Bihar elections were India’s first mass poll after the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country. More than 70 million of its men and women voted to elect a new government amid a raging battle against COVID-19.
Saluting this great tradition of citizens forming a government of their own choice through ballots, The Times of India began a campaign to raise awareness and sensitise voters of Bihar about how women can get full justice in our democratic system.
Women comprise almost half the population of the country but hold only 14.4% of Lok Sabha seats and at the state level just 9% of Vidhan Sabha seats. If women are represented in critical mass in the state assemblies, not only would issues pertaining to women receive attention, but their lived experiences would enrich and balance overall law and policy-making in the state.
TOI’s campaign “Aadhe Hum, Aadha Humara” included a detailed editorial report on the success rate of women versus men in assembly polls, a digital public interest film, and a series of ads in TOI.
This initiative was supported not only in print, but also Change.org, radio, social media, and TOI’s digital platform to ensure maximum reach. Women leaders from three major political parties in Bihar (BJP, JDU, and RJD), two civil society groups (a social activist from Oxfam India and a Padmashree awardee from Nari Gunjan), and from Shakti (a pan India, non-partisan citizens pressure group working to get more women in state assemblies and parliament), all spoke in unison in support of better representation of women in politics.
TOI released an 80-second public interest film in local dialect (Bhojpuri and Maithili) to reach out to the masses, which created a huge buzz and went viral within days in Bihar. For a local campaign, we received over half a million video views within 15 days of launch.
The film addressed women’s issues, including:
- 60% of married women face domestic violence.
- 80% of women use unsafe sanitary products.
- 60% of women are anemic.
It also raised a question to all political parties and the public: When you can’t see them, how can you see their issues?
Women missing from voting tickets
Women have been voting in a greater percentage than men in assembly elections, displaying greater interest in political participation. Still, parties gave barely 10% of the tickets to women in the last Bihar Vidhan Sabha election, leading to a minuscule 11% representation of women in the assembly.
The campaign realised its success when Janta Dal United party fielded 22 women candidates (20% of women candidates) in Bihar Assembly Election 2020. This is the highest number of woman candidates fielded by any political party in the Bihar Assembly Elections. This is the motivation for citizen intervention to persuade and pressure the players to provide greater opportunities to women in politics.
Biharis united to show their support for the cause by viewing and sharing the campaign film, as well as engaging in the continuing conversation.