In the recent Assembly elections, the women voter turnout was high. In 52 constituencies of Madhya Pradesh and 24 constituencies of Chhattisgarh, more women turned up at the polling booths compared to men. Further, the ratio of winners against the number of fielded candidates was higher for women compared to their male counterparts. This is interesting when we note that the representation of women in the Assemblies of these states is abysmal.
Calculations that I made using the available data revealed that the higher female voter turnout in the 52 constituencies of Madhya Pradesh determined the pattern of electoral outcomes significantly. In MP, the Congress won a total of 114 seats as against the 109 constituencies won by the BJP. Surprisingly, in fact the BJP got a larger share of votes (41.09 per cent) than the Congress (40.89 per cent). But the difference between the female and male voter turnout, which was greater than 5 per cent in constituencies like Sihawal and Chitrakoot, likely resulted in a change of guard.
Similar is the case of Chhattisgarh, especially in the constituencies of Bastar region where the CPI (Maoist) has a considerable hold and called for a boycott of the elections. In all these seats, women voter turnout was higher than that of men. This has huge implications not just for the Bastar region, but for the Maoists and the entire country. By turning out to vote in larger numbers, the women of Bastar sent a signal to political parties about the importance of peace in the region and the need for rights-based development.
Despite the rise in participation of women in the electoral process during the recent Assembly elections, the total number of women who got elected has actually declined compared to 2013. There are just 62 women among the 678 elected members of the Assemblies in the elections, as per data compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms and the Centre for Policy Research. It was 77 in the previous election. The total number of women MLAs has come down to 9 per cent in 2018 from 11 per cent in 2013.
Let us look at the facts about women’s representation in Parliament. As per the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) women hold only 23.4 per cent of Parliament seats across the world. In India, historically women were denied their legitimate share in governance due to the patriarchal social system. Structural inequalities like class and caste further complicate gender-based discrimination.
India is one of the few democratic countries in the world that provided early voting rights to women. Women hold 46 per cent of the posts in our three-tier panchayat system. However the same is not reflected in the number of women in Parliament and Assemblies. The percentage of women in Parliament in India is less than that of even most South Asian nations.
The data does show that there is a gradual increasing trend in the participation of women in Parliament since the tenth general election onwards. In the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, 11.8 per cent of those elected were women. In Rajya Sabha, the percentage of women is around 11. In terms of the percentage of women in ministerial positions, India is at the 88th position among 181 countries and there are six women in the Union Cabinet. Though the number of women contesting in elections to the Lok Sabha is increasing, the same is not reflected in the percentage of winning candidates. Even Sudan (30.5 per cent) and Pakistan (20.6 per cent) have better representation of women in parliament than India.
The representation of women is even less in Assemblies compared to Parliament. There are only around 9 per cent women MLAs in the Assemblies of our states. This is much more less in the case of Legislative Councils, where around 5 per cent are women. The Women’s Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, which aimed to provide one-third reservation of seats in Lok Sabha and all Legislative Assemblies, has lapsed.
We need to address various factors such as the unwillingness of political parties to bring in reservation for women, the patriarchy in our society, criminalisation and corruption in politics, and political dynasties to ensure a better representation of women in politics. The reluctance of the parties and their lack of commitment towards giving an equal share to women when it comes to power and authority is an indicator of male hegemony. It also reflects the gender rigidity of politics in India.
Globally and in India too, it has been observed wherever women have a better representation in the decision-making process, there are better chances of overall socioeconomic development. It’s high time we ensure higher inclusion of women in governance and achieve gender equality, especially in state-level politics.
Doctoral Fellow, Centre for Political Institutions, Governance and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change