Time to take women voters seriously

Ammu Joseph

Not BJP, not Congress:  Women voters are real winners today,” claimed the headline of a December 12 article that highlights the fact that female voters outnumbered men in a significant number of constituencies in the recent elections to the state assemblies of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram.

According to Richard Mahapatra, “Women are the new-found constituency of politicians for sure-shot victory.  In a country where woman representatives are only a few, who too are accepted with contempt, they have become a force that is going to redefine electoral politics of the world’s largest democracy.”

Image from CSE article

What can explain this trend and what is its significance?  Are women now seen as a political constituency worth taking seriously?  Will the growing power of the female vote make political parties pay due attention to the demand for a more gender balanced Parliament and more representative Legislative Assemblies?

In an earlier, related article, headlined “It will take 55 years to have one-third women representatives in Parliament,” Mahapatra observed that “notwithstanding this much desirable electoral trend, what surprises us is the diametrically opposite presence of women lawmakers—hardly 7 to 8 per cent in state assemblies and around 11 per cent in Parliament.”

As he points out, in 56 years, India’s Lok Sabha has not been able to double its tally of elected women representatives. In 1962, women constituted just 6 per cent of the members of the lower house of Parliament;  in 2014, women made up just 11 per cent of all members.

Judging by the poor representation of women among candidates during the recent state elections (see blog posts below on the situation in Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram, for example), political parties are still not inclined to field women for election.  However, as this November 2018 article by Kundan Pandey, headlined “Political parties try to bank on women’s electoral strength,” points out, they are trying hard to woo women voters by making a range of promises in separate manifestos/vision documents and offering goods and services, not to mention loans, to persuade women to vote for them.

What will it take for parties to be convinced that equal representation is a more persuasive way to assure women that they matter as citizens?



No woman no cry

By Ammu Joseph

It looks as if it’s not just Bengaluru, but Karnataka as a whole, that’s unfriendly towards women in politics.

According to this report in The Economic Times (also published in the Bangalore edition of The Times of India on 17 April, p2), “On an average, only 5% of women who contest elections manage to win in Karnataka, with the 2008 and 2013 elections reporting just 3%.”  The state’s performance on this score is reportedly worse than 11 other major states.  Unfortunately the rest of the report does not shed much light on why this is so, especially in a state that was a front-runner in enabling women’s participation in Panchayat Raj institutions a decade before the 73rd Constitutional amendment extended Panchayat Raj and reservation for women in grassroots politics to the rest of the country.

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However, cheek by jowl with this report in the TOI was another one which illustrated one of the points made in it:  that contesting as independents or from small parties is generally a handicap.  The second report highlighted the fact that four women who had “courted controversy and taken on political heavyweights” are now all set to “take on politicians in the electoral fray” and, what’s more, “are expected to put up a tough fight.”  At least two of them are apparently likely to contest against their powerful betes noires even though they have been denied tickets by “mainstream” political parties.

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Looking back into history, The Hindu found that female ministers have been few and far between in Karnataka. A single column report under the slug, “A look back” (Bangalore edition, 17 April, p4), which does not seem to be available online, begins with the first female minister in the state and ends with the fact that “the maximum presence of women in any Ministry was in 1999…when four were in the Cabinet.”

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Moving back to the present, a report in the New Indian Express (17 April) revealed that the BJP is gearing up to hold a dozen women-only rallies on a single day in Karnataka in the third week of April “to counter Opposition attempts to portray the BJP as weak on the issue of women’s safety in the wake of the Kathua and Unnao rape cases.”  Top female leaders of the party, including Union ministers, are expected to address the gatherings.

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It is another matter that almost all of them have been silent on the subject while people across the country have been agitated about it – some seen on camera to be evading questions from the media – while the comment of one was particularly objectionable.

Meenakshi Lekhi quote

Interestingly, Maneka Gandhi, minister for Women and Child Development, who has (expectedly) called for the death penalty for those convicted of raping minors below the age of 12, is not among the listed leaders expected to address the women-only rallies in Karnataka. Mysteriously, however, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is expected to hold a rally on the same day in the state – the report does not mention what she will be talking about.

Ammu Joseph

17 April 2018


Token women

Forget 33 percent, the women who were in the cabinet didn’t get to hold weighty portfolios. “Except for a few politicians, most elected female representatives have a limited or marginal role in important discussions within their political party or within the national decision-making processes, according to a recent study,Violence against Women in Politics, released by the Centre for Social Research (CSR) and supported by UN Women” says the Mint article.

Women are usually given cultural and social portfolios rather than economic or political ones. This is the same case in state level politics too. Will the new government do differently?


Padmalatha Ravi

Where are the women?

Switching on the television to follow election result coverage, I find myself searching for women panelists. Surfing channels at around 9 a.m., I saw:
  • One on NDTV in a panel of about six people;
  • One on CNN-IBN in a larger panel;
  • Two out of eight on Headlines Today;
  • None I can recall on News X,
  • And on Times Now, four very vocal women.

Where are the women? It is hard to imagine that in New Delhi or Mumbai, TV channels could not identify and invite enough women to have panels of parity. And were that to be the case, there would be no technological reason not to have people participate from elsewhere.

The lack of representation extends to other categories–class, caste, etc. but since this has been an election where we have pretended that gender matters, it is hard to ignore the absence of women on these panels.

And tomorrow, no doubt, on the op-ed pages of major newspapers.

How then, can we expect the media to be gender-sensitive on any other issue?
Swarna Rajagopalan