Election Hungama All Around, But WHERE Are The Women?

Posted: May 7, 2018

Despite women being half the population, political parties pay only lip service to women’s issues, as seen by the poor representation that we get as candidates.

In the iconic BBC serial Yes Minister, the classic British satire, one episode on issues concerning women shows how all ministries agree, that women need to be treated equally in principle. And yet, this cannot be achieved in practice, because, women “tend to be unsuitable for ministries like home, defence, etc.” This sums up the attitude of political parties everywhere towards women’s issues. Though these political parties talk a lot about more representation for women, when elections do happen, women candidates are barely there.

This seems to be happening in the current elections due to be held on 12th May 2018 in Karnataka. Let us see how the (lack of) awareness about (and complete apathy towards) women’s issues not only in Karnataka, but also in the last two Assembly elections that were held in the states of Himachal Pradesh (November 2017) and Gujarat (December 2017).

Women’s representation

BJP leader Amit Shah has admitted that winning is important in elections, and so this eclipses giving more seats to women. Activist and Politician B.T Lalitha Nayak says that unless financially backed, a woman cannot enter politics and win. Women cannot lobby in the manner in which male candidates lobby. So, it gets very difficult, if not impossible for women to enter politics and win. Patriarchy is so deeply rooted, that even for women politicians, men in their families will set down conditions. As admitted by many leaders, winning is a crucial factor. Caste, religion, lobbying, etc. play an important role in selection of candidates.

In Himachal Pradesh elections in November, 2017, only 19 were women candidates – an abysmal 5.6% of the total 338 candidates that contested. Of these, 10 were Independent candidates, and only 9 from parties.

4 women candidates won from the 19 women who stood for elections. 3 winners are from the BJP and 1 from the Congress, again just 5.88% of all seats (4/68). In the earlier elections held to the Himachal Vidhan Sabha in 2012, only 3 women had been elected as MLAs.

This was the scenario in Himachal Pradesh elections, though more women voters cast their votes as compared to men voters in 48 out of a total of 68 constituencies. And this, despite the fact, that registered men voters outnumbered women voters in more than 50 constituencies. This clearly means that women take their votes seriously, and hence should get more representation.

In Gujarat, elections were held in December, 2017 in two phases. Among a total of 1819 candidates that contested these elections for 182 seats, there were 122 women candidates, a low 6.7%. BJP had a total of 182 candidates, just 10 of which were women. Congress put up a list of 176 candidates, of which 11 were women. There were 54 Independent women candidates, and the remaining 47 were from all other parties.

9 women won in the BJP camp while from the Congress camp there were 4 winners. Thus, a total of 13 women or 7.1% women won, out of total 182 seats. In the earlier Gujarat elections in 2012, 16 women had won out of 33 women candidates who stood for elections.

The Karnataka elections which are going to be held in May, 2018 are faring no better than Himachal & Gujarat in fielding women candidates. The number of fresh and first time women voters has gone up in Karnataka. Hence, women are an important constituency for any candidate. In fact, gender ratio of voters has improved in Karnataka by 2%.

BJP, Congress & JD(S) are the main parties and yet, many women are contesting independently as all the three parties have given very few tickets to women. And this, when women account for 40% of the state’s population, and the women voters are 49% of the total voters registered,

In the 2013 elections in Karnataka, the total number of women candidates was 167, of which only 6 had won the elections. Three fourths of women who lost elections had to forfeit their deposits. Also, the number of women winners has been decreasing as against increasing number of women contestants.

Many finer details of numbers for all states can be accessed here.

Recently on Mirror NOW, the news channel, there was a debate regarding women candidates in the Karnataka elections, anchored by Faye D’Souza. In the debate, the points raised were that less than 10% women have been given tickets by the BJP, the Congress and the JD(S). And that this is how, the political parties are going to ’empower women’ by giving the least possible representation to females. Candidates who have criminal cases against them have been given almost 33% tickets as if there is a mandatory provision to do so but, not women. All this, because, money and muscle power can win elections, and that the sole aim is to win elections, and abuse and misuse the power gained to win next elections, and so on. There is not even a pretence to empower women or highlight women’s issues.

One possible solution is that, women need to press the NOTA (None of the above) option during elections. This is to give a clear message to the netas that unless women’s issues really count for the politicians, politicians will not count for the women. So that no political party will dare stand for elections being indifferent to nearly half the population, that is women.

