Political Empowerment of Women in India- An Analysis- Explained Pointwise

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With the recent declaration of the Lok Sabha Results, the issue of political empowerment of women in India has again started to garner attention. The number of elected women MPs has fallen in the 2024 Lok Sabha has fallen to 74 from the 78 women MPs elected in 2019. In Lok Sabha elections 2024, a total of 797 women contested the elections, and 74 of them got elected. The strength of the 74 women MPs constitutes 13.63% of the elected strength of the lower house. This is much lesser than the proposed reservation for 33% of women representatives after the next delimitation exercise.

Table of Content
What has been the status of women representation in India?
Why is there a need for greater political empowerment of Women in India?
What are the reasons behind low political representation of women in India?
What measures have been undertaken for political empowerment of Women and increasing their participation? 
What Should be the Way Forward?

What has been the status of women representation in India?

a. Representation of Women in Parliament over the Years
1. Women made up just 4.41% of the strength of the Lower House in 1952. The number increased to more than 6% in the Lok Sabha held a decade later.
2. However, the number dipped to below 4% in 1971, ironically, with Indira Gandhi, India’s first and only woman Prime Minister, at the helm.
3. There has been a slow, but steady rise in women’s representation (with a few exceptions). The women representation crossed the 10% mark in 2009 and peaked at 14.36% in 2019.
4. Of the 74 women MPs elected in 2024, 43 are first time MPs. Women MPs have an average age of 50 years and are younger as compared to the overall age of the House, which is 56 years. These women MPs are as educated as their male counterparts, with 78% completing under graduation.

Women Representatives in Parliament
Source- The Indian Express

b. State Legislative assembly representation
The representation of women in State Legislative Assemblies has been low. The highest is in Chhattisgarh (14.4%) followed by West Bengal (13.7%) and Jharkhand (12.4%).

State Legislative Assembly Women Representation
Source- PIB. Percentage of Women Representatives in State Legislative Assemblies as on December 31, 2021. The proportion for Jammu and Kashmir/Ladakh is based on last elections held in 2014.

c. Comparison with Global Standards
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) ‘Women in ParliamentReport (2021), the global percentage of women in parliament was 26.1%. India ranks lower than 140 other nations in terms of the number of women serving in their national legislatures. Even though the representation of women in Lok Sabha has increased post independence (~16% in 17th lok Sabha), India is behind a number of countries of Africa and South Asia (like Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka).

Why is there a need for greater political empowerment of Women in India?

1. Accountability and Gender-sensitive Governance- Political empowerment of women facilitates direct engagement in public decision-making and is a means of ensuring better accountability to women. It helps in undertaking reforms that can help make all elected officials more effective at promoting gender equality in public policy and ensuring their implementation.

2. Breaking the Patriarchal mould of Indian Politics- Indian Politics has been patriarchal with top party positions and positions of power have been occupied by male. Increase in women representation in parliament, dismantles the patriarchal nature of Indian politics.

3. Focus on Gender issues- According to UN Women, higher numbers of women in parliament generally contribute to stronger attention to women’s issues. This ensures appropriate policy response to address gender issues and introduce women-sensitive measures.

4. Gender Equality- Women’s political participation is a fundamental prerequisite for gender equality and genuine democracy. It helps establish public enquiries on women’s issues and use findings to place issues on government agendas and within legislative programmes.

5. Change of Stereotypes- Enhanced representation helps in cooperation with the women’s movement and the media to change the stereotyped image of women as only ‘homemakers’, to change it to ‘lawmakers‘.

6. Improvement of Economic Performance and Infrastructure- According to UN University, Women legislators improve the economic performance of their constituencies 1.8 per cent more than male legislatures. Evaluation of Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana shows the share of incomplete road projects is 22 percentage points lower in female led constituencies.

What are the reasons behind low political representation of women in India?

