In the 16th General Elections, the percentage of women voters increased by 10, with about 65.63 % of them exercising their right to suffrage. In nine states/union territories, it was reported that there were more women than men who appeared in polling stations to vote. On the other hand, 62 women were able to enter Lok Sabha (Lower House), which is about 11% of the seats. This is the highest number of women in the history of India’s Parliament to have earned seats; however, the increase is not as significant as it seems. This shows that the increase of women’s participation as voters did not level with the women’s representation in Parliament
Women continuously experience challenges in the political arena, especially with the patriarchal environment of India. Such factors affecting women’s participation include class, religion, caste, education and even marital status. They are also viewed as “protectors of national value” and “guardians of the family,” to which they are expected to conform, even if it compromises their rights, including their political rights.
Despite this, aspiring women leaders continue to rise. They seek to become part of local government institutions and hold positive outlook towards their role as representatives. They are driven by personal interests and the commitment towards community and development. Although some are also driven by the family to run for a position, it shows that the community is among the strong drivers for women to enter politics. Some even aim to re-contest; some even aiming for a higher position. Yet, in office, attitudes toward gender remains a concern, particularly the biases against women.
Actions have been taken in support of women’s growing participation in the political arena. Included is the drafting of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which proposes 33% reservation of seats for female leaders in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for 15 years. It has already been passed in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) but awaits its passing in the Lok Sabha. It will help empower women and increase their political participation. Opposition argues, however, that in return, it may bring about a marginalization of men by elitist women and of socially and economically backward classes. The present quota system in use proves to be a fast and effective measure of ensuring women’s representation but electoral and parliamentary reforms are crucial steps to further women’s active participation.
The political parties also play an important role in guaranteeing women’s representation, especially by drafting laws that favor women, including women’s concerns in their manifesto and campaigns, endorsing female candidates and ensuring not to give tickets to candidates charged with gender-biased violence or who remarked with gender discrimination. However, it has been reported that political parties only include women candidates to use her potential of attracting voters. This lead to an under-representation of women in the Lok Sabha who are truly willing to take risks in making the political arena, particularly policy-making, an environment of equity.
The Pre-Election Voter Awareness Campaign (PEVAC) is also among those steps taken to promote women political participation. Among its activities are building community cadres for campaign, creation of vigilance groups in the community level to check election related discrepancies, environment-building through posters/leaflets, rallies and information vans; nomination help camps, public hearings and manifesto declaration by candidates, posting messages in polling stations pertaining to free and fair elections, facilitation by community cadres of the voting process for women in polling stations.
International Center for Research on Women. (2012). Opportunities and Challenges of Women’s Political Participation in India. New Delhi: UN Women.
Kendra, S. S. (n.d.). Challenges faced by Women in the Electoral Process. Lucknow.
Philipose, P. (2014). Women and Politics: Trends from the 16th General Election. New Delhi: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES).
Rathod, A. (2014). Women’s Political Participation and Representation in India. New Delhi: Delhi Policy Group.
PPT : Challenges faced by Women in Electoral Process (Sahbhagi Shikshan Kendra)
PPT : Challenges in Women’s Participation : Haryana Experience (Shrikant Walgad)
PPT : Challenges in Women’s Participation in Bihar (Ajay Nayak: 2013)
PDF : Women’s Political Participation and Representation in India- Delhi Policy Group (2014)
PDF : Electoral Participation of Women in India: Key Determinants and Barriers (Economic & Political Weekly: 2011)
PDF : Opportunities and Challenges of Women’s Political Participation in India- ICRW (2012)
PDF : Political Participation and Women in India
PDF : Why some Women are Politically Active: The Household, Public Space, and Political Participation in India- Pradeep Chhibber
Link : Where are the women? Seen, but rarely heard (Election Watch India: Apr 7, 2014)
Link : Quota Project: quota for woman representatives in House of the People and at sub-national level