Thursday, 29 May 2014

Women and Political Participation in India

Photo Source: International Business Times

The nature of society and state has a decisive impact on the extent and effectiveness of women’s political presence and participation. Notions of democracy, governance and the state are often not gender neutral constructs but are a cumulative result of both historical factors and experiences. The state and its organizational entities reflect the same social forces as other social organizations.

In India, where women constitute half the population the number of women parliamentarians has never exceeded fifteen per cent of all seats. At the state level, their membership in the legislatures is abysmally low, lower than their numbers in the parliament. In the recently concluded 16th Lok Sabha elections, 61 women candidates won, which is by far the highest number of women who will have a seat in the Indian Parliament.  However, the representation of women in Indian political institutions remains low which signifies deep flaws in India’s political democracy.

Demand for greater political representation of women in India

The demand for greater representation of women in political institutions in India was not taken up in a systematic way until the setting up of the Committee on the Status of Women in India (CSWI) in 1976. Before this the focus of the growing women's movement had been only on improving women's socio-economic position. In 1988, the National Perspective Plan for Women suggested that a 30 per cent quota for women be introduced at all levels of elective bodies. Introduced first by the Deve Gowda Government in 1996 the women's reservation bill- which proposes to reserve 33 per cent of seats in Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies for women has been stuck in legislation for the last 18 years.

Despite the lament of leaders like Sonia Gandhi and efforts by successive governments to push the bill, the bill could be passed only in the Rajya Sabha on 9 March, 2010 and the Lok Sabha is yet to muster the courage or consensus to do the same.

Forms of reservation for women in other countries

While India has been unable to translate the bill into legislation, women reservation in various forms have been introduced in a number of other countries. Data from International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), Stockholm, 2014, shows that an increasing number of countries are introducing different types of gender quotas for public elections. Currently 97 countries apply constitutional, electoral or political party gender quotas. Considering a number of nations across Asia and Africa, one can see that in the early 1990s countries like Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh legislated quotas for female representatives, ranging from 10 to 35 per cent of seats. (Quota Project, International IDEA, Stockholm University and Inter- Parliamentary Union)

The most common forms of reservation are quotas, either in the number of seats reserved for women or the setting of a minimum share for women on the candidate lists for elections. While setting a quota in seats regulates the number of women getting elected to the parliament, establishing a minimum share in the candidates list can either be a legal requirement or be written into the statutes of individual political parties.

An analysis of the trend of women representation in Indian Legislature speaks volumes of their significant under-representation in political institutions in the country. In the 15th Lok Sabha, only 10 per cent of the total elected parliamentarians (59 of the 543 seats) were women. Of the 8070 of the total candidates who contested elections, only 6.9 per cent candidates were women.

Participation of women in the 16th Lok Sabha Elections:

  •       The 16th Lok Sabha has seen the highest number of women contesting elections since the 1957. Out of the total 8,136 candidates, 668 were women, viz. 8.21 percent of the total candidates. This is an increase of more than one per cent from the 2009 general election figure.

  •       Interestingly, the success rate of women in the 16th Lok Sabha elections is in fact better than that of male candidates. In the 16th Lok Sabha elections, 61 women candidates out of 668 (i.e. 9.13 per cent of the total women candidates) got elected to the Lok Sabha. While for the male candidates, the success percentage was only 6.36 per cent (Of the 7,578 men who contested the polls, 482 emerged victorious).
In terms of states performance, the interesting change was noted in West Bengal, where the number of women winning has doubled. It now stands at 14 of 42 candidates from the state. This is followed by Uttar Pradesh, with 13 seats, which does not show any change since 2009.

The global experimentation with different forms of women’s reservations provides valuable lessons for India both inspirational and an early warning, regardless of the passage of the bill here.India ranks 113, much below Pakistan (at rank 72) and South Africa (at rank 5) in terms of percentage of women in the Lower as well as Upper House/the Senate.

Unpreparedness of Indian political parties

The vision and mission of several Indian political parties reveal an inclination to increase women participation among their rank and file. However, the challenge among Indian political parties is that such rules/constitutions are seldom followed.

  •       According to the Constitution of the INC, 33 percent of the seats in different Committees, 33 percent of members of the Executive Committees, and 33 percent of the seats for the All India Congress Committee (AICC) are to be reserved for women
  •       Similarly, Rule 9 of the Trinamool Congress’s constitution reserves 33 percent of seats in  different committees for women.

  •       Even the newly formed Aam Aadmi Party has a ruling that 7 of the 30 members in its highest executive body be women.
This shows that Political parties, collectively, have not been able to meet their decided benchmarks to ensure women participation.

South African experience: strong positive externalities

With women comprising 44.8 percent of its current National Assembly, South Africa serves as an excellent example of a successful experiment with voluntary party quotas.The African National Congress (ANC) started discussions on quotas for women since 1991 and presently the National Assembly of South Africa has 43.5 percent women. The ANC’s voluntary quota for women also had significant positive externalities on the opposition parties. While the opposition parties did not commit themselves to quotas, the ANC’s quotas had a spillover effect, leading to an increase in the proportion of women in opposition parties from 14.2 percent in 1994, to an impressive 31 percent in 2009. The South African experience demonstrates, even a single party setting voluntary quotas can have widespread positive effects on a country’s political environment as whole. It also underscores the importance of women’s movements within parties.

A Brookings India working paper “Women in Party Politics (April 2014) by S Ravi and R. Sandhu suggests that a few measures, if applied with commitment, can bring about a favourable change in the current scenario.

  •       Parties need to evolve internally to facilitate a greater culture of inclusiveness and operational democracy, for example, measures like internal party quotas.

  •       The Election Commission of India too can play a pivotal role by holding parties accountable for their stated rules and promises in their Constitutions and manifestos.
  •       The paper also stresses that there are strong lessons, which can help improve the design and implementation of quotas for women, and therefore, result in better female representation in Indian politics.

According to S Ravi and R. Sandhu, “In almost all political systems, no matter what electoral regime, it is the political parties, not the voters that constitute the real gatekeepers to elected offices.” Such fundamental reforms at any party level are suggested to serve as necessary and strategic complements to the Women’s Reservation Bill.  This can ensure that the enactment of Women’s Reservation Bill will not result in mere tokenism.

Compiled by Junty Sharma Pathak and Mahima Malik

No comments:

Post a Comment