Women in India may be massively underrepresented in the Parliament and State assemblies, but politically they are making their presence felt in terms of their vote share. It has been acknowledged, the world over, that women’s representation in politics, one way or another, is largely beneficial in resolving complex issues, especially at a time when everyone’s collectively fighting for gender parity and women’s rights.
Surveys indicate that women are voting more than ever and this greater voter turnout will impact the country and lead to improved structural changes. The talk about gender-specific voting in national and state elections arises from the analysis of what the governments in power are doing for nation's female population.
Rise in female voters
Growth in female literacy and awareness has led to an increased political interest among women. National Election Studies (NES) survey data revealed that around 61 per cent female respondents in 2014 were exposed to news media, up from 35 per cent in 2009. Interestingly, women are casting their ballots more frequently and the turnout has actually been higher than that of men in two-thirds of India’s state elections. This holds true across all Indian states, including those considered to be struggling socially or economically.
According to the parliament of India female voter turnout increased from 38.8 per cent in the 1950s to almost 60 per cent in the 1990s. The increase in the male turnout during the same period has only been 4%. This shows how women, when given a platform and opportunity, can turn the system around. In a study published in the Economic and Political Weekly this year, researchers point to a steady and sharp decline in the gender bias in voting over time.
In 2004, men held an 8.4 per cent point turnout upper hand over women in national elections. But by 2014, that gap had shrunk largely to just 1.8 per cent points. More women voted than men in 16 out of 29 states of India. A total of 260.6 million women exercised their right to vote in the 2014 elections.
More women voted than men in 16 out of 29 states of India. A total of 260.6 million women exercised their right to vote in the 2014 elections.
The importance of women voters
Women's participation in voting also boosts socio-political gender parity. India's voting arena, which has largely been male-dominated for a long time now, is going through a transition.
There are some key points to note when it comes to female voters' significance:
- Historically speaking, women have been less engaged in politics than men. This led to a lot of aspects concerning women taking a back seat. Areas like public safety, sanitation or healthcare, for that matter, have been largely neglected.
- More women acknowledging their right to vote can make a difference and change situations for the better.
- Since men have always turned out to vote in large numbers, it has become a general phenomenon for political parties to only woo men voters and ignore the cause of women at large.
- A study notes that a rise in female voters helps reduce stereotypes about gender roles in public and private life.
- Another study revealed how having female politicians can be extremely beneficial for the aspirations and educational attainment of girls living under their jurisdiction.
Although there's an increase in female voters, the country continues to face a grave gender imbalance.
Even though the female voter turnout has risen, it remains low when compared with the adult population sex ratio in most states. As per the country’s 2011 census, the country has approximately 943 women for every 1,000 men. This places India near the bottom at 186 out of 194 countries, according to the World Bank. The sex ratio among India’s registered voters is even worse. There are only 908 women for every 1,000 men on the country’s voter rolls.
There are only 908 women for every 1,000 men on the country’s voter rolls.
This raises an alarm as, despite progress, Indian women suffer at the polls. An imbalance clearly leads to women being less likely to be registered to vote than men.
Will a rise in female voter turnout place more women in the parliament?
We’re aware of the fact that women in India are massively underrepresented in the Parliament and State assemblies. Women’s percentage in the 542-member Lok Sabha and 245-member Rajya Sabha is only 11.6% and 11% respectively. There has been absolutely no effort made for the political inclusion of more women. Sadly, as per data by Women in Politics 2017 Map, launched recently by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women, India ranks 148 of the 193 governance-listed countries in terms of representation of women in politics. We also rank 88 in the number of women ministers with only 18.5 % in the cabinet.
India ranks 148 of the 193 governance-listed countries in terms of representation of women in politics.
A research found that female political representation directly contributes to higher growth, less corruption and greater opportunism. When women vote, they also encourage other women making their mark in politics to work towards women empowerment. Women want a say in politics and more voters will remind political parties of their interests and their influence.
How can we encourage more female voters?
Women's right to vote is human rights linked to the course of the country's development. First, women have to be made aware of their rights even in the remotest of areas, across the country. Institutions and families need to involve their women in decision making and enable them to exercise their rights.
The State institutions have been trying to make voting easier for women as well. For example, India’s Election Commission has been trying to encourage more women to vote by improving the safety of polling booths to reduce voter intimidation. The authorities have been making the area more convenient by setting up separate queues for women on election day. All stakeholders need to play their part in ensuring a high number of female voter turnout which will develop the country economically, socially and politically.