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Home / Elections 2019 / Lok Sabha Elections 2019 /  Why so few women politicians get elected in India

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Trinamool Congress’ (TMC) decision to voluntarily give at least one-third of party tickets to female candidates had raised hopes of more women occupying the political center stage in this election. Both national parties --- the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress belied these expectations and gave less than one-sixth of their tickets to women.

As the election reaches its final stages, it is safe to conclude that there has been little break from the past. The spate of misogynistic remarks against women leaders over the past month clearly indicates that politics remains an inequitable battleground for women.

Why have parties failed to provide adequate representation to women especially when their turnout has caught up with male turnout in almost all states? We try to answer this question by analyzing survey data collected by Lokniti-CSDS. We argue that part of the reason could be that women aren’t any more (or less) likely than men to vote for female candidates. Among other reasons --- such as lack of wealth and low experience --- it is the lack of co-gender voting which could have reduced the electoral incentive of nominating women, keeping their representation abysmally low.

We combine information released by the Election Commission of India (ECI) about the sex of candidates nominated by various parties, and self-reported vote choice in the National Election Studies (NES) 2009 and 2014 to examine co-gender voting, i.e. whether respondents voted for a party that nominated a candidate of the respondent’s sex. We restrict our analysis to constituencies where at least one major party nominated a woman. This restriction limits our analysis to areas where both men and women had an opportunity to engage in co-gender voting.

In these constituencies, around one-sixth of respondents (15%) reported voting for a party that nominated a woman in their constituency across the last two Lok Sabha elections. Crucially, men and women were equally likely to vote for such a party. Analysis of spatial and ethnic groups shows some interesting results. We find that voters in rural areas were a little more likely than their urban counterparts to vote for women.

However, co-gender voting was absent in both areas.

Among social groups, Adivasis were more likely to vote for women as compared to other caste groups. This perhaps could be a result of women being more likely () to be nominated in SC/ST reserved seats than general seats. But even among Adivasis, the extent of co-gender voting was only slightly higher.

These findings partly diverge from studies about other identities like religion and caste. Earlier research has demonstrated that Muslims are more likely to vote for a party if it nominates a Muslim candidate who has a realistic chance of winning in their respective constituency. Another study has shown that various caste groups in Uttar Pradesh also demonstrate similar in-group favoritism.

The lack of any additional electoral gains from female politicians, however, shows that both men and women are equally likely to vote for a female candidate. This could be primarily due to preponderance of party identification and other social identities taking centre-stage while voting.

Earlier research has also demonstrated that voters do show initial biases against female politicians running for gram panchayat elections but with enough exposure, they are more likely to view women in leadership roles to be similarly effective as men.

If biases decrease with increasing the number of women who run for office, then party nominations could be a critical start. In fact, scholars suggest that initial recruitment by a party is a significant step in encouraging an individual to become a candidate. The lack of party nominations and recruitment is a limiting factor for women’s ability to seek candidacy.

Without party labels or independent resources to finance their campaign, there are few incentives or means for women who aspire to run for office. Thus, concentrated efforts by political parties for removing these roadblocks could go a long way in improving the gender balance of our legislatures.

The authors are Ph.D. students in political science at the University of California, Berkeley

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