Home >Opinion >A gender scorecard for Indian politicians

Sachchidanand Hari Sakshi anyone?

Hint: “... every Hindu woman must produce at least four children to protect the religion."

His home state has a 60+% school drop out rate for girls and sex ratio down from 916 in 2001, which was already below national average to 902 in 2011! It is near the bottom of the list of Indian states by Human Development Index .

This self-anointed Maharaj is not just anyone. As a four term Lok Sabha member who has also spent six years in the Rajya Sabha, from which he was expelled, he has no public record of tackling these alarming gender imbalances while gaining notoriety for misogynistic behaviours. He merited a ticket and won the election again in 2014!

While this story sounds both absurd and atrocious, it is sadly not rare. The question is: how do we as a polity combat sexism in politics and usher in more gender balanced governance?

“Does the 101st vote matter when the newbie from an unknown party will get only 100 other votes? He may be good but won’t win." Uma, highly educated, retired urban business woman reflects the attitude of India. She is media and politics savvy and goes with winnable party candidates provided they are not outright villains.

Many Indians seem to approach elections as they would examinations. Answers, or rather, winners are deemed predetermined. Electoral loss is viewed as personal failure by the voter in marking the “right" answer. This attitude places tremendous barriers on risk taking, therefore brand new politics or radical change.

Manjunath, young and politically aware, tracks governance daily. He pulls down candidate profiles from the election commission site and compares governance histories before voting. “There is simply not enough information for an educated vote," he rues, even for someone who does his homework. He admits to being influenced by the “wave", the aura of winnability that predetermines vote.

Chitra, mother of three, educated to the eighth grade, works as housemaid and derives her information from door-to-door campaigns in her neighbourhood. She is tuned to rallies, paraphernilia, and the chatter that pervades her surroundings in the run up to the elections.

One thing all these voters mentioned explicitly is that they will not vote a candidate with an unsavoury track record on gender. Derogatory comments, crimes against women or espousing gender inequality are viewed as disqualifiers.

Nevertheless, as we just saw, sexist, even misogynistic netas are voted in, and in many cases repeatedly with thumping majorities. Parties almost never impose penalties against sexism, be it demanding a public apology or for more serious violations, dismissal, demotion or denial of ticket. The standard approach is to simply explain it away or distance themselves from the comment. They are vindicated after all, in fact, emboldened by them winning.

Indian voters are known to research candidates using whatever tools are available to them before they vote. When information on gender governance and parity are accessible to voters, they may likely factor it into their vote. These parameters can provide direction to voters on whom not to vote for, whom to disqualify and whom to reject, even though the picture is incomplete for selecting a candidate. This indicates that outcomes of elections can be slanted towards a more equitable India by making gender scorecards easily available.

That gender governance assessment is imperative should be obvious. India’s progress on women’s health, education, livelihood, political representation and other social indicators combined with the guarantee of constitutional rights is poor compared to the other 50%.

In the past 70 years, sex ratio at birth has fallen from 946 to 887 though literacy and higher education have risen for men and women. Just 20% of urban educated working-age women work compared to over double that for men. Trafficking of minor girls has increased by 14 times over the last decade with 3/4ths being females. Women are barely 10% of central government employees and 11% of the parliament and state legislatures averaged. Expenditures towards universal programmes have failed to deliver to women their rightful share while revenues generated from women are not accounted as they should be, erasing their contributions. Gender specific programmes are barely funded and utilised.

Underserved. Under-represented. Undervalued. Closing the gap between who she is and who she can be, realising her human potential is India’s duty, one at which the country has scarily underperformed.

While leaps in female literacy, maternal health etc., provide cheer, it is unacceptable that a free an fair democracy isn’t quite that for half its people. Equally clear that no democracy can shine, its GDP grow and society progress with such handicap.

With elections around the corner in Goa, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, it would do well to get started on gender scorecards for candidates and parties.

What is a gender scorecard?

It is a report card on candidates and parties, measuring and rating their achievements on women’s development and rights across multiple axes.

Ideally, gender scorecards must be juxtaposed with good governance scorecards for a balanced 360 degree assessment.

Gender scorecards play a crucial role of capturing evidence based metrics on gender inequity, disparity and imbalance in the system. They may even have ancillary value in mitigating penalty imposed due to voter bias against newcomers without a track record to evaluate, hence lowering their entry bar against established sexists and undeserving incumbents.

Who would use a gender scorecard?

Voters. It is a reference for voting decisions by individuals at the local body, state or central level.

Who would publish a gender scorecard?

Any group with non partisan or partisan interests that provides voters information on parties’ and candidates’ performance. In fact, many groups should publish it. Media houses, think tanks, policy institutes, women’s and advocacy groups and even parties themselves. Groups like Association for Democratic Reforms, PRS Legislative Research, IndiaSpend etc. and others providing voter information, could include this. It is up to the public to refer to the ones they most trust, much the way they select election news and analysis in the run up to the hustings.

How should a gender scorecard on candidates and parties be collated?

It is quite clear how it should not be assembled. Not by surveys of candidates and parties since those responses are intended to say the things that will get them elected.

Instead, it should record actual performance against gender development indicators from data and reports on the outcomes of policies effected and programmes implemented. Over time, outcomes-based scorecards can be supplemented with performance scorecards, even commissioned by representatives themselves, for live tracking, feedback and course correction.

On a related note, the Delhi Policy Group has done pioneering work ranking Indian states using gender indicators. However this “state of women in the states" does not assess political parties or candidates, so it not directly usable by voters.

A template for a gender scorecard

A gender scorecard must evaluate a party or candidate upon the domains of health, education, livelihood, infrastructure, safety, life and liberty, and political representation. Policies and programs along these seven domains must constitute the assessment.

Parties must be assessed on bills passed and programmes implemented with success rates, and gender affirmative actions. Mere championing and lip service should not be counted.

Two things significantly impact the scorecard no matter who the provider. One, the availability of data on outcomes of policies and programmes. India has serious paucity of comprehensive measurements, proper data presentation and transparency. Second, weighting the verticals with the assumption that they differentially contribute to women’s socio-economic development.

This assumption is not borne out by evidence, at least as yet, in the absence of comprehensive data. Seemingly simple barriers like the lack of running water have a multiplier effect on women’s socio-economic progress as burden falls on them to fetch water for the family from several kilometres away, hence degrading education, employment and safety. Likewise, lack of toilets or safe transport can become insurmountable barriers for development. Hence, a reasonable start is to assign equal weights to the verticals.

While the same template can be used for candidate gender governance assessment, it is trickier due to lack of transparency on voting records of legislators, issuance of whip which in fact stifles individual position and abstention on issues. However, bills proposed and programmes implemented, whether they engender or inhibit parity, misogynistic comments and track record, are factors. Usage of MLA and MP funds for gender inclusion gets additional points.

This template may need to be refined over time but a beginning is long overdue. Our infamous MP, Sakshi Maharaj would certainly not pass muster in this report card.

“What gets measured gets done", can be used as a method to shepherd socio-political change and combat gender imbalance. Gender scorecards create healthy rivalry between candidates or parties and makes them accountable to deliver an India for all, while keeping voters in the dark protracts poor politics.

As they say, “You can’t fix stupid, but you can vote it out!"

Tara Krishnaswamy works on public policy & education. She can be reached at @tarauk.

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