THE LATENT ELEMENT OF INDIAN ELECTIONS: WOMEN
Someone’s privilege may be another person’s hard-earned right.
After more than 7 decades of independence, India remains colonised by a ghost of gender inequality which continues to haunt the credibility of Indian electoral politics, by constantly questioning its inclusivity. Although we proudly acclaim the adoption of Universal Franchise at the time of Independence, it cannot be ignored that participation of females in politics declined after Independence. The political participation of women remained circumscribed by social norms, because of which their political involvement and electoral participation were influenced by ‘familial connections’ rather than by their own interest in active participation in politics.
After years of struggle when citizens of India wrote their constitution, we have been acting oblivious to the elephant in the room: under-representation of women as political leaders.
Out of total Members in the Lower house of Parliament, less than 15% are women, which is much lower than the envisioned representation of 33%.
Issues in reaching the target can be owed to the political-will of parties. Besides that, there are various other factors that hinder women candidates from fighting in the political arena:-
1. Ideological factors: Political parties might hold a misconception about the winnability of women candidates: However, it has been observed that people do not vote merely on the basis of the candidates who stood up, but due to the satisfactory work-record, or a convincing manifesto of the party. Besides, it is noteworthy that, statistically, women have a larger percentage of wins than their male counterparts in general elections. Political parties also hold unfavourable ideologies against nominating women candidates. This may be to avoid changing the male-dominant structure of the parties.
2. Political factors: It is to be noted that even a third of the total election tickets of a party are not given to women, due to which they face a state of stagnation at entry-level itself. It is also because of this issue, that women candidates do not get the requisite political and financial support for election campaigning.
3. Historical factors: Women form almost half of the Indian population, and yet more male, than female candidates stand up for elections. It is known that women have been through systemic discrimination and oppression (which is prevalent even today), such incidents are known to have serious repurcussions. This factor has led women to nurture feelings of ‘self-doubt’ in performing roles of leadership, due to which the full potential of candidacy of women in elections, can yet not be gauged.
The continuing hindrances in expanding women’s role in electoral politics- highlight the lack of active steps taken by political leaders, for their better representation. The laxity in addressing the issues hint at an active tolerance of many social barriers subduing women’s representation in the legislature. Political leaders and citizens together can fight this toxic tolerance through constructive changes in legislations and ideologies.
WOMEN VOTERS AND ELECTORAL POLITICS
Women are a popular target group of political parties, when it comes to campaigning for elections and there are different approaches with which parties address this section of the voters. Some of these approaches have managed to muster a lot of criticism too. Some political leaders, while addressing women for campaigning purposes, make a mistake of becoming monomaniacs upon ‘women’s safety’, overlooking so many other issues that equally concern these women. Such an ideology ignores the fact that the female voters are an equal counterpart, that also cares about job creation, electricity or water supply, infrastructure, education, etc.
Women care about Beti Bachao Aandolan as much as they care about corruption free india.
The Ujjwala scheme concerns them, as much as the subjects of MSMEs or digital connectivity.
It is important for electoral candidates to make sure that- if gender does come into discussion, it must not seem as a dominant attribute while addressing the women populace. Because their issues are not circumscribed within the bounds of their gender.
Critical analysis of gender-specific campaigning:-
There exists criticism of studying women’s role in politics as a separate issue. The critics note that because of such narrow notions, elections end up pivoting around topics like gender, caste, faith etc., thereby promoting ‘identity politics’. They argue that- any women-centric campaigning will jeopardize the credibility of election campaigning, because of its identity-biased approach. Instead, identity-neutral or gender-neutral promises shall be preferred.
In support of their arguments, the critics note that while addressing the female voters, political contenders unintentionally instate gender bias in the population as well as in their own ideologies.
This may have resulted from unnecessary feminising or masculinising of gender neutral subjects like domestic work, urban/rural safety, etc.
Women’s security is not seen in action, as much as it is seen being guaranteed every few years. Yet it remains the only focus of many candidates when it comes to addressing the gender. Even if matters have to be gender-centric, issues like gender equality in job opportunities, menstrual health are rarely taken up during campaigning. Implementation of some of the Directive Principles of State Policy like relief during maternity period, or topics like equal pay for equal work, are not as much discussed during these elections. The reasons for such a selective approach of campaigners cannot be established in a strict sense.
The other side of the argument of a gender-based approach during elections, justifies the need for such an approach. The proponents of such a method argue that in India, identity politics in case of gender (atleast), can be said to be a necessary evil. It is argued that how much ever its need is denied, this type of politics is needed by the population.
In support of the argument, it is said that this approach focuses on issues that may not be addressed well, in the absence of such a campaign.
For instance, during campaigning of Bihar elections, a free cycle programme for schoolgirls was launched by Nitish Kumar. Other initiatives include a 50% quota for women in panchayat and municipal bodies. In his second term, he introduced a financial assistance scheme for Class XII girl students and 50% reservation for women in government jobs.
Hence, it shall not be forgotten that, it was because of this type of campaigning that the turnout of female voters has been 59.7% compared to 54.6% of male voters in the Bihar 2020 assembly elections, and the trend of higher women voter turnout has been witnessed in the state for more than a decade.
A high voter turn-out is just the first win for democracy. The following wins will depend upon the positive implementation of the promises that these voters relied on. It is also noteworthy that the votes of these women will be consistent only on the pretext of a satisfactory performance of these parties in governance.
Finally, the proponents of the method conclude that just because of a negative tag on ‘identity politics’, electoral contenders shall not hesitate from applying it and making a constructive use of it in formulating developmental policies.
The number of women MPs elected in Lok Sabha were the highest ever in number, as compared to the previous years of Indian democracy. But the question is, should we proudly acclaim, that after 72 years of independence, the highest India could reach is – 78 women Members of Parliament in Lok Sabha?
It is high time we realised that women candidates need political support to rise, and that may not happen without an overt recognition of the situation, by the existing political leaders. It is time that India stopped passively promoting gender inequality, by ignoring the obvious social barriers that restrain women from empowering as political leaders.
Lastly, with larger women voter turn-out, India shall celebrate a larger representation of population, and not that of a gender. India shall continue to strengthen its electoral process through conducting awareness programmes among people about their rights and privileges.