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Women’s non representation in Indian politics

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Dr Somdutta
I am the former Vice- chairperson of NASSCOM Product Council and a member of the core management committee of Women Entrepreneurial Platform - NITI Aayog. Simultaneously, I am also on the Advisory Board for BloombergQuint. Apart from this, I am also the Founder & Director of Unspun Group, Digital Leadership Institute (DLI) and IRA – House of Designers.


Why are women outnumbered in politics? Why is political power still a male bastion? From bellowing slogans of ‘Beti padhao, Beti bachao’ to saving the sanctity of Bharat Mata, Gau Mata and Ganga Mata, the card of womanhood is often deployed by our politicians as a tool to garner votes. At the moment, with the Karnataka elections in the offing and general elections next year, parties are cleverly positioning women in their high decibel campaigns and manifestos. But, my question is, where are the women? From reinforcing their commitments to women’s rights to merely representing a leading party’s election symbol, why is the fairer sex amiss in India’s political milieu? When on one hand, women voters are a decisive factor during elections with the EC even setting up special Sakhi polling booths in the impending Karnataka polls, why has their political participation been abysmal?

Women account for a whopping 49% of India’s population, but, according to a survey tabled in the Parliament last year, factors such as domestic responsibilities, prevailing cultural attitudes regarding roles of women in society and lack of support from family were among main reasons that prevented them from joining politics. Here’s where I differ to agree. When on one hand, in a landscape where women are raising their voices and winning against sexual abuse and harassment, why in the political setting is there presence nonexistent? This is not just the case in India, but across the globe where women’s representation in government is declining at an alarming rate.

Our ruling government has always had a Sanatan perspective rooted deeply in Hinduism. Did you know there never existed the term Hinduism? There were Sanatan Dharma and the Vedas that taught us ways of lives more than a religion, but never Hindu religion. Unlike the ill-fated crimes in the recent times, women in ancient India were equal with men, in fact, they enjoyed a much higher standing than men, they were revered as mothers, as wives, as daughters, as the ‘gruhini’, the queen of the house. Today, such words may sound fancy and glamorous, but when your claim to fame is grounded on the dharmas our ancestors have imbibed in us, why don’t we see the same status as the books in real life being given to women? Santana Dharma stresses on the active participation of women in all activities including governance and administration. But, when we look at the numbers, they are shameful – 11% – 27 women amongst 245 MPs in Rajya Sabha, 11.8% – 64 women in Lok Sabha comprising 542 members.

I cannot stress more on the importance of women in political participation and that recognizing their prominence in decision-making processes in our society is significant to reinforce our path toward building a progressive holistic culture where all citizens are equal. When Nirmala Sitharaman was named India’s Defence Minister, the first woman to hold the post since Indira Gandhi, why were questions raised on her devotion to the public, merely because she’s a woman? Why wasn’t the same treatment meted out to Arun Jaitley or Manohar Parrikar?

Doesn’t India champion itself as a beacon of democracy? Yet, practically 70 years after permitting its women citizens the right to vote, it clocks way behind when it comes to women’s participation as representatives in elected government bodies! In the army as well, one of the world’s most male-dominated professions, why are women in combat roles still a long pending demand? Simply because she’s perceived as the weaker sex and a woman does not belong in the battlefield or sea, only behind desks and in the kitchen?

What is the use of ranting against injustices on women when we don’t have voices to air those concerns in the cabinet? While our Constitution attempts to remove gender inequalities by protecting fundamental rights for all citizens, why do women still have de jure and not de facto access to said rights? India may have had women Presidents, Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers of various states, paradoxically, India ranks 20th from the bottom as per the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report when it comes to political representation of women.

To remedy this, in 1993 and what can be called a watershed moment, the 73rd and 74th Indian constitutional amendments mandated 33.3% reservation for women in Panchayats and Urban Local Bodies. But, did we see that happening? Around the globe, just about 22% women are political representatives, which in India is 11%. Alarmingly, much smaller nations like Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Afghanistan have a better representation of women in politics. See, although boosting the number of women in national government may not assure an impact on governance, one thing is certain, a massive number of women in power can bring about leadership transformation at all levels.

When it comes to casting your vote, we are definitely progressing with the turnout of women during India’s 2014 parliamentary general elections was 65.63%, only marginally less than the male turnout of 67.09%. But, this participation is not apparently translating into equivalent electoral power for women. But how will we progress when women have no or very negligible say in policy making?

A key challenge, women in India face is lack of basic education. Bridging this gap by providing them quality education and creating awareness about their rights and privileges is imperative. Although our Government of India has initiated several missions for women empowerment and safety, the very issues of gender-based violence and provision of safety and security should be addressed on priority. In today’s environment, when women are breaking glass ceilings after ceilings, I will not agree to the fact that women are not recruited because they lack confidence or interest or ambition in politics, what they need is the same encouragement as men.

When you think of it, it’s a vicious cycle that when lesser women enter politics, the more their needs get ignored and the more insecure they become and then more apprehensive to enter politics. There is an immediate need for capacity building of women leaders by imparting them with leadership training across fields. They need to be empowered to speak up. Political gatekeepers who tend to recruit from their own networks, especially me, need to look beyond gender. Women can win elections just as good as men can, all we have to do is un-attach political mechanisms from the sex of the candidate else we’re just playing into the myth that women can’t get elected.

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Dr Somdutta
I am the former Vice- chairperson of NASSCOM Product Council and a member of the core management committee of Women Entrepreneurial Platform - NITI Aayog. Simultaneously, I am also on the Advisory Board for BloombergQuint. Apart from this, I am also the Founder & Director of Unspun Group, Digital Leadership Institute (DLI) and IRA – House of Designers.

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