Women And Politics
Women empowerment is a government slogan. Determined women are craving their own
niche in every field including those which were entirely male dominated till
1947. Despite all this they remain second class citizens in almost every sense
in rural areas across India. Crime against women continues to increase and
female foeticide is very common among educated women.
Women are made to account for themselves all the time. They are expected to
justify their actions. An explanation is demanded from an adult woman if she
stays out late while a young teenage boy who stays out all night is not
The story does not end here. In fact what underlines the inferior status
conferred upon woman is their status in the field of politics. Throughout the
world women face obstacles to their participation in politics. In 2005, the rate
of female representation was only 16% globally. The largest democracy in the
world, India elected its first woman president in its 60th year of independence.
This clearly reflects the position of women in Indian politics. The 1940's saw
active political participation by Indian women in the national struggle for
Recent reports in India indicate that many women politicians find it hard to
participate in an effective manner in politics, this point to a pressing need to
analyze the role that women play in Indian politics. Domestic responsibilities,
lack of financial clout, growing criminalization of politics and the threat of
character assassination have made it increasingly difficult for woman to be a
part of the political frame work. Moreover, women politicians point out that
even within the political parties, women are rarely found in leadership
positions. Women have different strategies to cope with these constraints. If
the family has accepted a woman's career in politics, she can negotiate with her
The majority of women in the Indian parliament are from the elite class. While
their public role challenges some stereotypes, their class position often allows
them a far greater range of options than are available to poorer women. Caste
has been an important feature of Indian society and political life. Most of the
women MPs in the tenth parliament were the members of the higher castes. It is
important to guard against the making an easy correlation between caste and
political representation. The influence of individual national leaders is also
an important factor that militates against the male equivalence theory. While
Indira Gandhi, for example, did little to promote women's representation in
politics, Rajiv Gandhi accepted the principle of reservation of seats for women.
He initiated measures that had a direct impact on the inclusion of women in
Second and more important, we could explore the strategies that women employ to
access the public sphere in the context of a patriarchal socio- political
system. These women have been successful in subverting the boundaries of gender
and in operating in a very aggressive male dominated sphere.
Could other women
learn from this example?
The problem here is, of course, precisely that these women are an elite. The
class from which most of these women come is perhaps the most important factor
in their successful inclusion into the political system. We can, however,
examine whether socio-political movements provide opportunities for women to
use certain strategies that might be able to subvert the gender hierarchy in
politics. Finally, we can explore the dynamics between institutional and grass
Women and the Indian political process
The crux of democracy lies with the people. Participation of the people grants
legitimacy to the government. Though women from a sizable part of India's
population, their political representation and the participation is definitely
below the mark.
Of late the Rajya Sabha took a historic decision. It passed the bill which
provides 33 per cent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state
assemblies. The bill seeks to reserve a third of the seats of the Lok Kk and
state assemblies for 15 years on a rational basis. It was first introduced in
1996, but it took 14 years for another version of it to be put to vote. The move
should have been through a long time back but nevertheless it is significant
that it has been accomplished.
This will go a long way in empowering women in
the decision making process. However, unruly scenes witnessed in the Rajya Sabha
created by some MPs when bill was moved and its present fate in the Lok Sabha,
whatever may be the reason, clearly indicate the fault lines when it comes to
empowering women in patriarchal society. It is indeed ironical that we want to
be called progressive but when it comes to the question of bestowing power to
women we not only hesitate but also try to postpone the process.
We are not trying to rewrite gender history through this constitutional
amendment so many years after independence, we are merely accepting the
existence of one-half of the Indian population. But before we start
appreciating that is a great step forward, it is imperative to understand the
ground reality that the bill is still to be passed in the Lok Sabha. Then it
must be sent to 28 state assemblies and at least half of them have to endorse
it. This has to be followed by the president's assent to the bill to become an
act. At present owing to the numbers factor in the Lok Sabha, the government
doesn't seem to be in a position to move on the women's reservation bill.
Indian constitution guarantees equal rights to all but positive conditions have
to be created for women to enjoy these rights. Women have been given political
rights without accompanying powers to exercise these rights. Economic and
political powers go hand in hand. To make inroads into male dominated
institutions, they need equal level playfield with men as they are financially
disadvantaged and do not have access to economic resources.
