Associations are about rights and community well-being, and it is quite perturbing to see the dearth of women in them, especially in the key positions of principal office bearers or POBs as defined under the UP Apartment Act 2010 and its Bye Laws 2011.
When women are breaking the glass ceiling in every field what is it that keeps the associations a male bastion? Having been one of the very few POBs across Indirapuram in the last few years, I see further deterioration in women participation in forming AOAs. It’s come to an extent that women are missing out completely on holding of key positions in Associations, Consortiums and Federations.
Those who are, are more often than not restricted to taking care of odd jobs such as conducting events and carrying out messages for the male-dominated decision making process.
Every society has a majority of women who live within the boundaries for longer number of hours. It is, therefore, the women who have more exposure to the problems related to day-to-day maintenance services, workers, security, electricity and, therefore, are the key ones to have better experience and knowledge of the issues being faced by one and all. And yet, it is women who fail to have sufficient representation in such organisations — indirectly denying them a voice in the society matters.
If we try to put a finger on the reason for this, there isn’t one but multiple borne out of both systemic and societal challenges.
The core of this systemic problem lies in the Act and its amendments from time to time, which misses out completely on not just defining competence of those taking up key responsibilities, but also ensuring inclusion of more women in the team. They can be listed down as below:
1) Associations have failed to build a professional work culture even after decades of relevant acts (Societies Act 1856 and more recently the UP Apartment Act 2010) governing them, where in the roles are well-defined and responsibilities have clear demarcations.
2) Failure of the Act to enforce greater participation of women, apart from them stepping out and filing enough nominations for representation. Number of women filing nominations is incomparably less than men.
3) Representative bodies of Associations, such as the Federations and Consortiums, too are never seen making conscious efforts to lead by example and to fight for the required amendments.
I am often asked if women face difficulties in getting votes due to gender bias because a large number of voters are men, I say ‘No’. Rather women face more problems from other women. I would also say that fewer women make efforts to voice their opinions and provide a clear agenda to those voting in order to be heard and taken seriously. Those who do are threatened, intimidated and ridiculed. To me, the societal challenges are deep rooted and tougher to overcome due to:
1) A large number of associations are led by conservative men, mostly elderly including many who lack professional experience to accept reporting to women. Add to that our patriarchal upbringing, which makes it difficult for them to accept strong women who speak their mind, are well read and aware enough to raise questions and concerns and provide solutions. We, in fact, see men in AOA using women as human shields while denying them their right to participating constructively in decision making.
2) Failure of society to provide a gender sensitive conducive environment for women to work in various key roles in Associations. The numbers have been thinning as women avoid insensitive, aggressive, abusive environment which, at times, is deliberately created to ensure that good and honest people stay away.
3) Not undermining their commitment but most of the times, those who do step in lack the ability and inclination to understand the Act and its Bye Laws because of which more often than not, residents especially women are denied of their rights in the framework. But this may not just be attributed to a gender.
Only continuous efforts can help us overcome and eradicate these systemic and societal challenges.
To begin with, a conscious effort needs to be made to create a conducive environment for more and more women to contest elections. While there is an overall degeneration of society and its values, it is important that especially women of our generation make greater efforts to ensure increased participation in spaces that involve close interaction with your neighbours.
We all have been, on various platforms, talking about 33% reservation for women in AOAs, but reservation alone will not encourage greater participation. We need to pass the relevant resolutions as defined under the Act and Bye Laws to bring it to practice. Also, ensure that this reservation is not just restricted to the team of 10 but should be made mandatory for the POBs too. One of the three key positions should be held by women.
Federation and Consortium needs to lead by example, creating awareness and opportunities for women to participate. There’s need for clear guidelines to be followed to ensure that no one within and outside of Associations take this liberty to infringe upon the rights of women and attack their dignity in the name of the public position they hold.
I strongly believe that women are better managers, multi-taskers and have the empathy and compassion to run the society affairs in a manner that ensures that mutual respect grows. Young women who have the time and wherewithal must not shy away from contributing to this major social cause that forms a backbone of any community.
To sum it all, more women will bring greater depth, calmness and sincerity to such responsibilities that have high pressures but no financial benefits attached, thereby improving the overall environment of the society within and outside.