1. Gender Gaps in Political Ambition- Gender conditioning leads to lack of political ambition in women:
(a) Women are less encouraged to run for office/election than men.
(b) Women’s tendency to shy away from competition also plays a role since the political selection process is likely perceived as highly competitive.
(c) The fear of ‘big politics’ and factors such as self-doubt, stereotypes and personal reservations prevent even the most politically gifted women from entering government
(d) Women’s willingness to advance in their political careers can also be influenced by family and relational considerations. For ex- In Sweden, female politicians who are promoted to mayor (i.e. the highest office in municipal politics) experience a significant increase in the likelihood of divorcing their partner, whereas this is not the case for men.

2. Patriarchal Society- The patriarchal nature of Indian politics also prevents the increase in women participation in India.
(a) Gender Disparities- There are still many obstacles in the way of women in positions of leadership due to gender inequality in areas like as education, access to resources, and the persistence of biased views.
(b) Sexual division of labour- Women are responsible for the majority of housework and child care. This creates hindrance for them to enter politics.
(c) Cultural and Social Expectations- Cultural and Social Expectations are forced upon women which prevent women from participating in politics.

3. Cost of Contesting Election- Cost of contesting elections is rising with times. Lack of access to resources and assets means that women are much less likely to be able to raise the funds for contesting elections than men.

4. Male politicians as Gate-keepers- Party leaders generally prefer to promote male rather than female candidates. There is a general bias in the thinking regarding winnability of female candidates preventing them from selecting women leaders for election.

5. Growth of criminalisation and corruption- The exodus of women from politics can also be attributed to a lack of political education coupled with the growth in criminalization and corruption.

What measures have been undertaken for political empowerment of Women and increasing their participation? 

Legislative Measures

1. Nari Shakti Vandana Adhiniyam (Women reservation Act) It has been passed to provide 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies.

2. 73rd and 74th amendment Act- This amendment act provided 33% reservation to women in local bodies. Some states like Bihar have increased the women reservation in the local bodies to 50%.

3. Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women- In 1997 (11th Lok Sabha), the Committee on Empowerment of Women was formed to advance the position of women

4. Gender-Neutral Rules of Lok Sabha- The rules of the Lok Sabha were made completely gender-neutral in 2014 under the leadership of Meira Kumar. Since then, every document has called the head of a Lok Sabha Committee as the Chairperson.

Constitutional Measures

1. Article 14- It has established equality as a fundamental right. It inevitably necessitates equal opportunity, as stated in Article 15.

2. Article 46- It puts on the state the responsibility to safeguard vulnerable groups against social injustice and all forms of exploitation.

3. Article 243D- It ensures participation of women in Panchayati Raj Institutions by mandating at least 33% reservation for women in total seats and the offices of chairpersons of Panchayats.

4. Article 326- Elections to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assemblies of States to be on the basis of adult suffrage.

International Covenants

Globally, several international commitments have been made, for achieving gender equality and these have emphasized on enhancing women’s representation in political sphere.

1. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979)- Upheld women’s right to participate in public life.

2. Beijing Platform for Action (1995), Millennium Development Goals (2000) and Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030)- All these called for removing barriers to equal participation and also took into account increasing women’s representation in parliament to measure progress towards gender equality.

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What Should be the Way Forward?

1. Checks on the crimininalisation of politics- We must address the larger issues of electoral reforms such as measures to check criminalisation of politics and influence of black money to achieve the desired results of women reservation.

2. Intra party democracy- Institutionalisation of Intra party democracy will make availabe a  wider pool of women candidates.

3. Nomination to Rajya Sabha and State Legislative Councils- Every Political Party must nominate 33% women and 67% men for every election to Rajya Sabha and State legislative councils to achieve true women representation.

4. Promotion of women participation at panchayat level through strengthening women self-help groups. This will ensure able women candidates for MP/MLA elections.

5. Strengthening women’s agencies and organizations for building a progressive society with equality of opportunities among all citizens.

6. Promotion of girl’s participation in College/Universities student political parties and political debate to increase their political prowess for future.

Read More- The Indian Express
UPSC Syllabus- GS 1 Issues related to women, GS II, Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
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