Despite women voting in record numbers, Parliament didn’t enact the Women’s Reservation Bill that promised to keep aside a third of seats in assemblies and Lok Sabha for them
Elections to five state legislative assemblies are underway, popularly perceieved as semi-finals to the upcoming General Elections in April-May 2019. Like in the last few elections, these polls are witnessing record voting by women.
In the just-concluded elections to the state assemblies of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram, women outnumbered men in voting at a significant number of constituencies.
In 24 of of Chhattisgarh's 90 assembly seats women voted more than men. In Madhya Pradesh’s 230 seats, women's voting rate was higher in 51 constituencies. In 24, their voting was over 80 per cent. In Mizoram, there are anyway 19,399 more women voters than men.
But 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.
To put it in perspective, in 56 years, India’s Lok Sabha has not been able to double its tally of elected women representatives. In 1962, Lok Sabha had 6 per cent women member of parliaments. In 2014, it was just 11 per cent.
Meanwhile, a bill mandating 33 per cent reservation for women in state assemblies and Parliament lapsed in Parliament. A soon-to-be-published book 'Performing Representation, Women Members in the Indian Parliament' has estimated when the Lok Sabha would have this promised proportion of women members of Parliament based on the representation in 15 elections since 1957. And it is startling.
It will take 55 years, or 11 general elections each with a tenure of five years, to have one-third women representatives in the lower house of the Indian Parliament. The estimate by the book’s authors Shirin M Rai, professor, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, and Carole Spary, assistant professor, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham, is based on the trend of a 10 per cent increase in women's representation in the Lok Sabha in each election.
"In another 11 general elections in India, women’s presence will still be just under today’s current world average of 23 per cent (as in September 2017)," according to the book.
Reservation for women in legislative assemblies and the Lok Sabha has been a contentious issue. On the other hand, in India’s local government systems like the village panchayats there is already reservation of up to 50 per cent for women. There are close to 6 lakh women panchayat members in India.
While experts believe that growing women's representation at local-level governments have fuelled the increase in women's voting share in elections, political parties have not been proactive in fielding candidates.
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