The number of women in the Indian political arena continues to be extremely low, despite the fact that they make up nearly 49 percent of the electorate.
According to a collaborative study by CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung released on November 13, not many women in the country see or even consider a career or future in politics. This highlights how politics in India still remains a largely "male-dominated bastion".
Over the years, women have been increasingly participating in elections as voters. Some states in the recent past have even seen a higher percentage of voter turnout among women, as compared to that of men.
The number of women candidates in elections at different levels has seen a rise, a change which can be linked to legislations like the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment, which reserve one-third of the total seats in local government bodies for women.
While all these trends point to a rising electoral participation of women in the country, the number of women who contest elections vis-a-vis men is still very low. The glaring gap in the percentage participation of men and women in elections leaves a lot to be desired.
The study, titled states that of all the women who were surveyed, only a little over 25 percent were willing to step into the political battleground and make a career in it.
Over 40 percent women expressed a feeling that Indian voters are more likely to vote for men.
When asked about the barriers that prevented them from taking part in active politics, most women cited the patriarchal societal structure as the main roadblock, along with household responsibilities, lack of interest and awareness, and educational backwardness as other reasons.
Several women also stated lack of freedom due to strict cultural norms – which include women not allowed to talk to men, restrictions on mobility and the purdah system – as reasons which prevented them from taking part in politics.
Another report, conducted by ADR (Association of Democratic Reforms) and NEW (National Election Watch) earlier this year, pointed out the dismal state of representation of women in the country’s decision-making process. It stated that as of 2019, of all the MLAs/ MPs surveyed across the country, a mere 9 percent are women. The representation in the states also remained bleak, with none of the state assemblies having more than 11 percent women candidates in the fray.
Time and again, the subject of women empowerment is brought up by several politicians. Yet the Women’s Reservation Bill – which aims to reserve 33 percent of seats in the Lok Sabha and all state legislative assemblies for women – has been in limbo ever since it was first introduced in Parliament in 1996. The current version of the bill, introduced in 2008 and passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010, was never voted upon by the Lok Sabha.
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"The fear among the male elected representatives that reservation of seats for women at the state and national level could well adversely impact their chances of getting elected appears to be working on their mind. Political parties too have only made vague commitments to enhance women’s representation in elected bodies but have done precious little to nominate a larger number of women candidates when finalizing their nominees when distributing the party tickets," the CSDS report states.
Again, the numbers do not encompass other constraints for women who try to enter politics. While the reservation for women in Gram Panchayats has led to a rise in their participation in politics, what remains hidden from sight is their lack of agency.
The phenomena of ‘Sarpanch Pati
’ is an example of how, despite having contested and won elections in their constituencies, most women lack the agency to exercise the power that comes with it. More often than not, the power is hijacked by their husbands and other male family members, who would have nudged them to contest elections in the first place.