Women's participation on a downward spiral
India, on attaining independence, was among the first few countries to grant universal franchise to its women citizens. A large number of women participated in the freedom struggle and quite a few of them emerged as prominent leaders in their own right.
Several of them were elected to the first Lok Sabha in 1952. However, their strength was only 22 (4.4%) in the House. Women’s representation steadily rose in the next general election to reach 34 (6.7%) in the third Lok Sabha.
But the trend reversed in the next three elections. Women’s representation in the 6th Lok Sabha was a meagre 19 (3.4%), the lowest ever. The subsequent elections, on the whole witnessed an upward trend except 1989 elections, when the number of women MPs drastically dropped to 27 from 44 in the previous Lok Sabha.
But from 1991 elections, the number of women MPs steadily rose to touch 44 in 1998 elections, accounting for 8.07 per cent and 49 in 1999, the highest ever.
Interestingly, during the last four elections, large but relatively backward states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan elected a higher number of women MPs as compared to be more developed and urbanised states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
Women MP’s from the so called backward states accounted for more than 40 per cent of the number of female representatives in the three successive Lok Sabhas since 1991. On the contrary, the four relatively developed states accounted for only around 30 per cent of the total woman MPs in 1991 elections and less than 20 per cent in 1996 and 1998 and about 25% in 1999 elections.
Maximum women candidates were fielded by major national parties mainly BJP & Congress and their success rate was much higher than the candidates contesting on the tickets of state parties or independents.
Women turn out for voting has been around 60% during the last two general elections. Lakshadweep recorded the largest number of women voters. In 1998, 85.10% women used their voting rights in the island to elect a Member of Parliament. In 1999, it marginlly declined to 80.21%, but it was still much higher than the national average of 59.99%.
In the North-East, women voter turn out has always been very impressive. In 1998, it was 59% in Arunachal Pradesh, 61.06% in Assam, 74.38% in Meghalaya, 69.56% in Mizoram 8.86% in Tripura while in the next general elections it was 72.15% in Arunachal Pradesh, 71.26% in Assam, 65.61% in Manipur, 56.16% in Meghalaya, 65.31% in Mizoram, 76.25% in Nagaland.
In Delhi, almost half the women electors chose to cast their vote. In 1998 only 51.29% women voters turned out while in 1999 elections, it further declined to 43.54%.