First, the issue of
women's political participation and empowerment cannot be confined to mere
political rights. Education, social awareness and economic power are its
important and basic components. Even today women empowerment remains a distant
dream. It has been repeatedly seen that only few women make it to the point of
political power. They are usually well to do people. Second, either they are the
daughters or wives of politicians.
With the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments, India moved towards a big
change in our institutional frame work of governance. With 33 per cent
reservation for women at the local level, that is, panchayaths and
municipalities, it was a new beginning for women's empowerment. A new step,
however small has been taken. Reservations in the panchayaths have shown that
women not only stand for office and come to power but make positive use of it.
Through their participation in politics, women are making use of power and
resources to bring about necessary changes. Water scarcity and education are two
of the important issues that have been dealt with by women. Potable water
through common tap has been brought in several villages.
In 2008, the ministry
of panchaythi raj commissioned a detailed, quantitative and qualitative, country
wide study of elected representatives in panchayaths, where one third of seats
in PRIs are reserved for women. The study showed that reservation was the
biggest reason of seats in panchayaths leading to more women in governing
positions is worth emulating. In this context, the passage of the reservation
bill through the Rajya Sabha is indeed path breaking.
The Way Forward.
The biggest embodiment of the widespread resistance against greater female
participation in political processes is the consistent opposition to women's
reservation bills which have been introduced and failed to pass in 1996, and
again in 1998, 1999 and 2002. As India gears up for the world's largest election
process, one cannot help but think of some of the unfulfilled promises made when
a young India emerged amongst the preeminent democracies of the world.
years since the enactment of our Constitution, the solemn vow in its Preamble to
secure political justice and equality of opportunity remains only partially
fulfilled. Women's position in electoral politics and governance stays far below
representative levels, and policymaking and governance has long been the fiefdom
of men, with few women managing to get past a rigid glass ceiling to enter
The entry of women into politics has historically been met with dogged
opposition across the world right from the earliest suffragettes in England
who faced police brutality and sexual assault for daring to demand the right to
vote, to modern elections where female candidates are attacked overtly and
covertly on gender issues.
While there have been many significant victories for
women's participation in politics in the intervening years, they are still met
with skepticism, ridicule and objectification when stepping into the political
fray. These are manifestations of an insecure patriarchy, jolted by the notion
of women taking their place as leaders and decision-makers, representing their
issues and interests instead of depending on men in power to do so.
Certain laws and policies, however, have given a boost to the representation of
women in Indian politics. On 24 April 1993, the Constitutional (73rd Amendment)
Act 1992 was passed, adding Part IX to the Constitution, giving constitutional
recognition to Panchayathi Raj Institutions (PRIs). A new Article 243 D reserved
a third of all PRI seats and the same proportion of offices of Chairperson for
women, ushering in an era of female political representation across India's
villages. In subsequent years, a number of states including Andhra Pradesh,
Bihar, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra and Tripura increased this reservation to
50%, and also provided for a similar reservation in Urban Local Bodies (ULBs).
Another challenge is the question of funding any pragmatic observer will admit
that fighting an election is an expensive proposition. Given the low financial
power of women in society on an average as compared with men, this becomes an
additional hurdle, with most female candidates dipping into their personal or
family coffers to fight this uphill battle, or relying on monetary help from
With all these challenges in mind, what could be a way forward? The passage of
the Women's Reservation Bill would be an important step, allowing greater
participation in the highest level of India's politics. Here, it is important to
underline and differentiate the Indian perspective on quotas from that of the
For the dedicated campaigner for equal rights, it is important to remember that
the struggle for empowerment is a long one. While the number of women
candidates, as well as elected members, has steadily risen, growing from 326
candidates and 37 victors in 1991 to 668 candidates and 62 victors in 2014, this
still counts for only 11.8% of total seats in the Lok Sabha. Far from the 50%
target set by the UN's Sustainable Development Goal on Gender Equality, this is
half of the 23.5% global average, signaling the need for continued and dedicated
action on this front.
This should be a non-partisan issue, with all political
parties uniting and supporting policy changes that make politics more
representative. The promise of equality is a beautiful one, and one worth
continuing to strive for in the face of daunting odds. In the inimitable words
of the late Maya Angelou, 'We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Juny Varghese
Authentication No: OT127982380848-06-1021