A group of Elected Women Representatives (EWR) have been advocating for a fairer process in the upcoming elections in Bihar, a state in the Northern part of India. The Bihar Panchayat Raj Amendment stipulated that in order to be elected for public office, candidates must have a toilet. The EWRs argue that the amendment is a clear form discrimination against poor women without access to sanitation, and also violates constitutional rights to contest seats.
In a state-level advocacy dialogue in September, the group of EWRs known as the Aparajita Federation (meaning the one who cannot be defeated), presented their achievements over the past five years of their tenure, and how it has solidified women’s leadership within local governance. They also sought to advocate against the ‘no-toilet, no right to contest’ policy in place for 2016 elections, and its clear discrimination against poor women without access to sanitation, in addition to violating constitutional rights to contest seats.
The EWRs further raised the demand for basic amenities for all, and to recognize and include the demand of federations in the manifesto of the political parties.
In addition to presenting their concerns, the EWRs received their report cards for five districts. These demonstrated progress in areas such as gender equality, reduction of violence against women, and improved access to services and rights, among other areas.
After the event was held, Ali Anward, a Member of the Upper House of Parliament, understood how the no toilet-no right to contest policy was punitive rather than promotional in their attempt to reduce open defecation. He vowed to bring this issue to the notice of the Chief Minister of the State of Bihar and take action on their behalf.
The Hunger Project works extensively with these groups of EWRs as part of our work to empower the women electorate in India to increase the visibility of women through the electoral process.