Insights into Editorial: Cost of the missing women in Indian politics
B.R. Ambedkar once said that “political power is the key to all social progress”. What, then, to make of the fact that India—a country where women suffer substantially greater socio-economic disadvantages than Western democracies like Spain—has a cabinet that is only 22% female and a Lok Sabha that has a meagre 12% female representation?
“Our dream of New India is an India where women are empowered, strengthened, where they become equal partners in the all-round development of the country.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his Mann Ki Baat.
This represents the aspirations of millions of women in India; women who are not being restricted to participation in India’s development trajectory but are also leading it.
Constitutional provisions for women in Political Particiption:
The Constitution of India guaranteed justice-social, economic and political, liberty of thought, and equality to all citizens. Constitution provided for equality of women and called State to take measures to neutralize the socio-economic, educational and political disadvantage faced by women.
- Article 14: It guarantees equality before law and equal protection of law with in the territory of India.
- Article 15: It prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth. According to article 15(3), State can make special provisions for the benefit women and children.
- Article 16: Equality of opportunity for all citizens in matter relating to employment. No citizen can be denied employment on grounds of religion, race, cast, sex, decent, place of birth residence or any of them.
- Article 39: Article 39(a) provides for an adequate means of livelihood for all citizen. Article 39 (b) has provisions for equal pay for equal work for both men and women. Article 39 (c) has provisions for securing the health and strength of workers, men and women, and not to abuse the tender age of children.
- Article 42: It guarantees just and humane condition of work and maternity relief. Article 42 is in accordance with Article 23 and 25 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Article 325 and 326: They guarantee political equality, equal right to participate in political activity and right to vote, respectively.
- Article 243 (D): It provides for the political reservation to women in every panchayat elections. It has extended this reservation to elected office as well.
In spite of the above provisions, participation of women in politics has not improved significantly. These are contradictory to the aims of the constitution. Given all this, the fact that the proportion of women in the Lok Sabha has seen only a paltry increase since independence—from 4.5% in the first Lok Sabha to the current 12% in the 16th Lok Sabha(2014)—is dispiriting.
What limits women representation?
- Political parties in India tend not to follow provisions in their constitutions reserving seats for women in different committees
- The second barrier is the lack of education and leadership training
- Additionally, since women are not integrated in any local political process initially, and, unlike men, are not part of the relevant social and power networks, women leaders are prone to inefficiencies
The Economic survey for 2017-18 tabled in Parliament said factors such as domestic responsibilities, prevailing cultural attitudes regarding roles of women in society and lack of support from family were among main reasons that prevented them from entering politics.
“In a country like India with around 49 per cent of women in the population, the political participation of women has been low”.
The survey said there are developing countries like Rwanda which has more than 60% women representatives in parliament in 2017.
Political participation of Women in other countries:
At the global level also, only a few countries have equal participation of women in par with men in politics. In countries like Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, women’s participation in the decision-making process is substantial.
Sweden with 47% female participation has almost equal participation of women in Parliament followed by Cuba and Iceland.
Women’s presence in parliament is highest in Nordic countries (42.5%), followed by America (22%), Europe (19.5%), Asia (18%), Sub-Saharan Africa (18%), the Pacific (15%) and lastly in Arab states (9.4%).
The problems of lack of education and leadership training create a vicious cycle where socio-economic disadvantages lead to reduced opportunities for women to participate in the political process, leading to weakened representation—which, in turn, retards the process of addressing those socio-economic disadvantages. It’s a cycle that has been perpetuated for seven decades. It must be broken. There is a pressing need for education and leadership training to familiarize them with the local government functioning and instil in them a sense of agency.
Women’s Reservation Bill which reserves 33% of seats for Indian women at the legislatures has to be passed soon in the Parliament.
Inclusive economic institutions and growth—both necessary for and dependent on social empowerment—require inclusive political institutions.
Political parties should come forward to increase women representatives. The absence of critical mass of women representatives has pushed women to the fringes in power sharing and has adverse impacts on their overall political status.
Gender stereotypes which perceive women as weak representatives should be changes through awareness and education. Efforts need to be taken to enhance the participation of women in governance in large numbers.
Women Panchayati members have to be trained to analyse and understand their roles and responsibilities given in the 73rd amendment act.
Women’s leadership and communication skills need to be enhanced by increasing female literacy especially in rural areas. They should be empowered in order to break socio-cultural barriers and improve their status in the society.
“When we empower the women in a family, we empower the entire household. When we help with a woman’s education, we ensure that the entire family is educated… When we secure her future, we secure the future of the entire home.”– PM Modi.