Silver lining: India leads world in keeping women in power

  • Vishakha Saxena, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 09, 2015 00:50 IST

India leads the world in putting women in positions of power and keeping them there for longer than any other nation, a recent study has revealed, underlining a stark contradiction in a country where gender bias runs deep.

Women have held leading positions for 21 of the last 50 years in India, with Indira Gandhi as prime minister for about 16 years and Pratibha Patil as President for five, according to the report released on July 30 by the Pew Research Center .

(Map sourced from Pew Research Center. Original map has been edited for accuracy.)

Using data from the United Nations, the research revealed that there are currently only 18 female leaders around the world, half of whom are the first women to hold positions of power in their country.

Some 79 of 142 countries polled have never had a female leader in the five decades to 2014, it said.

The findings reinforce a peculiar trend in India, where some of the most powerful figures are women although they continue to face a slew of threats - from female foeticide and dowry killings to discrimination in access to healthcare and education and crimes such as rape, domestic violence and human trafficking.

In 2015, India ranks ninth among countries with the worst sex ratio -- 926 females per 1000 males in India which is lower than the sex ratios in Afghanistan and Pakistan, UN figures showed.

The Pew report showed that apart from India, only four other countries -- Ireland, Bangladesh, the Phillippines and Iceland -- had female leaders for more than 15 years.

Nordic countries championed female leadership with Iceland having a woman in power for 20 of the last 50 years, followed by Finland and Norway (12 and 11 years respectively). Finland also has the highest number of women -- 62.5% -- holding ministerial positions.

Female leadership has also been a common phenomenon in South and Southeast Asia -- regions often criticised for patriarchal social structures and gender inequality.

This was also in contrast to UN data which show that participation of women in parliament continues to be lower than the world average in this region.

(Chart sourced from United Nations)

The case in not very different in India which sees the participation of a little more than 12% of women in parliament and only 22.2% females holding ministerial positions.

Austria, Ecuador and Madagascar, meanwhile, have had female leaders for the shortest duration -- just two days.

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