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More women contesting polls but few winning

The number of women candidates in elections has increased over the years, but the likelihood of their victory has decreased over time, shows data

Last month, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Naveen Patnaik declared that one third of the candidates fielded by his party in the upcoming general elections in Odisha would be women. This is part of a growing trend of greater female participation in Indian politics, in terms of female candidates at least. However, the success rate of these female candidates in winning seats remains poor.

The 2014 general elections saw 670 women candidates competing, a record-high and a 20% increase from 2009. This is part of a larger trend of more candidates being fielded. However, even as the total candidate pool has expanded, the ratio of women to men candidates has also increased. In 1984, for every 100 male candidates, there were three female candidates. By 2014, this figure had risen to nine, a significant improvement but still a very low figure


Actual women representation though has not kept pace with the increase in the number of women candidates. In 2014, the number of women members of parliament (MPs) was 63, another record-high but the success rate of women candidates was only 9.4%. This success rate has decreased dramatically from the 1960s when the number of women candidates were far fewer but they all had a higher chance of winning.

By global standards, India’s female political participation lags behind major democracies including its neighbours. Around 13% of all elected representatives in the Lok Sabha in India are women. According to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the global average for women in the lower house of parliament is 18%. Both Pakistan (20%) and Bangladesh (21%) also have more women in the lower house of the parliament than India.

A feature of female political participation is that women are more likely to be fielded from constituencies reserved for the scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs). In 2014, 24% of all 670 women candidates were fielded from SC/ST seats. This figure has increased over time. This could be because reserved seats are seen as less competitive and present an easy starting point for women candidates, according to political scientist Francesca Jensenius . Data on elected women MPs suggests that this could be true. The proportion of women MPs elected from reserved constituencies is higher than those elected from general constituencies.


While the regional parties have challenged national parties to follow their lead and nominate more women candidates to the elections, our analysis reveals that leading national parties already field a higher proportion of women candidates than most regional parties.

The Congress has traditionally fielded more women candidates than the BJP but the BJP’s candidates have enjoyed more success.


Compared to national parties, regional parties have a lower ratio of women to men candidates fielded with the notable exception of the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), which has always fielded a large number of women in Lok Sabha elections .

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Ironically, the BJD, which has rallied for the introduction of the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament, had not fielded many women candidates in the previous rounds of general elections and none in 1999 and 2009 general elections. There is also hardly any pattern among states in this regard.

A state-wise break-up of women candidates in both general and assembly elections reveals little correlation between the number of women candidates fielded and gender attitudes in the state. Parties in Uttar Pradesh, which faces widespread gender issues, fielded 11 women per 100 men candidates in 2014, which exceeds the number in Tamil Nadu (6), a state widely considered more gender equitable.

All this matters not just for fairness but for policy as well. Greater women’s representation in Parliament could highlight and redress issues of women’s importance. A study by Raghabendra Chattopadhyay and Esther Duflo in Rajasthan and West Bengal found that women’s reservation in village panchayats led to a marked change in local government policies .

With more women representatives, investment in infrastructure focusing on women’s concerns, such as water provision, increased.

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