Women's issues could decide this Saturday's Delhi elections

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks with Kiran Bedia, the BJP's candidate to be Delhi's chief minister, on Tuesday. Image: AFP/Getty.

Delhi is hardly a model city when it comes to sex ratio. Its population includes as few as 868 women for every 1000 men, and under 45 per cent of its registered voters are women.

Nonetheless, the Indian capital still has more than 7.8m female citizens. And with elections to the city’s legislature due on 7 February, the “woman issue” seems to be rearing its head – perhaps not for the first time, but surely in more certain and assertive terms than it has before. 

Partly this is because women’s safety, specifically sexual safety, has become a big issue in the wake of the protests following the gang rape of a student in Delhi in December 2012. The three main parties competing – Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Congress, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – have all pledged to make safety for the city’s women their priority.

BJP has even gone on to publish a 25 point programme for women’s safety, which includes better street lighting and distribution of “safety kits” to women. It’s also fielding a Kiran Bedi – the first woman officer to join the Indian Police Service in 1972, who’s since become known as the “Iron Woman” – as its chief ministerial candidate. Meanwhile, Nupur Sharma, a 30 year old graduate of the London School of Economics, is the challenger in the seat currently held by the AAP’s chief ministerial candidate Arvind Kejriwal.

All of this was to be expected: in a survey carried out last November, women’s safety emerged as the top issue for voters in Delhi. But the parties’ assumption that they can win women’s votes simply by campaigning on this single issue may land them in trouble. Indeed, in a subsequent survey of the Delhi electorate, conducted in January, inflation took the top slot; women’s safety had fallen down the list.

The reality is that there are other issues which may have a disproportionate effect on the city’s women, not least inflation and employment. This singular approach also fails to take into account the diversity among women living in Delhi. For the large number of migrant women working in the informal sector, the rising cost of living, housing, health and lack of job opportunities may be just as important as, or even more important than, safety.

There is also discontent over how few female candidates are standing – raising questions regarding how far the party’s commitment to gender equality actually goes. There are 70 seats in the Delhi legislative assembly; between them, the three parties are fielding just 19 women candidates. Even if all of these win their seats (unlikely), they’d make up only 27 per cent of Delhi’s legislators.

So, although women’s presence in these elections seems to be more pervasive than before, it’s mostly owing to a few high profile female candidates, rather than an actual increase in the numbers overall. And it’s remarkable that, with so much emphasis on women’s safety, none of the parties have even discussed trying to engage more women in governance.

Women’s safety may move up and down the ranking of issues in the imminent elections, but the parties’ failure to place women on an equal footing with men will not go unnoticed. In the 2014 general elections in India, women voted in large numbers with a 65 turnout, up from 57 per cent in 2009. As demographics and gender dynamics change, the importance of the women’s vote is only going to increase.

If India’s politicians have foresight, they will understand that they can’t take voters for a ride by paying attention to a single issue. Women want more than to be able to walk the streets without the fear of being raped.

 
 
 
 

Does it matter that TfL are renaming White Hart Lane station Tottenham Hotspur?

New White Hart Lane. Image: Getty.

Pretend for a moment that you’re travelling in the London of 1932. You’re taking the Piccadilly Line northbound and alight at Gillespie Road station. The name should be obvious: it’s inscribed in bespoke brown tiling on the platform.

But that 31 October, following an intense campaign by the eponymous football club, the London County Council changed the station’s name to Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The area’s growing association with the name “Arsenal” ended in a lengthy negotiation that changed maps, signs and train tickets alike. Football had acquired so much power that it changed the name of not just a Tube station but an entire suburb, even before the era of Wenger or the Emirates.

Now the spectre of name changes is on the horizon once again. As Tottenham Hotspur FC inches closer to completing its new stadium, the club is clamouring for a renamed Overground station. Despite the fact the new stadium is located on almost exactly the same site as the old just off White Hart Lane, and fans have long been calling the scaffolding-laden mess “New White Hart Lane”, the club’s executive director is adamant that the station’s existing name cannot stand. White Hart Lane station, on the Overground line leaving Liverpool Street, is set to be renamed “Tottenham Hotspur”, at a cost to the club of £14.7m.

Little has been made of the fact that this peculiar PR kerfuffle is tied to Spurs’ failure to convince Nike to sponsor the venue. Some sources have even claimed that the sponsorship is yet to be finalised because it is somehow contingent on the renaming of the Overground station; beyond the ridiculous Johnson-era vanity project that was the Emirates Air Line, it seems improbable that TfL will allow any more corporate-flavoured information pollution. There will be no “Nike Stadium” station on the way to Enfield, much as there is no “Emirates” on the way to Cockfosters, especially if public consultation gets a look in.

The scene of the crime. Image: TfL.

But there’s a problem with the new name, all the same. “White Hart Lane” already means “football stadium”, in the same way Loftus Road or Stamford Bridge do. Changing it to “Tottenham Hotspur” risks opening the floodgates to an “O2 North Greenwich” or a “Virgin Euston” at some point in future, names as banal as there are dystopian. The Greater London Authority has promised to spend the £14.7m fee on community programmes in the local area – but that’s not much money to set the precedent that a private company can mess about with the Tube map.


What’s more, as CityMetric has often observed, there are plenty of station names across London that could do with a tidy up. Picking one that’s perfect already and asking for £14.7m to change it is adding insult to injury. How much would it cost a community group if they asked to change the name of Goodge Street to Fitzrovia? Why does a vast corporate entity backed by international sponsors and thousands of season ticket holders get to set the standard?

Back in Arsenal’s day, changing names on the Tube must have been easy; changes could be accommodated gradually without bothering the every day traveller. But in our world of online information, maps and apps, name changes are rather more complicated.

The question is – if TfL can bring itself to balefully accept this particular proposition, why can’t it accept ours? Why sort out a single non-issue on the Tube Map when you can catch lots of real ones in one go? A day’s pandemonium might just be a price worth paying to fix the Bethnal Greens problem once and for all.