Will Political Empowerment Remain An Unrealised Dream For Indian Women?
The Indian election season is in high peak! No wonder that the global media attention is focussed on this gigantic democratic exercise which has more than nine hundred million voters on the roll.
Now, in this battle of ballots, perhaps there is something to cheer about. India, a country enduring an adverse sex ratio for decades, witnessed an upsurge in the number of freshly enrolled women voters. The recently released Election Commission (EC) figures say that more than half the first-time voters are women in the upcoming 17th Lok Sabha election.
Is this a newly awakened political consciousness in Indian women? Is it likely to add a novel dimension to the story of women’s political empowerment?
Being a country of 586 million women, it had a paltry 11.2% of women parliamentarians in the 16th Lok Sabha.
In the 21st millennium, India presents a contrasting picture of light and shadows, in which a section of women, breaking many glass ceilings, is basking in the lights of success, while a large shadow engulfs millions of women being the victims of chauvinistic tyranny and sundry exploitation.
In the higher echelons of political power, a wide gender gap persists in India. Being a country of 586 million women, it had a paltry 11.2% of women parliamentarians in the 16th Lok Sabha. India is nowhere near the global average of 22% in gender parity in the higher political structure. Women in India are yet to be recognised as a ‘political class’ or a ‘unified vote bank’ in its inherently masculine‘vote bank’ politics.
Women in India are yet to be recognised as a ‘political class’ or a ‘unified vote bank’ in its inherently masculine‘vote bank’ politics.
The successive elections in India showed an abysmally low number of women contestants, which never crossed more than 5% from 1962 to 1996, and from thereon around 8% in the next six elections. Against this backdrop, the decisions of the two regional parties in Odisha and West Bengal of earmarking 33% and 40% respectively of party tickets to women, indeed, bring a whiff of fresh air in the bigotry-laden contemporary electoral politics.
Now, how many of the top-ranking countries in the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), 2018, have brought in a turnaround in women’s participation in national parliaments? In some of them, political parties have gone for voluntary party quotas for women, while some others have chosen to introduce statutory gender quotas. In the current Indian political scenario, the option of voluntary party quotas is not likely to find much favour among mainline political parties. The unsuccessful long journey of the Women’s Reservation Bill for a constitutional provision of 33% seats for women in parliament and the state legislatures, is amply demonstrative of the absence of adequate political will.
The unsuccessful long journey of the Women’s Reservation Bill for a constitutional provision of 33% seats for women in parliament and the state legislatures, is amply demonstrative of the absence of adequate political will.
The Economic Survey, 2017-18, among other reasons, attributed this low representation of women to the factor of confidence-deficit among political parties in women as potential winners. However, the EC while analysing the outcome of the last fifteen Lok Sabha elections, found that women had a better success rate of 34% as against men’s 18% in 1971, and in the last Lok Sabha, it was 9.3% as against men’s 6.4%.
But, women in India, is creating a new history at the grassroots with more than fourteen lakh elected Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) members, 44.2% of all elected representatives, and 43% of women Sarpanchs across the Gram Panchayats (GP) in the country.
Perhaps, a slow transition towards women’s political empowerment has set in.
Archana Datta, former Indian Information Service Officer, and media educationist. The views expressed are the author’s own.