Women in politics

Women power?

Print edition : September 04, 2015

Participants of a dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi demanding the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill that envisages 33 per cent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and in all State Legislative Assemblies. Photo: Monica Tiwari

Women continue to be grossly under-represented in Parliament and the State Assemblies and even at the candidate level, underscoring the need for reservation for them in the legislature.

FOR nearly two decades, the issue of women’s reservation in State Assemblies and Parliament has been marred by controversy. The Bill seeking to reserve a third of the seats in the legislature has been introduced and allowed to lapse several times. Although women's representation has steadily increased over the past seven decades since Independence, the state of affairs in Parliament and State Assemblies is far from encouraging and clearly points to the need for reservation of seats for women in the legislature.

Data from the Election Commission of India on the general election to the 16th Lok Sabha in 2014 and the Assembly elections present a dismal picture. Out of the 543 members of the 16th Lok Sabha, only 66 are women—a paltry 12.16 per cent, considering the fact that women make up half of the country's population. Also distressing is the fact that only 668 women contested for the 543 seats, of whom 206 contested as independent candidates (all of whom lost). The statistics are telling. Major and minor political parties are still very parsimonious in nominating women as their candidates in parliamentary elections.

Shockingly, there were no women members of Parliament (MPs) from two major States, Haryana and Jharkhand, smaller States such as Goa and Himachal Pradesh, and several north-eastern States, apart from a few Union Territories.

West Bengal topped the list in terms of percentage of women among MPs, having sent 13 women to the Lok Sabha, 30 per cent of the total number of MPs from the State.

Other States that ranked relatively high included Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh, with women accounting for at least 15 per cent of each of the State's MPs. West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh also had the highest number of women MPs.

The situation is dire in the State Assemblies too. Out of a total of 4,120 elected members of legislative assemblies (MLAs) across 28 States, the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Puducherry Union Territory (which constitute the electoral college that elects the President), only 359 are women, accounting for a mere 8.71 per cent. Only nine States had the percentage of women MLAs in double digits. Surprisingly, Haryana had the highest percentage of women MLAs, closely followed by Rajasthan, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, States that have traditionally scored low on various development indices, especially those relating to women's development.

The Uttar Pradesh Assembly had the highest number of women MLAs, at 35, closely followed by West Bengal and Bihar with 34 each.

A look at the ratio of male to female contestants in State Assembly elections shows how the odds are stacked against women even at the candidate level. Most States had at least 10 male candidates for every female candidate, with the ratio rising above 15 in several key States.