Women’s representation is dismal. Politics is unfair to them | Editorial
The election of nine women legislators in the 90-member Haryana assembly, and 23 in the 288-member Maharashtra assembly, shows very clearly how women’s representation remains a low priority for all political parties. In 2014, the figures were 13 and 20 respectively. This is so, despite the fact that there has been a steady increase in women voters in both the state and general elections — a process which should have had a positive effect on their entry into the electoral fray. In Haryana, where the Manohar Lal Khattar government has been aggressively trying to correct gender inequalities with schemes like the Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao, 32 constituencies did not field any woman at all. In fact, while parties did speak about women’s issues sporadically, there was little engagement with the question of their participation in the political system. Were it not for women from political dynasties, the number of women would be even less.
One reason social scientists ascribe to women staying away from contesting elections is the slander and abuse they face during campaigns and their lack of clout and money power. The other reason cited is lack of safety. But the argument often put forward by parties is that women lack the winnability factor. This is not true. Official data from the Election Commission collated since 1998 shows that the success rate of women and men candidates does not differ, and, in fact, women have the slight edge, all things being equal. The dismal number of women who got tickets, and who finally won in these elections, suggests that there is no inclination among political parties to bring in more women candidates. The poor figures mean that they have not been able to influence decision-making within parties despite there being powerful women leaders in many of them.
Women do not vote in homogenous blocs, and, therefore, they are seen as not powerful enough to influence outcomes. However, this may be slowly changing with the emergence of what parties see as the “woman vote”. The challenge remains equitable power-sharing. When women have got power, thanks largely to reservations, at the panchayat level, they tend to focus on crucial issues like education, health and nutrition. The problem they face is that, despite doing well at that level, they are largely ignored in the power structure at higher levels. Women are making their mark in several fields, from sports to astrophysics. It is a pity that politics is not keeping pace with society.