The South Asian Times

17 September 2019 21:40 PM

More power to women

By Shivaji Sengupta

When Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1971 attacked East Pakistan to drive the West Pakistanis out, General Yahya Khan, then Pakistan’s president, is said to have quipped with dry humor, “You see, men have been used to being in positions of power and can even cut your throat with a smile. But when a woman comes into power, she loses all her sense of humor which she has less than a man anyway!”

I was a young doctoral student then and deplored the sexist remark. (As it happened, it was Mrs. Gandhi who had the last laugh – Yahya Khan lost his job). Almost 50 years later, I open The South Asian Times and read that the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and the Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, are planning to meet with India’s Minister of External Affairs, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, and Defense Minister, Mrs. Nirmala Sitaraman: two American men meeting with two Indian women to discuss mutual cooperation for security in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. To an untutored American this might come as a surprise: India has two women in such positions of power? In the United States, just about 20% of all elected officials in Congress are women. Republican women amount to hardly 5%. This, in a country, where women outnumber men.

In 2016, we narrowly missed inaugurating the first woman president. Not coincidentally, we also elected a man who has one of the worst records when it comes to respecting women. Not coincidentally either, we have witnessed, ever since Trump’s election, an outpour of women accusing men of sexual harassment. Finally, there is firm belief in this country – and I am among them – that if women were to capture even another 10% more seats in Congress, much stiffer gun control laws could go into effect; as well as more humane immigration laws, especially concerning Dreamers, i.e., youngsters in the U.S. born of undocumented parents.

The forthcoming midterm elections promise much toward this goal. According to Refinery29, a political database organization, almost 300 women are contesting the slightly above 500 seats up for grabs in the states. In other words, 60%. According to Emily’s List, as many as 431 women are vying for Congressional midterm elections. Complementing this unusually large number of women interested in elected office is the huge upsurge in the number of women interested in women winning the midterms. In 2016, for example, 694 women inquired about women running for office. This year that number is over 30,000. What made for this astounding difference?

We already mentioned Trump, the provocateur extraordinaire. There is no doubt in my mind that women who voted for Hillary Clinton were bitterly disappointed at her defeat and many of them are fighting back with new resolve. So, Mrs. Clinton is a very big reason why women are threatening to take charge. The massive women’s march the day after Trump’s inauguration in January 2016 has apparently turned many heads toward women. According to Emily’s List over a thousand women called in to inquire about running for office. Last, but not least, the thousands of murders with guns that have taken place, and the young women who have come out for gun control have also influenced women to oppose men.

So here we are! Sitting and waiting for the bell to ring; for the women to come out and fight the elections. They – we – have had enough of men. As the Chorus in the ancient Greek Comedy, Lysistrata,  warned the men who were bent on fighting wars and groping women with never a care for their wives: You should never have laid rash hands on us… beware the wasps, if you go stirring up the wasps' nest!

Update: 13 June, 2018