Priyanka Chaturvedi is a Member of Parliament and Deputy Leader of Shiv Sena in Rajya Sabha. She is also a Member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Women Empowerment.
In a two-part interview, Priyanka Chaturvedi discusses politics as a career choice for women. In the second part, Priyanka discusses the challenges she faced in politics and the ways to overcome such challenges. She also makes recommendations to women leaders, political parties and young women aspiring to be in politics, to enable equal participation of women in Indian politics.
What have been some of the key challenges in politics as a first-generation woman?
Priyanka Chaturvedi: Women are constantly questioned for their abilities and they have to keep proving themselves. Moreover, with the patriarchal mindset, women are attacked for how they look, how they dress and whom they hang out with. Sometimes women are judged about their characters. I have experienced online trolling, and earlier, I used to get worked up because of this. On social media, whenever people attack me, I ignore them all. These trolls have no point, and it is all inconsequential.
There are people, especially men, who don't know me but end up judging me and saying all kinds of things about me. All these things are a part of this political world, and it can be a terrible space at times, but I tend to ignore it now.
In the case of new entrants, they are often asked to contest on seats that are not winning seats and are told to prove themselves. Men in politics are usually confident that they will win a particular seat but women don't develop that confidence; this sometimes works in favor of men. People don't realize that women leaders also have their families back home, whom they have left, to create this space for themselves. This entire question about women's capabilities, ambition, and achievements has brought in a cloud of suspicion on them, which might not be the case with men. I think that this is the most challenging thing to live with as a woman in politics.
Would you say that the harassment and violence that women politicians face online is different from their men counterparts?
Priyanka Chaturvedi: Yes, trolling is different for women. An ORF study in India found that women’s participation on political topics ranged between four percent to 12 percent, as opposed to men’s 33 percent to 55 percent, reflecting how India’s real-world exclusion of women in political discourse is mirrored online.
Narratives are built falsely from various sources. Some trolling involved threats to my family and my children which made me believe enough was indeed enough and tolerate all this, so I took it up to the authorities and ensured that they went to jail for it. They understood that there is a law that protects women. We women should feel empowered enough to use that law and teach such men a lifetime lesson. So it is more personal, more driven to a woman’s character or outward appearances when it comes to women.
What can be done within the political space to stop the occurrence of online violence against women politicians?
Priyanka Chaturvedi: Yes, the political parties and politicians can stop that if they have a strong will. But unfortunately, social media has become an enabling tool to silence voices and suppress women every time they try to speak up. Many women who can contribute to society by entering policy and politics get silenced because of this.
Firstly, political parties should completely disengage with political volunteers who indulge in violent behavior against women and can actively be called out by their political parties. Secondly, we have these legal provisions which can enable us to stop these things. I also took the legal recourse, but realised the whole process gets too long to end conclusively. Thirdly, women must actively stand up for each other irrespective of their politics and rally for completely prohibiting such a language. Such trolls prosper on social media platforms because we don’t put a united front hence they talk badly about women and look at us from a sexist and misogynistic perspective.
Also, I want all men in the society to pause and think, what if these things were happening with the women at their homes or their women friends or co-workers? Would they still turn a blind eye? And for all users of social media, if you see that women are getting abused or targeted, please raise your voice and don’t turn a blind eye to it.
Did you find any support from anyone in your party or outside your party while facing challenges in politics?
Priyanka Chaturvedi: If you see, besides the women’s wing, there are not many women at the top of the decision-making table, so few that you can even count them on your fingertips.
I was lucky enough to have found some good people who stood by me. Some also took up my cause when I realised that some TV channels were deliberately crossing a line to say nasty things to me or just attacking me for the sake of it. I also found support from party members when I faced trolling from the spokespersons of other political parties. However, it isn't about just me, or a particular political party, every party should be committed to the idea of punishing wrongdoers within the system even if they are senior in the ranks or politically important. Till that message does not go out strongly, women will continue to keep fighting this unfair battle within their organisations.
One thing you would like to change for women in politics?
Priyanka Chaturvedi: I want the women in politics to start believing more in themselves. They need more courage and confidence to make difficult decisions because they often hold themselves back, thinking they will not get support from the family or society. Women should put all self-doubts to rest, not compromise on their values in any way & have total faith in their belief to be able to be changemakers.
What would you like to tell men in politics on becoming a better ally for women in politics?
Priyanka Chaturvedi: “He for She'' is an important concept where men also speak up for women. I have seen many political parties, where its [men] parliamentarians have often taken up the cause of women’s issues through zero-hour interventions or special mentions. It is highly appreciable because the minute you start speaking up for women - it gives women the confidence to speak and be in this space.
Of course, you can’t change cultures and mindsets overnight but start with one step at a time right from your home. Men must learn what to expect from women and empower women, whether in family spaces or public spaces. Women must have the ability to make their own choices and have their voices heard.
And, men should teach other men that the culture of shutting women up and feeling great about themselves is worthless. It doesn’t add to their masculinity, instead portrays their cowardly behaviour when they bully people to silence them. When men speak up for women, they empower society as a whole.
[All the photographs are taken from Priyanka Chaturvedi's Facebook page]
The first part of this interview with Priyanka Chaturvedi is published here.
This interview is a part of the Worth Asking Series 2021. The series aims to bring conversations with women in politics about politics as a career choice and with men politicians about their role as allies.
Read previous interviews in the Worth Asking Series, here.