In Indian politics, the gender dimension | HT Editorial
From the trenches of India’s unequal democracy, there is both good news and bad news. The good news is that from being considered invisible, women are finally being seen as an empowered, autonomous political constituency of their own. Both surveys and anecdotal evidence indicate that women are playing a crucial role in determining electoral outcomes — and they do this on the overall performance of the government and the specific measures outlined for women’s welfare.
From Narendra Modi’s focus on toilet construction and distribution of gas cylinders to Nitish Kumar’s announcement of prohibition and cycles to school-going girl students to Mamata Banerjee’s cash hand-outs to young and unmarried girl students, astute politicians were quick to recognise the power of the women’s vote. In the upcoming assembly elections, parties have made promises with an eye on the women vote — from direct income allowances and pensions to homemakers to reservations in jobs to benefits for women from marginalised groups. This is positive. Women’s labour, particularly at home, has long gone unrecognised and unpaid and parties, today, are being forced to address it.
But here is the bad news. This recognition of the power of the women’s vote has not translated into representation. The Trinamool Congress, to its credit, has fielded 17% women candidates, much lower than what equity would demand, but higher than other parties. To throw up the lack of winnability as an argument is a cop-out, for what is needed is political commitment to ensure that women are not just subjects of largesse but equal players in decision-making at leadership levels.