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Women’s representation: Parties must walk the talk

In panchayats, women now average 46% in leadership posts, above the legally mandated 33%, with states like Bihar and Odisha bumping up the quota to 50%. There is growing evidence to show that nearly a quarter century of reservations has led to the creation of an empowered and aware constituency of women at the grassroots level.

columns Updated: Mar 22, 2019 17:06 IST
Nearly seven decades after our first election, half this country’s population cannot continue to be represented by a measly 12.1% in the Lok Sabha. We can no longer accept assemblies in which the national average for women’s representation is 9%.(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

When Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) announced they would be fielding an unprecedented number of women for the 2019 parliamentary elections, there was a general sense of euphoria at a historic imbalance being set right.

Would other parties be inspired? The answer wasn’t long in coming. It was no. For both the BJP and Congress, it’s business as usual.

An analysis of the initial lists of both parties by Gilles Verniers, who teaches politics at Ashoka University, shows just 23 of the BJP’s 184 candidates are women. That’s a paltry 12.5%. The Congress is only marginally worse with just 17 women of 143 candidates analysed so far. That’s 11.9% — a long way from the 41% women candidates of the TMC and the 33% promised by the BJD.

Yet, parties want to get their optics right where women are concerned. The BJP stresses on its “pro-women” agenda by harping on various government schemes from Swachh Bharat to Ujjwala Yojana. It talks of giving two crucial ministries, external affairs and defence, to women. And 33% of organisational posts are earmarked for women, say party spokespeople.

Congress party president, Rahul Gandhi, talks about bringing in the now lapsed bill to reserve 33% of seats for women in Parliament and the assemblies and promises to reserve government jobs for women.

Talk is cheap. The real test for inclusion can only be gauged by how many women contestants parties are prepared to field.

On one yardstick for women’s political representation, we’ve done exceptionally. As voters, women are turning up in larger numbers and the gender gap for voter turnout for the 2014 general election was just 1.5%, with female voter turnout exceeding that of men in 16 states and union territories.

In panchayats, women now average 46% in leadership posts, above the legally mandated 33%, with states like Bihar and Odisha bumping up the quota to 50%. There is growing evidence to show that nearly a quarter century of reservations has led to the creation of an empowered and aware constituency of women at the grassroots level.

It’s these women who effectively demonstrate the need for more representation. To look at just one example, the number of drinking water projects in areas with women-led panchayats was 62% higher than in those with men-led councils.

We need nothing short of a revolution to change a shameful statistic. Nearly seven decades after our first election, half this country’s population cannot continue to be represented by a measly 12.1% in the Lok Sabha. We can no longer accept assemblies in which the national average for women’s representation is 9%.

“Women’s reservation is the only hope,” says Shaina NC, BJP spokesperson and treasurer.

Shaina says women should vote for women regardless of party affiliation. With most political parties determined to keep women out, it may well be the only way to storm an all-men’s club.

Namita Bhandare writes on social issues

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Mar 22, 2019 17:06 IST