Ahead of elections the political parties are banking on women empowerment and increasing their numbers in the Parliament. We celebrate Women’s Day to celebrate their freedom and their rights, but still crime against women are on rise. A study by Thomson Reuters Foundation — the philanthropic arm of Reuters media company — released a study last year that ranked India as the most dangerous place because of its high incidences of sexual violence, lack of access to justice in rape cases, child marriage, female feticide and human trafficking.
After every five years, political parties give out sops for women. But are they really serious?
In India, women’s leadership and political participation are restricted. Women are underrepresented as voters, as well as in leading positions, whether in elected office, the civil service, the private sector or academia. This occurs despite their proven abilities as leaders and agents of change, and their right to participate equally in democratic governance.
In a recent study, the state of representation of women in the country’s decision-making process continues to be dismal, with only 9% women MLAs and MPs across the country in 2019, according to a report by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch. Out of total 4,865 MPs/MLAs analysed from across the country, only 440 (9%) are women, says the report, adding that among members of Parliament, Lok Sabha has 66 (12%) women out of the 542 analysed while the Rajya Sabha has 25 women MPs (11%) out of the 228 analysed by the two non-profit organisations.
None of the country’s state Assemblies had more than 10 % women candidates, barring exceptions like Jharkhand (10%), West Bengal (10.30%), Sikkim (10.30%) and Chhattisgarh (10%), which had highest percentage of women candidates. Delhi had 9.8% women candidates in the fray. The lowest number of women candidates is in Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh (3% each) and Jammu & Kashmir and Manipur (4% each). Party-wise, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party had the highest number of women MPs and MLAs at 150, followed by Congress at 91 and Trinamool Congress at 44.
Whether it was J Jayalalithaa or Indira Gandhi, India might have had the most powerful women when it comes to politics but when we talk about grass root level issues, we don’t have plenty. With almost negligible amount of women in the cabinet, we even have two states that do not have a single woman minister in the cabinet.
According to reports, over the span of five years, the percentage of women ministers only dipped instead of increasing. With only eight per cent women MLAs in total five states, India is in dire need of women lawmakers.
Even though only eight per cent women were nominated by the political parties in five states, the success rate of women was equal to men even though they were nominated 92 per cent more than women. To observe a real change in the society, more women are needed to be out there in the pool of politics.
NDA vs UPA
The Modi government has an unprecedented six women in its Cabinet of 27 ministers, including two — external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman — in the powerful Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). The other women ministers in the Cabinet are Maneka Gandhi, Smriti Irani, Uma Bharati (all from BJP) and Harsimrat Badal (SAD MP).
In contrast to NDA’s six, UPA had just three women ministers in its Cabinet of 33 when it bowed out of power. Till 2013, only Kumari Selja and Chandresh Kumari were a part of the Cabinet. Girija Vyas joined in during UPA-II’s last reshuffle. Miera Kumar was the sole woman Cabinet minister when UPA-I came to power.
For one thing, the governments, past and present, have made no move to address India’s low female political participation. India ranks 147 out of 188 countries when it comes to the number of women in parliament, with both the lower and upper houses having just about 12% each, according to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Despite its significant majority in parliament, the government did not move to pass the women’s reservation bill that would have reserved 33% of seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for female candidates. That bill has been languishing in parliament for over two decades, even though research has shown that female legislators are better for the Indian economy.