Over the last few years, India has witnessed a growth in participation of women in politics. Whether it is the voter turnout or swinging state assembly election like we saw in Bihar in the current term, even parties are waking up to making women’s issues pivotal for them and seeking women’s support. However, this trend is extremely new and is still at a nascent stage and there is a lot to be done for women to participate in politics as candidates and encourage it. In the run-up to the upcoming general elections in 2019, SheThePeople.TV spoke to the Director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Sanjay Kumar, to know whether women now have a better chance at becoming a vote bank, the Women’s Reservation Bill and what women want in this series of Women and the Vote.

India women and the vote, elections

HOW TO MAKE WOMEN’S VOTES COUNT?

Talking about the significance of women’s vote, Kumar said, “Unfortunately, even today, women do not constitute a vote bank but to stress my point—they are important, they will be important in 2019 elections and they have been important in the past as well. Additionally, parties have not paid adequate attention to their vote because they don’t vote as a vote bank and that is why women have remained kind of a neglected group among Indian voters. But in the last five to seven years, the trend of giving importance to women’s vote has started. With the kind of policies the current government started in the last four-and-a-half years, you would get a sense that there is an effort on the part of the government to mobilize women as a vote bank.”

Since women don’t vote as a community like how the Yadavs or Patedars or Dalits or Muslims vote for a particular party in different regions, they don’t add up as a vote bank. But Kumar is of the view that if a political party is able to get even 5-6% edge among women voters, the party would stand to gain enormously over its rival party. “Because of the sheer number that women voters constitute. But the difficulty is that we have never seen it happening, that women’s votes would be tilted in favour of one particular party in such large numbers even by 6-8%. If at all, we see some favour of women voters towards a party, that is only in the range of 3-4% and that is also sizeable because women are 50% of Indian voters,” said Kumar whose core area of research is electoral politics.

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#WomenAndTheVote

PARTIES LED BY WOMEN LEADERS GARNER WOMEN’S VOTES

He gave examples of women voters collectively voting for parties that are led by women leaders like for Mamta Banerjee in West Bengal, Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu, Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. “But we don’t normally see women decisively favouring one particular party,” said Kumar, adding that while we cannot say with surety that women leaders garner women’s support, but there is an indication of such an insight.

“There is some connection that if a party is headed by woman leader (not really woman contesting elections) or the strong identification of the party by a woman leader, that has worked in favour of parties when it comes to women’s votes.

ALSO READ: Rise In Indian Women Voter Turnout And Why It Matters

WHY LESS REPRESENTATION?

On why political parties don’t encourage women candidates in large numbers, he said, “Indian elections are party-based, if the party does not give tickets to women candidates, they won’t be able to win elections and that applies to men too. Independent candidates don’t manage to win elections normally.”

“The reason for less number of women in active electoral politics is that parties are unwilling to give tickets to women candidates. They will say unofficially that it is very difficult for women to contest election –‘ how can they put up a strong candidature against a male candidate?’. So this idea that the winnability of a woman candidate is lower than a man’s impedes parties to give ticket to normal women candidates. However, for women belonging to a political party, there is a better chance of such women getting tickets.”

WINNABILITY OF WOMEN CANDIDATES

He added that data says winnability of women candidates is actually higher than men. For example, if 100 women are contesting election and 100 men are contesting elections, then more women get elected in percentage. But that’s because the base is small—very few women manage to get tickets while we have large number of men getting tickets. Another reason is that political parties don’t give tickets to average woman, so when parties give tickets to women belonging to political parties, their chance of winning is high.

political researcher Sanjay Kumar
Sanjay Kumar CSDS (Pic by Livemint)

WOMEN’S QUOTA

There is a lot of hue and cry around the Women’s Reservation Bill that has hit a roadblock despite the fact that it was in the manifesto of the current ruling party. The central government did not even table the Bill in the Lok Sabha. Talking about it, Kumar said, “There is no seriousness among political parties in pushing this bill. I don’t think there is any conviction on their part, there is actually a serious under-current of thought that it is not desirable. They only come up with this pronouncement in the manifesto just to let others know that they are not against it.”

“The reason for less number of women in active electoral politics is that parties are unwilling to give tickets to women candidates. They will say unofficially that it is very difficult for women to contest election — ‘how can they put up a strong candidature against a male candidate?’. So this idea that the winnability of a woman candidate is lower than a man’s impedes parties to give ticket to normal women candidates.”

WHAT WOMEN AND YOUTH WANT?

On what the current youth demographic wants, Kumar rightfully said that they don’t want Mandir or Masjid, but employment opportunity. And on what women want, he said that while we think that safety is a huge issue because we see it from the urban lens, but if we look at women across the country, he doesn’t think safety is a big issue. “It is a matter of concern, but it is not an electoral issue,” he said.

In Kumar’s perception, women worry more about day-to-day issues like price rise, electricity, rural livelihood, employment opportunity and drinking water. Large numbers of women in villages have to walk long distances to fetch drinking water.

While women have started to take collective voting seriously, we still need to have a women’s vote bank, so that political parties take women’s votes seriously and become more serious towards women’s issues.

Picture credit- Livemint

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