Stranded and unsafe: Women election staff face numerous challenges

Updated - May 15, 2024 11:15 am IST

Published - May 15, 2024 12:29 am IST - HYDERABAD

Women officials preparing a polling booth in Hyderabad, on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections, on Sunday. The image is used for representative purpose only.

Women officials preparing a polling booth in Hyderabad, on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections, on Sunday. The image is used for representative purpose only. | Photo Credit: PTI

‘Equality with a difference’ as a concept has travelled a long way, and governments are slowly adapting to women-friendly policies giving due concessions to their gender-defined roles. General elections, however, are still one area where gender blindness of governments becomes strikingly conspicuous.

A number of women employees who were deployed on election duties in the just-concluded Parliamentary polls had a harrowing time due to gender-insensitive policies of the authorities. While facilities at the polling stations were not women friendly, what caused more agony was the situation at the distribution, reception and counting (DRC) centres where the election material was deposited.

Most unsympathetic was how the women officers were dropped off on the roads post midnight with least concern paid to their safety and security.

“It was 1.30 a.m. on Tuesday by the time I returned. The bus dropped me off at L.B. Nagar crossroads, from where my home was about 3 kilometres away. I panicked as I am a single woman, with no male family member to pick me up,” shared Poojitha, a State government employee who was appointed as a presiding officer in Vikarabad.

She had to call a cousin of hers residing nearby to drop her home. Still, she thinks this time, it was better than her previous stint — during 2023 Assembly elections — when there was no drop facility at all. With much difficulty, she could hire a cab along with a male colleague.

While the government provided buses from the DRC centres to various points in the city, least attention was paid to the safety issues associated with late-night drop.

“We had to wait for close to two hours after polling deadline for the vehicle to take us to the DRC centre, where they took their own sweet time to take custody of the paraphernalia and issue us attendance certificate,” shared Jhansi, a teacher who worked in Uppal. She drove home at midnight, on her two-wheeler.

The predicament of women posted outside the city was even more difficult. In addition to the time taken in depositing the material, they were more aggravated by the wait for buses.

“We had only one bus allocated per route. After one batch of staff left, we had to wait for its return to travel in the same route. Even if a bus was available, the driver wouldn’t move till it was full, all of which compounded the delay,” shared Vijayalakshmi (name changed), another employee.

The facilities at the polling stations were a far cry from what was publicised. Toilets were as good as non-existent, the women officers complain. “The toilets in the school were very dirty, as the good toilets used by teachers were kept locked. We women had to take bath in the neighbouring community hall,” Vijayalakshmi said.

“We did not have a bathroom, and merely changed clothes without bathing,” Poojitha said.

(Names changed to protect identity)

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