Women’s issues in manifestoes

Under the issue of women’s safety, the BJP manifesto in Himachal Pradesh promised many things: to open more all women police stations with 33% reservation for women in police recruitment, a mobile app for women’s safety, the Gudiya yojana. The BJP promised in its Gujarat manifesto that higher education for girls would be free, and new women oriented policies would be implemented if BJP returned to power. In Karnataka, the BJP manifesto released just a couple of days ago promised a fund that will help women to form cooperatives and market their products, and promised skill development programmes and free laptops to all college students.

In its turn, the Congress manifesto in Himachal Pradesh declared its emphasis on women’s issues by promising more women’s police stations, a helpline and mobile app to report crimes against women, more crèches and working women’s hostels, vocational training for women and girls, etc. In Gujarat, the Congress manifesto promised free housing for women, a universal healthcare card, loans to women for small businesses, and free primary to higher education for girls. And now the Congress Manifesto in Karnataka promises many things: to increase the percentage of women in the government workforce to 50%, and abolish tax on sanitary pads. Free sanitary pads would be available at government colleges and polytechnics. Women police force will be raised to 33%, and one stop crisis centres will be set up for women.

As of publishing this article, the JD(S) manifesto had just been declared and the details are not yet clear, but it is believed that they will have a sector wise manifesto…what the party means to do for agriculture, industry, infrastructure, water resources etc., and it remains to be seen what they say about women’s issues.

(Lack of) awareness of women’s issues

So the manifestoes, and the election rhetoric do speak a lot about women’s empowerment and safety, but all of it is more likely to make educated women sceptical about these promises, than believe in them – though the swaying of those who cannot see beyond that cannot be discounted.

As per a survey conducted to understand key issues in the Himachal elections, women empowerment and security was one of the important issues. Women’s safety became a real concern at this time due to the botched up handling of the gang rape and murder of a girl at Kotkhai, near the capital Shimla. It is yet to be seen how the newly elected members handle these women’s issues now.

In Gujarat too, Dr Indira Hirway, director and professor of economics at the Centre for Development Alternatives, Ahmedabad opines that since election of fewer women to the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha, health, safety and other women’s issues have been accorded less priority in the state.

In Karnataka too, the PM spoke to the BJP Mahila Morcha about a possible BJP government being committed to women’s issues. This has, however, been called out by the current Congress government in Karnataka as ‘mere tokenism’.

So what do we infer from this?

The 73rd & 74th Constitutional Amendment bills have made reservation of seats for women mandatory in panchayats and municipal bodies. And yet, the Women’s Reservation Bill for Parliament has lapsed because it did not get passed by special majority in Parliament. Though BJP, Congress and the Left parties are all in favour, some regional parties are against it.

The Women’s Reservation bill aims at one third reservation of seats in Parliament and in State Assemblies for women. This reservation bill if passed, will see more women contesting elections. Increased participation of women in government will get reflected in gender equality in policy as also implementation. Numerous studies have indicated that women’s leadership style tends to be more inclusive and risk averse. This augurs well for any society to attain inclusive and sustainable development.

Women bring sensitivity and a fresh perspective, as can be seen from women like Chhavi Rajawat who have joined panchayats and brought tremendous progress at the grassroots level. So reservation of seats for women has the potential to raise participation of women in politics like the way it has happened in panchayats. Hence, the need to revive the Women’s Reservation Bill and get it passed by special majority in Parliament.

Equal participation of women in elections is possible if the conditions are created, such that help women to take part in power sharing. The fundamental right under Article 15 (3) in our constitution says that reservations can be made in favour of women by the Parliament. So the Women’s Reservation bill is in line with the Constitution.

India has signed the Convention for Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights. This makes it binding for India to allow equal participation of women in government as voters and also as elected representatives. This can be done by making reservation mandatory for women & making other changes as deem fit so that women can freely express their will in elections.

Women working along with men will make for harmony & peace. That is more fair and justifiable. Women’s issues will get a voice as also a vision, when more women participate in elections. That is why, it’s essential that an increasing number of women take part in politics, not just as voters but as representatives of the people.

As Michelle Bachelet, Head of UN Women, former President and Defence Minister of Chile (as quoted in the New York Times) said, “For me, a better democracy is a democracy where women do not only have the right to vote & to elect but the right to be elected.”

Image source: Flickr

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I am a law graduate from Government Law College,Mumbai.I am a Fellow in

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