An uneven political field for women

March 7, 2021 0 Comments


Political parties are still reluctant to provide an equal opportunity and share to women in the power structure

Women constitute almost half of the world population. Globally, men constitute 50.6% and women 49.6% of the total population. As per Census 2011, India’s population constitutes 48.5% females and 51.5% males. Yet the social fabric of the world is dominated by males, hindering equitable growth and gender equality, especially in politics.

One of the important factors for the inadequate reaching of developmental outcomes is attributed to the political under-representation in the law-making process. The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) annually documents women’s participation in politics of the world on the basis of ministerial positions held by them in the cabinet and their representation in Parliament. The IPU 2020 report highlights that their participation in politics is not satisfactory in spite of greater awareness and demand for their inclusion in the political process.

Political Empowerment

As per the report, women have 25.5% of Parliament seats across the world. In comparison with Asia (20.5%), the South Asian region lags in spite of its sociocultural diversity. In India, historically women are denied their legitimate share in governance due to the patriarchal social system. Structural inequalities like class and caste further complicate gender-based discrimination. The average number of women in Parliament in India is 12, which is less than that of the South Asian region, Asia and the world.

Though India is one of the democratic countries in the world that provided early voting rights to women; the same is not reflected in their political empowerment in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. Data though shows that participation of women in Parliament has been increasing gradually since the 10th general election.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the percentage of women elected stood at 14.36, the highest since Independence. As on today, the number of women in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) is 27, constituting 10.4% of the total 240 members. The average of women representatives in Parliament is 14.3. As per the IPU, India stands at 142nd position out of 189 countries in the world. South Sudan (28.5%), Pakistan (20.2%) and Bangladesh (20.9%) have a better representation of women in Parliament. Rwanda has 61.3%, the highest in the world.

Three Tiers of Governance

In the ministerial position, India ranks at 134th among the 182 countries. In 2019, India had 6 women ministers with 3 in the Union Cabinet. Since 1952, the number of women contesting elections to the Lok Sabha has gradually increased; however the same is not reflected in the percentage of winning candidates.

For instance, the average number of women candidates increased from 62 in 1957-77 to 240 in 1980-99 and to 575 in 2004-19 while the winning percentage stood at 5.1, 6.91 and 11.24 respectively. A marginal impact of 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992-93 was seen with the number of contesting women candidates rising from 330 in 1991-92 to 599 in 1996, the highest of all the general elections.

The 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution expanded the federal polity and space for the participation of women in the local decision-making process. Women occupy 46% of the positions in the three-tier panchayats. This has promoted more political inclusivity not only in local but also in Legislatures and Parliament.

The participation of women in State Assemblies is still lesser. Only 9% constitute members of the Legislative Assembly while only 5% are members of the Legislative Councils. However, the Women’s Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, which was aimed at providing one-third reservation of seats in Lok Sabha and all legislative Assemblies, lapsed in Parliament.

The report of the High Level Committee on the Status of Women in India (2015) had recommended 50% reservation in the three tiers of governance ie, local governments, State Assemblies and Parliament.

All India Services, Forces, Judiciary

Women’s representation in the All India Services also presents a disappointing picture. An average of 15% of women are present in the Group A services with a majority 30% in Indian Economic Service followed by 24% in Indian Statistical Service and 17% in Indian Administrative Service.

In the Judiciary, there are only two women judges out of the 34 judges in the Supreme Court. There are 77 women judges amongst the 1,080 high court judges in the country, ie, only 5.9% and 7.12% of judges are women in the Supreme Court and High Courts respectively.

The percentage of women officers in the three Armed forces are 3.9 (Army), 6.7 (Navy) and 13.28 (Air Force) as per the latest data provided to Parliament in June 2019. The recent Supreme Court verdict in the case of The Secretary, Ministry of Defense Vs Babita Puniya & Ors (2020) is a historic one and is expected to provide a big push for gender equality in the Indian Army by clearing the way for permanent commission for women officers.

The low representation of women in politics and governance can be attributed to lack of commitment in the political parties; social patriarchy; no reservation policy for women; criminalisation and corruption in politics and dynasty.

The IPU document has revealed an interesting fact about the portfolios held by women ministers. Women held ministerial positions of environment, natural resources, social and women’s affairs, gender equality, family and youth, education and culture. These areas are the determining factors of socioeconomic development of any nation.

We, as a country, are yet to acknowledge the role of women in Assemblies and Parliament by providing reservation to engage them in governance. The reluctance of political parties and the lack of commitment towards giving an equal share to women in the power structure is an indicator of our narrow attitude, male hegemony. It also reflects the gender rigidity of politics in India. It’s high time we embarked on the political inclusion of women in governance to achieve gender equality in politics.

(The author is PhD Fellow, Centre for Political Institutions, Governance and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru. Views are personal)


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