#Long Reads

Why Doesn’t Rural India Vote Women Politicians To Power?

Women in Indian Politics, women politicians rural india

The election time is very significant in India. Not only because it is the “Loktantra Parv” but also because it incites a debate on who could be the better leader, what important changes we need and which leader will bring havoc if brought into power. Similarly, as the Bihar Assembly Elections began, my family and people around me began speculating on who will get the coveted seat of the Chief Minister of Bihar. But what has always irked me is the fact that no matter how many new faces contest elections, the competition is always between two major male politicians, who overshadow other candidates even those of their own parties. And consequently, when women politicians try to make space in this male-dominated Assembly, they are either not known to the majority of voters or ignored on the basis of their gender.

Recently, I was a part of a casual family discussion on why women are not voted into leadership in the rural areas of India. The opinion put forth was that rural areas which still fall behind in the basic infrastructures require potential leaders who can go to villages, exert themselves on the field and co-operate with people. And women leaders are not capable of fieldwork as much as male leaders are. Women politicians are easily elected in the cities because they don’t have to do much work since cities are already developed and the population is educated.

Also Read: Indians Want Beautiful Female Politicians, Not Capable Ones

Everyone in the discussion agreed to the opinion as it resonated with the reality that we all inhabit. In our society, sexism is often practised in the name of practicality and reality. But what no one questioned is why oppression and underestimation of a woman’s ability is the basis of the practicality? Why a woman leader should be assumed as incapable of doing extensive fieldwork? Is it right to undermine a woman politician’s success in cities? Why a woman leader should be ignored as a capable electorate on the basis of her gender? Would a male politician be measured on the basis of gendered prejudices?

It is not right to think that women do not win the elections. As per 2019 data by Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation in Lok Sabha Elections from 1957 to 2019, women politicians have won at a greater rate than men. In the 2019 general election, women candidates recorded 10.6 per cent winning rate while men had 6.4 per cent. It is also not right to say that rural India has no women leaders. The participation of women in Panchayats has been increasing. Around 13 states have 50-58 per cent of women leaders in Panchayats.

The major reason why people don’t vote women politicians is a narrow mindset that cannot accept a woman taking up leadership roles in the outside world. And more so in rural India because education and employment is still a privilege for many women. And if a woman tries to challenge the mindset and change the norm, she is at the risk of being abused and killed.

Recent research showed that women politicians face the maximum number of online abuse. As high as 10,000 abusive tweets are received by women politicians in a day in India. If online abuse is at such a high rate, can we be sure of their safety on the fields?

Moreover, it is also said that women politicians, specifically in rural areas, are mere proxies of their politician husband/father/brother with no intelligence of their own to deserve a seat. And I have personally witnessed this in the ward commissioner election in my town. A woman participated in the election, appeared in the campaigns and won with a huge number of votes. But after that, she was nowhere to be seen. It was her husband who did all the work.

But this cannot be the basis of the generalisation that all the women politicians are mere proxies right? In fact sons of the political families also contest elections. Why aren’t they considered as proxies or not capable of contesting elections independently? Many women of political families are indeed capable of being a promising leader. Although it depends a lot on her family members also, whether they allow her to make the decisions or just keep her as a proxy.

This is not the first time when a woman politician’s capability has been measured on the basis of her gender. Recently, Khushbu Sundar was criticised for being brainwashed by her husband when she decided to join BJP. Dalit woman politician of Madhya Pradesh Imarti Devi was called out as “item” by Kamal Nath while addressing a campaign.

Consequently, women make 50 per cent of the total population but their representation in the parliament is as less as 13 to 14 per cent and only 9 per cent in State assembly. India stands at 114th position among 200 countries and below Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh in terms of providing equal representation to women in politics.

Can a woman take up the leadership role if she does not feel safe enough to freely perform her duties? Why a woman leader has to fight a harsh battle with not only her political rivals but also with the society’s patriarchal mindset to gain power? Women are capable of taking up leadership roles and have the ability to improve the nation’s economic and social conditions. But is the society a safe space for women leaders? Rather than undermining a woman’s capability as a leader, shouldn’t society change its perception of women and masculinisation of leadership?

Also Read: Empowering Women To Be Water & Sanitation Decision-Makers