Poor record

There is nothing to be proud of in the statistics about women’s participation in politics in India, collected and released by the Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women.

Instead, there is much to be ashamed of, as the country is way behind others which are considered to be socially, educationally  and economically far behind India. With only less than 10 per cent of parliamentary and ministerial posts occupied by women, it ranks 73rd  among 188 nations. When only the membership of the Lok Sabha is considered, the rank further goes down to 111.  Some African countries, for example Rwanda where over 50 per cent of legislators are female, are ahead of India. Generally America, Europe and Africa perform better than Asia in terms of both elected posts and positions of power held by women.

The number and role of women in politics constitute only one aspect of the position of women in society. India has had  strong women in high positions of power, like Indira Gandhi in the past and chief ministers and heads of important companies now. But the few powerful women in politics have only been exceptions to the general norm that has kept them out of politics. Many women who win elections and become councillors in local bodies or MLAs or even ministers are proxies for their husbands. The move to reserve 33 per cent of the seats of higher legislatures for women was defeated many times.  The attitude and sentiment behind Mulayam Singh Yadav’s question in parliament – if you all join politics, who will  make chapatis? -- are shared by many others too. If the government and the major parties, which claimed  to support it, really wanted it, they could have passed the bill. In the candidates’ lists for the coming Lok Sabha elections most parties have not given  even 10 per cent of the tickets to women.

The empowerment of women is not all about political representation. But it is an important sign of it because it is a measure also of attitudes in society. In spite of improvements in educational status and  many other indicators, women are victims of negative attitudes and discrimination. Their social status and acceptance as equal members of society is low. That is why their political role is insignificant.  They have a long way to go before they find their place in society. The fight will be especially hard in traditionally unequal and hierarchical societies like India.

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