Under Representation of Women in Indian Political System
10th May, 2021
It’s 2021. It seems redundant to state this fact, but a reminder is needed considering the state of political representation in the country. In the recent assembly elections, 70 women made it to their state legislatures. But out of all winners, they made up less than 9 per cent; their male colleagues will be an astounding 752 in number.
- Recently 5 states have witnessed state assembly election in which women participation of Bengal in election were the most.
- West Bengal, the best among the five states, will have just 14 per cent women, while Puducherry will have an assembly with only one woman as member.
- Kerala with a marginal increase, the numbers have either remained consistent, or have actually worsened as compared to the 2016 election.
- Despite the dismal numbers, or rather because of them, the victory of each of these 70 women is remarkable, whether they make exceptional leaders or not.
- The numbers are eventually a symptom of a political culture that is deeply patriarchal, and often outright sexist, and for women to make it thus far can often mean surviving a thousand battle cuts.
What Global Gender Gap Report say
· India is the third-worst performer country in South Asia in World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021.
· According to the report, India has slipped 28 places to rank 140th among 156 countries.
· In Global Gender Gap Index 2020, the country had ranked 112th among 153 countries.
· It is noteworthy that India has closed 62.5% of its gender gap to date. The report said India’s gender gap on this dimension widened by 3% this year, leading to a 32.65 gap closed to date.
· Most of the decline occurred on the political empowerment subindex, where India regressed 13.5 percentage points, with a significant decline in the number of women ministers (from 23.1% in 2019 to 9.1% in 2021).
· Among India’s neighbours, Bangladesh ranked 65, Nepal 106, Pakistan 153, Afghanistan 156, Bhutan 130, and Sri Lanka 116. Among regions, South Asia is the second-lowest performer on the index, with 62.3% of its overall gender gap closed.
The current scenario
- In a country with deplorable levels of women in the workforce, and social-cultural norms that heavily police women’s mobility and participation in public life, getting involved in electoral politics is a far-fetched dream for most women.
- Politics is essentially a public act, and research shows that women’s ability to negotiate a space independent of the household is an important factor in deciding if or not they will be politically active.
- Most parties express allegiance to the women’s reservation bill which could pave the way for 33 per cent reservation for women in the Parliament, but how many actually field even a quarter of their candidates who are women?
- In the recent polls, women made up 8 per cent of all candidates in Assam and 11 per cent in the other four states.
- Roughly, one in every 10 individuals who contested the election was a woman.
- If that number doesn’t trouble us in 2021, one wonders what will. All parties were equally guilty.
Reasons behind the under participation of women
- Women are only vote banks: For India’s political parties, women matter, but only as vote banks. Across states, competing parties have wooed women voters with a wide range of promises including wages/allowances for “housewives”, washing machines, gas cylinders, free public transport, and so on.
- No focus on actual empowerment: And yet, they all fail when it comes to the actual test of “empowerment” — sharing political power. This is hardly about a lack of women.
- Lack of confidence: It has been almost three decades since the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments paved the way for at least one-third seats to be reserved for women at the local level, thus creating a large pool of women with political experience.
- In all four states that went to polls, this share has been increased to 50 per cent over the years.
- Yet, male-heavy parties are simply uncomfortable about giving an opportunity to women to participate in politics at the assembly or parliamentary level.
- Male party leaders think women can only climb up to be district panchayat presidents.
- Abuse and violence: Women often face hostility, apathy and even abuse from their own parties. In a 2014 study by UN Women, more than half respondents (58 per cent) from India said that they faced violence and abuse from members of their own parties. The political world outside of their own parties is no less hostile to them. Sexist, misogynistic comments are rampant, and the 2021 elections were no different.
Socio Cultural Factor
- In countries like India Women are considered as the mothers and housewife and to participate in election are restricted due to patriarchal mindset of Indian society.
- In India women are considered as a weak and they are restricted only to boundary of house.
- Exclusion of women from Religious institution and religious leadership have impacted negatively on women’s status and restrict them to take opportunity to participate in politics and public life.
- Lack of economic resources is the biggest obstacle to prevent to participate in politics and public life.
- Due to family responsibility women spend far more time in home than men so lesser time to participate in politics and public life.
- Gender Equality: Women’s should have equal rights with men in the political, social, economic and cultural spheres. Even though constitution guarantees women equal right in all spheres socio-cultural factors need to be adapted to modern ethos of equality. Institutions of Governance like courts , police ,administrative bodies etc. should focus on gender equality.
- Affirmative Action: Action taken by the government by reserving certain percentage of seats at state legislature and parliament for women.
- By Empowering women- To provide education and equal health access in all spheres of life can empower women to participate in politics and public sphere. Both education and health are important for women to participate in Central, state and Panchayat election and other public field.
- Enforcing property rights: Despite legal rights for women to inherit paternal property women are denied property rights and thus they lack economic resources. There is need to reinforce with in society and women about their right to property.
- Social awareness campaigns: Long held prejudices against women need to be dismantled through concerted social campaigns with help of educational institutions, media, religious leaders, celebrities ,political leaders etc
World Economic Forum Suggestion for women empowerment
- At the macro level, there is a need for policy initiatives to empower women and tighter implementation of existing ones to reduce the gender disparity in India. But small steps also count.
- Higher representation of female leaders can be a source of inspiration for others to pursue their dreams and aspirations. Improved access to information among women can build their professional interest and increase their economic participation.
- A concerted effort between the local and national levels can drive change.
- With the WEF 2021 report data staring in our face, the country must invest and commit towards this for a more promising future to meet its commitments towards achieving the UN SDGs. We surely do not want to wait for 135 years as per the WEF Global Gender Report 2021 to bring equality between men & women,”
The journeys of the 70 women going forward are not going to be easy. Even after getting elected, these battles are likely to continue, exacerbated by a media which often amplifies these narratives, instead of critiquing them. And the fact that the women are so few, less than one for every 11 MLAs, offers little solace.