Lok Sabha election results 2019: At 14.6%, Lok Sabha to have most women ever
With 78 seats, women make up 14.6% of the members of the new Lok Sabha, the highest number ever attained by women in the lower house of India’s Parliament, and the strongest progression rate of that number (+3 percentage points) since 1984. This outcome, however modest, is all the more remarkable considering that women barely made 9% of the overall candidates, a measly progression of 1.3 percentage points compared to 2014.
Two factors have contributed to this result. First, the consolidation of the BJP has helped most of its women candidates to get elected. The BJP distributed 56 tickets to women candidates, out of which 41 won. This makes a strike rate of 73% for BJP women candidates, against a strike rate of 66% for its 395 male candidates. The BJP’s overall performance explains why the increase in female MP ratio is faster than the overall increase of nominations.
Secondly, two regional parties — the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) — also contributed to the overall increase of women representation, by having taken the unprecedented step of distributing a third of their tickets to women candidates (that ratio increases to 41% for the TMC if one only considers its West Bengal candidates). Nine of the 21 women TMC candidates won, while six of the seven BJD candidates were elected.
However, other parties did not follow suit. The Congress nominated a similar ratio of female candidates as the BJP (12.3%) but only six of its 52 women candidates got elected, again with a favourable strike rate, compared to the party’s male candidates. Most regional parties have given only a handful of tickets to women candidates, often relatives of male politicians.
If one compares parties’ record by party type (or type of candidates), state-based parties have given 10.3% of their tickets to women candidates, against 12.5% for the two national parties. Local parties do not fare better than state-based parties and there are much fewer women contesting as independents (in terms of ratio), as compared to women running on a party ticket.
State-wise, Odisha takes the lead with 16% of women candidates, followed by Chhattisgarh (13%), West Bengal and Uttarakhand (12% each). These figures are of candidates across parties in a state. A comparison with the ratio of women among MPs reveals once again how women tend to do well. The percentage of women MPs exceeds 15% in seven states.
It is not clear, however, that these better performances by women candidates can be attributed to gender-specific variables.
In this election, the strength of the BJP party ticket played a major role in helping more women get elected. Women candidates also tend to tick several winnability boxes. Studies by Carole Spary and Shirin Rai or by Virginie Dutoya, reveal that women politicians tend to be more educated, more urban, of higher caste and class status than the average male candidate.
Kanchan Chandra, in her book on democratic dynasties, finds that women tend to belong to political families more often than men. This comes from the selection biases applied by political parties, which tend to often set the qualification bar higher for women than men.
Twenty-six percent of all women candidates running on a national or state-based party ticket belonged to upper castes, against 17.7% for all men.
Parties also tend to field more women in reserved seats, particularly in Scheduled Tribe seats. Six of the seven BJD women candidates ran in reserved seats, for instance. In 2019, women’s winnability was much higher in seats reserved in the Scheduled Tribe category.
Do parties treat their sitting MPs similarly across gender?
In 2019, national parties have discarded more women incumbent MPs than male incumbents: 52% of women sitting MPs re-ran against 62.4% of the male incumbents.
The strike rate of these re-running incumbents, however, is roughly the same. This indicates that women MPs are slightly more likely to be denied a chance to re-run than men, although there is no evidence that women incumbents fare any worse than male incumbents.
State-based parties, to the contrary, tend to keep more of their women sitting MPs than male. The greater prevalence of dynastic ties among smaller parties’ women politicians probably account for that variation.
Are women stronger politicians than men? By virtue of the fact that barriers to entry into politics tend to be higher for women, those who make it tend to have all the qualifications and attributes required to be competitive.
Are these qualifications or attributes gender-specific? That is not certain as the strength of the party ticket and the plebiscitary character of national elections tend to be greater determinants of success of candidates rather than their own qualities.
The data suggests that fielding more women does not entail taking a risk, from the vantage point of parties that by and large remain reticent to gender equality.