One of the main issues that activists, experts and the media are consistently talking about this election season is the representation of women in parliament, women candidates of state and national parties, female voter pattern, etc.
- In several state assembly polls like Bihar, Mizoram, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Goa, Uttarakhand, Punjab, women voter turnout has actually exceeded in comparison with male voter turn-out more frequently between 2017-2018.
- The grammar of the election may be the same by what we mean by elections in India but they are nothing like what the previous elections have been.
- A very small number of parties are actually doing something about women’s inclusion like TMC And BJD but beyond them, the numbers drop fairly strongly.
- In the last decade the significant shift is that at least now parties are addressing women voters separately and making campaign promises.
Much scrutiny is on women voters because of the steady rise in the numbers from 47% of the total women voters in 1962 to 66% in 2014. In several state assembly polls like Bihar, Mizoram, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Goa, Uttarakhand, Punjab, women voter turnout has actually exceeded in comparison with male voter turn-out more frequently between 2017-2018. However, UP saw more women voter turnout than men in 2012 assembly elections also but the percentage rose to four percentage up this year from 1.6 percent in 2012.
SECRECY IS A DRIVING FORCE FOR WOMEN TO VOTE
While female voters are queuing up outside polling booths in larger numbers than ever before, the number of women party workers getting tickets to contest elections hasn’t seen a significant change. Author of “Why India Votes?” and Associate Professor in Social Anthropology and Political Science at the London School of Economics, Mukulika Banerjee reflected on the upcoming elections and how it differentiates from the past in terms of women’s participation. She says, “The grammar of the election may be the same by what we mean by elections in India but they are nothing like what the previous elections have been.
In my field visits, a number of women across the country said that it’s a rare moment in their lives when they are standing in front of the ballot box or the EVM when there is no other person to tell them what to do. This idea of secrecy is a huge deal for women. It is one of the key reasons that’s motivating women to cast their votes.”
She narrated an anecdote from the time of her research for the book where during a field visit in Harda, Madhya Pradesh, a rural woman couldn’t cast her vote due to some reason and she was in tears. “When asked, why she was crying? She said I sweep the grain in the mandi every day, I know the value of every grain missed,” recounted Banerjee at a recent lecture.
ENOUGH POTENTIAL WOMEN, PARTIES NEED TO LOOK OUT
Assistant Professor of Political Science at Ashoka University and Co-Director of the Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Gilles Verniers has been working towards analysing the pattern of women representatives, candidates, political party’s behaviours, etc. and he said, “India has had some of the most powerful female figures as Prime Minister, President, Chief Ministers, President of political parties and MPs so there is no dearth of powerful women political figures in India. At the same time in the local level, we have 54% women members of local elected bodies and very rich literature on the outcome that women’s inclusion in local bodies has had. However, in between this spectrum, the record is abysmally low.
Currently, as we are analysing political parties’ gendered patterns of giving tickets, we realized that there is a small Tamil party (Naam Tamilar Katchi) which gave 50% tickets to women. But a very small number of parties are actually doing something about women’s inclusion like TMC And BJD but beyond them, the numbers drop fairly strongly. There is always a risk to look at this issue in terms of percentages because the number of women candidates and therefore the number of women MPs is so low that tiny variations actually makes a large effect in terms of percentage. Like if we see RJD has 17% women candidates but really they only have three women. Congress and BJP have similar numbers as they had in previous elections.”
Verniers also elaborated on how state governments performing adversely with regard to women’s welfare do have a greater number of women politicians and part of the explanation is dynasty politics. He also expanded on how parties give banal clarifications for not giving tickets to more women saying they couldn’t find enough winnable women candidates, etc. while those myths can be easily busted through data.
In the last decade, the significant shift is that at least now parties are addressing women voters separately and making campaign promises.
CHANGING ATTITUDES OF PARTIES TOWARDS WOMEN VOTERS
Shifting the focus from women representatives from women politicians back to women voters, Oxford University graduate and currently Assistant Professor at Jindal Global University, Lipika Kamra delved upon how parties’ vision has changed in terms of women voters. “In the last decade, the significant shift is that at least now parties are addressing women voters separately and making campaign promises. Congress recently released its manifesto in which it’s talked about reserving 33% seats for women in parliament, reviewing the sexual harassment at workplace law, rewarding companies that hire more women, etc. This is different from the usual like providing cooking gas, free sanitary napkins, etc.
So this shift also marks a change in the attitudes of the parties which initially only thought of women voting along with male kin and not necessarily taking their own decisions as voters. This is telling of the fact that gender needs to be taken seriously when studying Indian democracy as along with the different aspects of it like caste, religion, ethnicity, class, etc.”
Now that most parties have released their lists of candidates for Lok Sabha elections, women's representation remains a far-fetched dream. However, as more women become aware and with access to education, go out to vote in larger numbers, it may change the course of future of women in parliament. A lot of responsibility lies with women voters to push parties to do better towards women's welfare so this General Election is sort of a call out to voters to make their vote count and make parties accountable.