Time to demand 50% representation for women in politics

Time to demand 50% representation for women in politics

The public must pressurise the political parties to give tickets to 50 per cent of women candidates. Image for representation

It was not the first time that a male politician in India had made a sexist and derogatory jibe at a female counterpart. But something about Union minister Mahesh Sharma’s “pappu ki pappi” remark, directed at Congress’ Priyanka Gandhi, struck home. The casualness with which the insult was heaped on the Gandhi family’s latest entrant into full-time politics – no less – was hard to miss. As was the way the public lapped up the joke.

No matter what the signals emanating from a handful of parties may suggest – the Trinamool Congress and the Biju Janata Dal have decided to give 41 per cent and 33 per cent of their tickets to women for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls – it appears that the reality of Indian politics is not changing anytime soon.

How women fare

Since independence, no political party has attempted to bring a change in the structure of the parliamentary setup in terms of gender representation, thereby failing women aspirants. It’s true India had a woman prime minister in Indira Gandhi, but she had the advantage of being born into one of India’s foremost political families. Beyond that, she too, much like her granddaughter today, had to face insults of being described as nothing more than a ‘goongi gudia’. Of the other women who have managed to perforate the male turf in a big way, leaders such as J Jayalalithaa and Mayawati had prominent male mentors in the figures of MG Ramachandran and Kanshi Ram. Perhaps, Mamata Banerjee is the only woman leader to have emerged without either a ‘father’ or a ‘godfather’ for support. But there is no dearth of people who have thrown sexist barbs at her.

A look at the numbers will clarify how things stand. According to Indian census, there are 497 million women in the country which is 48 per cent of the population. However, women constitute only 11.8 per cent (64 out of 543) seats in the Lower House and 11 per cent (27 out of 245) in the Upper House, according to a report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The situation is even worse in the state assemblies.

The Women’s Reservation Bill, 2008, brought in by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, sought to reserve 33% seats for women in the Lok Sabha and in the state Assemblies. While it was passed in the Rajya Sabha, it did not find enough takers in the Lok Sabha. The Bill lapsed after the dissolution of the House.

Making it a citizens’ demand

The low numbers of women in the Indian Parliament and Assemblies are worrisome, to say the least, and requires an urgent implementation of measures to improve female participation in politics.

For starters, it is important that citizens demand the reintroduction and passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill. But they can do more.

“For 70 years we have been waiting for parties to give tickets to women to contest in the elections but they've been given only 8 per cent whereas men get 92 per cent of the share. So waiting or depending on any political party is not a solution," says Tara Krishnaswamy, the co-founder of Shakti, a non-partisan collective which is targeting equal representation of women in politics.

The public must pressurise the political parties to give tickets to 50 per cent of women candidates. Only when women are represented in an equal proportion, the issues faced by them can be solved, she says.

Krishnaswamy also holds that women are not one homogeneous group. There is a diversity among women and they belong to different localities, societies and come from different backgrounds and they must be given an equal opportunity to serve their people, she says.

Why more women?

A study conducted by the World Institute for Development Economics Research shows that the participation of women in politics could help benefit the country as a whole. It shows various aspects in which women candidates are more capable than their male counterparts. For instance, female candidates are less likely to have criminal charges against them than males. When it comes to implementing road infrastructure projects, women are not only good at canvassing in their constituencies but also follow up to complete these projects.

It also goes on to say that women are less likely to be corrupt as the study reveals that their assets grow 10 per cent less than male politicians.

Socio-economic rights of citizens such as the right to education, adequate standard of living, housing, health and victims' rights among others will experience a completely new approach if women are represented equally and are voted to power. It is only fair that the better half of the population gets a better chance to be represented in politics.

Also read: More power to women?

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