Special focus on women

A week before the last day of polling, a bouquet of stories on women and elections appeared in Mint.

“Women in Parliament: the other 270+” by Kirthi V. Rao and Ashwaq Masoodi in the 5 May edition highlighted the startling fact that about half of India’s Lok Sabha constituencies have never elected a woman and traced the rise and fall of the proportion of women lawmakers in the course of the previous 15 Lok Sabha elections. The graphic presentation (by Mohsin Shaikh) of the data they compiled was  attractive and accessible, though it would have been worthwhile to see how India compared with other Asian countries and/or other BRIC nations in terms of women’s representation in Parliament.  Also, it seems to me that the interesting data comparing the record of Indian political parties in terms of the total number of elected female representatives may have been more meaningful if the numbers had been crunched further to reveal the performance of each party in this respect, taking into account how long they have been in existence and/or how many general elections they have participated in.

The paper carried another story on the same day, headlined “Indian women start ignoring their husbands as voting power rises.”  Reported by Rina Chandran and Bibhudatta Pradhan, it focused on women voters for a change, highlighting data on women’s exercise of their franchise, quoting researchers who have studied female voting patterns as well as some women voters, and providing background information on women’s participation in politics and representation in legislative bodies.  In what was otherwise an interesting piece, the following sentence seemed a bit misleading:  “The Congress and the BJP have pledged to pass a Bill stalled for four years that would reserve a third of all seats in the lower house and all state legislative assemblies for women.”  The Women’s Reservation Bill has been stalled far longer than that – 18 years, I think – unless the writers were referring to the four years that have passed since the Rajya Sabha finally passed it in 2010.

An interview with one of the researchers quoted in the above story appeared in the paper the next day (6 May).  The text of the Q&A with Shamika Ravi, assistant professor of economics at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad and a fellow at Brookings Institution India Centre in Washington DC, was somewhat disappointing. Although it yielded some interesting information and insights, some of the answers seemed inadequate and/or incomplete. Certainly the answer to the question on the paucity of female candidates in Kerala was unconvincing.  And the statement that “random reservation is not a good idea” required more elaboration.  Perhaps at least part of the problem lies in the editing (or, rather, lack of it) – the mind-boggling second sentence in the answer to the last question suggests that this could well be the case!

Ammu Joseph

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