Washington: Women in  northern India feel less secure and have less faith in police, says a new poll and suggests these factors have the potential to play a significant role in the ongoing Indian parliamentary elections.

Safety is a concern for many women in India, especially given recent internationally publicised reports of crimes committed against them, according to Gallup, a leading US public opinion organisation.

Yet, surprisingly a majority of Indian women say they feel safe walking alone at night though there are strong differences by region, says the pollster.

However, India’s gap between women and men in perceptions of safety is not unusual — many other countries, including the US, see lower percentages of women than men saying they feel safe walking alone at night, Gallup noted.

Women in north India are particularly concerned about walking alone at night, the pollster said noting that several high-profile incidents of violence against women have occurred in Delhi located in the north.

About four in 10 in north India say they feel safe (41 percent) — far lower than women in the south (81 percent), the central and east (64 percent), and the west India (58 percent).

In 2013, Indian women (60 percent) were about as likely as men (64 percent) to say they have confidence in the local police force.

However, these national totals shroud important regional differences: In the north, 40 percent of women are confident in the local police force, while a majority (52 percent) are not.

And while about half of women in the west have confidence in their local police force, this is 21 points lower than the percentage of men who think so.

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development has ranked India 56th out of 86 nations in its 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

Still, a majority of Indians (57 percent) believe women are treated with respect in India.

As a country, however, India has lost ground on this issue — in 2011, 68 percent believed women were treated with respect, Gallup said.

Again in the north — where some of the most high-profile crimes against women have been committed — perceptions are vastly different from those in the rest of the country.

Just a fifth of women (21 percent) in the north believe women are treated with respect, compared with 74 percent in the south, 71 percent in the central and the east, and 59 percent in the west.

Men in the north equal northern women’s pessimism about the plight of women, with 21 percent saying women are treated with respect.

Women make up about 49 percent of the electorate in India, and women’s issues have already played a notable part in the campaign and ongoing elections.

As such, the economic concerns that many women in India face will likely have an important effect on much of the female vote there, Gallup said.

Women’s issues could also play a pivotal role in the north, if not elsewhere, it said.

Gallup poll results are based on face-to-face interviews with 3,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted September-October 2013 in India. The poll has a 2.2 percentage points margin of error.

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