Assembly Elections 2021: Where are the women?

Missing women lawmakers of world’s largest democracy

Politics

March 17, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Assembly Elections 2021: Where are the women?

TMC has fielded 50 women in its list of 291 candidates for the Assembly elections (Photo-PTI)

As most parties finalise candidate list for the upcoming assembly elections, poor representation of women in India’s political world continues. This despite the enormous number of speeches by all parties’ leaders about the important place women have in the legislative process. But when it comes to nominating women candidates, few leaders practice what they preach. No wonder then, that even 75 years after country became independent, women’s struggle for their basic rights such as electoral representation continues.

Kerala Mahila Congress president Lathika Subhash shaved her head in protest against the lack of female representation in the upcoming state assembly polls. Complaining of women not getting enough recognition, Shubhash said that now she will contest in the upcoming elections as an independent candidate from Ettumanoor constituency in Kottayam district.

Out of 86 candidates declared by Congress on March 14, only nine were women, while of the 70 candidates named by the BJP so far, only 4 are women. The ruling CPM does only marginally better by naming 12 women in its list of 83. Women continue to be absent from candidates’ lists even though Kerala is a matrilineal society and has a higher population of women than men. Total population of Kerala as per 2011 census is 33.4 million, of which women account for 17.39 million and males 16 million. Despite these demographics, Kerala, like all other Indian states has suffered extremely low representation of women in its legislature.

The situation is no better in the neighbouring Tamil Nadu where the opposition DMK has allotted only 12 out of 173 seats to women candidates while the ruling AIADMK is hardly any better with 14 of 171. Only one party in Tamil Nadu, Naam Tamilar Katchi, a minor regional party, has nominated women candidates to exactly 50 pc of the total seats in the assembly, with 117 women in the list of 234.

Women continue to get a raw deal in the north-eastern state of Assam as well where Congress has fielded 6 out of 43 candidates announced so far and the BJP 4 out of 70.

In West Bengal, with chief minister Mamata Banerjee at the helm, women fare comprehensively better as the TMC has fielded 50 women in its list of 291 candidates. Though it shows up better than other parties, the number of women candidates in TMC has declined compared to the Lok Sabha elections where the party had named women on 40 pc seats.

In the outgoing assemblies in these states, the numbers are equally one-sided. Kerala has a meagre nine women of the total 140 MLAs, while Tamil Nadu has 20 of 234, Assam only 8 of 126 MLAs and Puducherry 4 of 30. West Bengal has slightly bigger number at 40 of 294 MLAs.

What history held for women?

Poor strength in Indian legislatures is not new for women. Though India was one of the first nations in the world to have a woman as Prime Minister and several women ministers and chief ministers, the proportion of women in the Parliament and state legislatures has consistently been low for decades after the independence.

Even though women’s representation in State Assemblies registered an across-the-board increase in 18 years from 2001-18 in comparison to the previous 18 years (1983-2000), it is nowhere near parity or even the 33 pc mark that has set in a bill for reservation of seats for women in the Parliament that has been talked of for decades but has not moved anywhere in the real sense.

In the 2018 state assembly elections, only 62 women were among the 678 winning candidates, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of data compiled by the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms and the Election Commission of India.

Together, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram, the states that saw elections, were home to 93 million women. Yet, only 9 pc of the winners in the elections were women, down from 11 pc in the outgoing assemblies in these states.

Although more women have been contesting elections across the five states over the last three elections, they have not been winning in greater numbers – women’s representation at the assembly level has failed to match the increment in the number of candidates.

Time to pass and implement women’s reservation bill

With the political parties not displaying any desire to significantly increase the representation of women in the electoral system, it is time to dust off the two-decade old women’s reservation bill and push it through the Parliament or rather Lok Sabha.

The Women’s Reservation Bill seeks to amend the Constitution to reserve one-third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and in all state legislatures for women. As per the proposed criteria, the Lok Sabha seats will be reserved on a rotational basis. One seat will be reserved once in every three general elections, the bill also mandates.

The bill was first tabled in the Parliament in 1996, but it has never been able to pass through both the houses of Parliament. In its last attempt, the bill was passed by the UPA government in Rajya Sabha in 2010 and has remained pending in Lok Sabha where it lapsed in 2014 when the lower house was dissolved.

In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had promised 33 pc reservation in parliament and state assemblies. It featured prominently in the party manifesto that said, “Women’s welfare and development will be accorded a high priority at all levels within the government, and the BJP is committed to 33 pc  reservation in parliament and state assemblies through a Constitutional amendment.”

The promise was repeated in 2019 polls also even though the party had done little to fulfill it in its first mandate. However, since winning the polls, the party’s tune has changed with the Prime Minister simply refusing to talk of the matter, despite several appeals by not only the opposition parties but even BJP’s own allies in the NDA.

As a result, each election brings forth a poor representation of women even as the situation of women and all the issues surrounding women such as gender equality, women empowerment and safety deteriorates constantly.

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