New Delhi: Five states, five elections, nearly 3,000 contestants but only 234 women. Of them, at least 50 women made it to the legislatures.
The headlines, when it came to women candidates, in the just-concluded assembly elections, were dominated by Aparna Yadav, the younger daughter-in-law of Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, and Irom Sharmila in Manipur, but both came a cropper.
In UP, a record 38 women were elected to the 403-member legislative assembly, although in Punjab only six made it to the 117-strong house. Five women have been elected in Uttarakhand’s 70-strong assembly, Manipur and Goa boast of two women each in their 60-member and 40-member assemblies, respectively.
Nevertheless, the past decade has seen increased participation of women in the electoral process—whether as contestants or voters. In fact, in the assembly elections in UP, Uttarakhand and Punjab, more women voted than men.
No wonder political parties’ manifestos were full of promises for women.
Women were largely seen as the architect of Nitish Kumar’s victory in the Bihar assembly elections, encouraged by his regime’s schemes and the promise (fulfilled) to introduce prohibition measures. “Women understand that greater political participation leads to more social and economic gains for them,” said Anupma Mehta of the National Council of Applied Economic Research.
India has never lacked strong female representation at the highest echelons of political power, but according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016, the country is ranked 87 out of 144 in terms of overall representation across economy, education, health and politics.
In 2016, states like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu too went to the polls but in spite of having women leaders at the helm of powerful parties, there was no significant increase in the number of women MLAs in the assemblies. “There is no single reason why there are fewer women at the state level in Indian politics. But by and large we have found political parties are reluctant to give tickets and there is also a lack of interest on the part of women,” explained Mehta.
The lack of interest, she said, is mostly due to the dirty nature of politics at the state level. This is in direct contrast to the participation one sees at the panchayat level. Even at the national level, the current Lok Sabha has 61 women MPs, the highest number ever. Mehta puts down the gap at the state level to lack of “capacity building” apart from the general scenario.
There is evidence to suggest that more women in the legislature can lead to better governance, and no harm can come from increased participation of women in both the voting and decision-making process. The women’s reservation bill, which aims to reserve 33% of seats in the Lok Sabha for women, has been introduced but is yet to be passed. However, the victory of 38 women in the UP assembly is a silver lining. It now remains to be seen whether it translates into actual gains for the women voters.