Few women in Karnataka politics

Few women in Karnataka politics

The 17th Lok Sabha polls have commenced and the grim reality remains that women in Karnataka, like the rest of the country, remain politically discriminated. Although women constitute about 50% of the total population in Karnataka and there are 2,54,55,976 male voters and 2,48,46,488 women voters. A glance at the nomination list of political parties reveal that the number of female candidates to contest the general elections in Karnataka is abysmally low.

Karnataka has fielded 278 candidates of whom only 20 are women. Politics persists as a male bastion and the three major parties namely the Bharatiya Janata Party, Janata Dal (Secular) and Indian National Congress party have nominated only one lady candidate each. From the BJP Shobha Karandlaje contests from Udupi, Chikmagalur, from the Congress it is Veena Kashapannavar who stands from Bagalkot and from the JD(S) Sunitha Chavan is fielded from Vijayapura. All others including Sumalatha Ambareesh are independent candidates.

It is indeed deplorable that Karnataka a pioneer to introduce reservation for women in the Panchayat Raj during the Ram Krishna Hegde regime has marginalised women in politics. The move to create reservation in the Panchayat Raj Institution (PRI) was a silent revolution to establish gender parity. It would give equal political space to men and women. The reservation of women in one-third of the seats at various levels in local governance is being acclaimed today as a unique step — an attempt to redress power imbalance in society and give voice to the voiceless.

Women in Panchayati Raj have initiated changes in a the development agenda to address critical issues. They have altered governance as they have chosen to tackle issues like water, alcohol abuse, education, health, proximity to a drinking water source, a crèche, a health centre, courts etc. Women’s representation may therefore have important consequences for the public policy agenda and articulation of women’s interest.

Women must be actively engaged in governance. It will help to ensure that women as well as men shape, participate in and gain from equal involvement. A key reason to focus on gender equity in political life is that women constitute slightly more than half of the population, and contribute to the social and economic development of all societies to a greater degree than men, because of their role in productive and reproductive spheres.

The ongoing demand for reservation of 33% of seats in the country’s Parliament clearly highlights the continued marginalisation of women in national politics. The proposed amendment which seeks to challenge the political dominance of men has generated heated discussion deliberation and opposition. While the participation of women is on the agenda of most political parties in the country, its transition as a goal has met with limited success.

The proposed Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008 which seeks a one-third majority for women has fast receded from consciousness of political parties. Drawing examples from a large number of parliaments and countries, there is an urgent need to increase political participation of women. For instance, the Nordic countries which constitute Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Norway have led the way with a consistently high representation of women in Parliament. This has been the fruit of progressive attitude and of voluntary quota applied by political parties for their own candidates.

Separate quotas

The Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal wanted separate quotas for Other Backward Classes, Dalits and Minorities within the number of seats proposed to be set aside for women. The Janta Dal (U) too favours reservation within the quota for women. The left parties, BJP and Congress want the Women’s reservation Bill to be introduced in the present form which guarantees one-third of seats in parliament and legislature for women. However political parties are yet to reach a consensus on the matter. 

The patriarchal perception that “politics is a man’s business,” and women are too emotional to deal with affairs of the state is a myth that needs to be debunked.  As gatekeepers of elections, political parties play a key role to promote women in the political processes. It is therefore critical that parties field women candidates with appropriate training and support and allocate campaign resources equally.

Globally there is a growing recognition that women’s representation in politics is the hallmark of an inclusive society. It values and capitalises on contribution of all members of both genders. Therefore, the participation of women in the political process of the country is an essential prerequisite of women’s empowerment.  

(The writer is a former Professor of Sociology, Christ Deemed to be University, Bengaluru)