Elections and Women Card
General Studies 1
- Role of women and women’s organization, women related issues, Social empowerment
General studies 2
- Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
- Parliament and State Legislatures, structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
In News: The biggest festival of democracy that is General Elections has begun in India and almost 50 per cent of the total 90 crore voters this time are women. The turnout of women voters has seen a rapid increase over the last few years with the highest being at 65.5 per cent in the previous Lok Sabha elections.
However, the scenario is entirely different when we talk about political equality to women. According to a study conducted by Association of Democratic Reforms less than 10 per cent of the candidates who contested elections in the recent past are women. This is a far cry from the demand to give 33 per cent reservation to women in political parties and government.
For the General election this time, so far two regional parties have announced reservation for women in ticket distribution – Biju Janta Dal in Odisha has given 33 percent and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal has given 41.5 per cent of its tickets to women candidates.
Current Status across the World
India ranks 153 out of 190 nations in the percentage of women in the lower house of world parliaments.
- According to a list compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Rwanda ranks first with 61% of its lower house representatives being women.
- As a region, Nordic countries are leaders with an average of about 40%.
- The UK and the US are relative laggards with 32% and 23%, respectively.
- The United States’ current tally, though still moderate, is bolstered by a very strong showing by women in the recent congressional elections.
- Even Pakistan with 20% participation from women is ahead of India.
- India had 65 women out of 545 members of Parliament (MPs) elected to the 16th Lok Sabha in May 2014, for a 12% representation.
- Only the 15th and 16th Lok Sabha changed a previously stagnant representation of under 9% recorded by Indian women MPs since Independence.
How does it matter?
- The Indian system has electoral representation to the Lok Sabha based on population. Thus, Uttar Pradesh with a population of over 200 million people has 80 MPs, Bihar with a population of 100 million has 40 seats and Maharashtra with a population of 114 million has 48. Four of the north-eastern states—Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Sikkim—have only one seat each. Uttar Pradesh shows a better than national average representation of 17.5% (14 MPs) by women, while Maharashtra has the national average of 12.5% (6 seats) and Bihar is much below the national average at 7.9% (3 seats). While we allocate total seats to states by population, the resultant women’s representation at 12% is far below the actual population of women.
- There is documented evidence both at the international level and at the gram panchayat (village) level to suggest that a greater representation of women in elected office balances the process and prioritizations that elected bodies focus on. In an influential paper, Esther Duflo and Raghabendra Chattopadhyay (NBER Working Paper 8615) show that in a randomised trial in West Bengal, women pradhans (heads of village panchayats) focus on infrastructure that is relevant to the needs of rural women, suggesting that at least at the local level outcomes can be different.
What needs to be done to have more women in Parliament?
- Quotas for women in Parliament – The 73rd and 74th amendments to the Indian Constitution reserve one-third of local body seats for women. Reservation for one-third of the seats for women in the Lok Sabha has been tabled as a bill several times until as recently as 2008. Each time the bill has lapsed (requires a constitutional amendment). Implementation is complex as constituencies may have to be rotated and/or we may need dual member constituencies.
- Reservation for women in political parties
- Awareness, education and role modelling that encourage women towards politics
- There needs to be an Election Commission-led effort to encourage reservation for women in political parties in India to atleast set the ball rolling in a more meritocratic manner.
- Having more female legislators in parliament will drive the country’s development at a faster pace as a new talent pool will be available.
- Reservation in political parties will also require education, encouragement, and role-modelling for women to aspire to a political role as it is in the party’s interest to ensure that their candidate wins.
- It is also important to understand that political reservation for women should not be confused with reservation for other reasons—caste, class or religion—as this complicates and derails the discussion.
Note: Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay was the first Indian woman to contest an election.
Connecting the Dots:
- Parties field fewer women because voters lack faith in women leaders’ abilities — a vicious cycle we need to break. Discuss.
- By undermining the agency of women, a society does great disservice to itself. Elucidate.
- Constitutional guarantee for gender equality remains vacuous independent of complementary value systems. Comment.