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?

 

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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

 

Women MLAs – where are they?

By Manasi Kumar

We take elections very seriously in India – after all as the largest democracy in the world who sets world records with them, nobody really does them better than us. And, given the context of the conversations around gender today, it is also important to remember that we as country gave universal suffrage right from the time we became a Republic – a feat that has escaped many first world countries too. However what we have steadfastly failed in doing is elect the women to these places of political power. Our discourse on gender empowerment has largely stopped with voting rights for women and not extended to actual policy making roles. Why does this happen? Is it a lack of winnability because of electoral apathy or non-acceptance under a patriarchal political system that still worries about having women in places of power? Or is it a combination of both that has ensured that our voices have drowned in a crowd?

Lets look at the state of Karnataka which goes to polls in a little more the three months. The numbers throw up an interesting picture – of the 163 women who have been elected to the State Assembly from 1952, the number from 1978 to 2013 is just 55! So historically we elected more women till the 70s than we have in the recent times! 

Read more: http://bengaluru.citizenmatters.in/women-mlas-karnataka-bangalore-analysis-23102