International Women's Day is celebrated across the world on March 8 to honour and celebrate women achievers from different walks of life. This Women's Day, in a conversation with The Free Press Journal, Rajya Sabha MP and Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi shares her views on the need for equal rights and opportunities for women in politics. Excerpts from the interview:
What motivated you to foray into politics?
When I saw the damage 26/11 caused to my city [Mumbai], it made me realise how citizens need to participate and speak to bring in the change that we are seeking. When I started my NGO, which caters to children who live on the streets and educate them, it made me realise that one person can make a difference and that is how my journey into politics began. I felt even a small gesture can bring a significant change in someone’s life. And, politics can give you a platform to change the lives of many if your intention towards your cause is clear and transparent. Coming from a non-political background, putting my business aside to contribute to the betterment of the nation is what I started to do. That is what motivates me. I do that with a sense of responsibility; whatever I say or do can lead to consequences that can change the destiny of a nation.
What according to you are the qualities of a good leader?
A good leader is always a good listener, a good decision-maker, is empathetic and sympathetic. A good leader always believes in team-building and respecting the members of the team they lead.
In the times we live in do you think there is a need for more women leaders for the qualities they bring to the table?
There is always a need of more leaders and there is always a need of more women leaders who are equally as respected. Whether it is a country or a voice, they always look up to examples that have served well in times of crisis, peace and war. As far as women are concerned, we have very few examples; let’s make it a habit of having more women leaders who we can look up to. If you look at women's participation, whether in politics or other areas, while India ranks way below, but globally too women are still fighting for their space and equality.
What’s your take on equal opportunities for men and women in politics?
Whether it's politics or a corporate job, women do end up facing the brunt. Post-Covid lockdown, women were impacted more than men; more women lost their jobs than men did, and have more workload as compared to men. They (women) faced domestic violence and whatnot. In times like these, it becomes important that women are given equal space to be heard and have an equal number of women in leadership roles as men. Till then it will be men deciding good or bad, and what everyone’s future needs to be. A future needs to represent all sides, should be representative of all its people.
What about women representatives in Parliament? Do you think there is a need for more women in the Houses?
Yes, absolutely. Representation of women needs to be increased in the Parliament. Thirty-three percent of women representatives, which certain political parties demanded, has not yet been implemented. Look at women's participation through political parties. Many parties voluntarily decided to reserve seats for women so that they could contest elections. We saw that example coming from TMC and BJD who voluntarily chose to have more women. Even in the Shiv Sena, at the grassroot level, we have more than 50% women who are representing the party in the municipal corporation. So, grooming them for leadership roles, and roles beyond their corporations or assemblies, needs to be a collective effort. It cannot be just spoken about, but should also be followed in a true spirit.
What barriers did you face as a woman in becoming successful in your field? How did you overcome those?
I think the barriers most women end up facing are their voices not being heard effectively, not being given positions of power, not looked at seriously as contenders for leadership positions. I have faced a lot of trolling, character assassination, and attempts have been made to belittle my achievements. It has also be said I have won on someone’s support, which is not true because the whole country was a witness to my struggles. It is a fact that politics is a very uncertain space. Politics does not have a roadmap for where you would reach or when you would reach. There is no timeline. There is no guarantee of what you can achieve. It needs determination, hard work, and commitment to achieve goals. And, unfortunately, doors are still not fully open for women. The women who reach positions of power if they don’t start bringing other women into those positions till then we will continue to fight for that little space that we have already managed to create for ourselves.
Who is your moral support system?
My moral support system is definitely my family, my two children who are much younger but they have a sense of understanding of what is right and wrong and what to stand up for. My husband is the biggest supporter in a journey, which is uncertain, in a journey which is full of struggle, in a journey where outcomes are uncertain. His commitment and support is totally to ensure that whatever I strive to achieve there is always somebody who is pushing me to go forward.
Any person whom you look up to for inspiration?
Quite a few people whom I look up to, not just nationally but also internationally. There are many women leaders who have inspired me. Whether it is Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern, Indira Gandhi…they have been various shades of inspiration. At a time when the country looks towards direction, you stand up and take that charge, so those are the things that inspired me.
How do you strike a work-life balance?
Work-life balance to me is very certain that my family also has to have an equal amount of space in whatever work I do. Unfortunately, when my political career began it came at an expense of not having enough family time. But I have tried to balance it as much as I can. Whenever I can I spend time with my children or go out on weekends with them. But now due to COVID, weekend getaways have come to an end. But in a way, it gave us a chance to be at home and spend more time together.