarchal society, our forefathers have empowered us and it is up to us to use that empowerment,” Dr Benida Shisa Kharkongor, Congress candidate from Nongthomal constituency, told PTI.

Another strong contender Trinamool Congress has also made its women-centric agenda clear.

Party Supremo and Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee Has visited Meghalaya twice and launched a financial assistance scheme named Meghalaya Financial Inclusion for Women Empowerment (MFI-WE).

Party insiders said that so far over 3.14 lakh people have registered for the MFI-VE or V card.

Elgiva Gwyneth Renjah, 32, is one of the youngest women candidates to contest on a TMC ticket. She claims to have created history by releasing her “manifesto” for the North Shillong constituency. His election promises include education and healthcare and food.

“It depends on us… We should have the courage to come out on the streets. If you have vision, you can lead the state. Women are shy in our state, we need to educate them and encourage them to come out,” said Elgiva when asked about the lack of women’s participation in the elections.

Not everyone agrees with Elgiva’s claim. It may not be that easy given that elections require both money and muscle power. Most of the women legislators come from affluent families with political connections.

“Women’s participation is important but at the same time it is important to see which section of the society they belong to. Not everyone has money and a powerful background,” said Angela Rangad, an independent candidate and a social worker with the KAM Meghalaya organization he said.

Before becoming part of the National Domestic Workers Movement, the group fielded three candidates, including Vanpinhun Kharshintiev, who was a domestic worker. All of them are crowdfunding for their campaigns.

Political under-representation for women in Meghalaya is not just about the assembly. It goes right down to ground level.

The traditional village-level institutions of the Khasis, the Durbar Shongs, have not allowed women to contest elections. Earlier, they were also barred from attending its meetings and would be represented by an adult male member. Given the powerful position of these dorbars, most women shy away from speaking openly against them.

From poverty to being abandoned by their male partners, many women face many problems and are looking to political representation to help solve them.

“There are a lot of single mothers here. This is a major issue and they don’t have much leeway. Girls also drop out of school. It’s like an epidemic. We need leaders among us who can give voice to these concerns,” said Dhani, a school teacher.

Rangali, a hawker in Shillong’s famous Police Bazaar, echoes him.

“You can see there are women all around, we are working hard but nobody in the government wants to see what our problems are. They don’t know,” said Rangali, a seller of traditional handicrafts, when asked about the representation of women in politics.

Clearly, however, political representation and control are essential to autonomy, empowerment and agency over their lives.

The women of Meghalaya, one of the few matriarchal societies in the world, look forward to the day when they will have it all – social power and political control too.

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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)

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