Women still Missing from India's Politics

Despite a more than decade long campaign to get more women's representation in India's legislative bodies, including parliament, women are still missing from politics as patriarchal attitudes create doubts in their own minds as well as in society over their capability to be good leaders, activists and researchers say.

In her yet-to-be-released book, "Reign She Will: Women's Strife for Political Space", activist Ranjana Kumari says the successful implementation of the women's reservation bill will ensure that women get an equal share in politics and, in turn, in society.

"When looking at India, there are many causal factors for the lack of presence of women in Indian politics: some subtle and others readily apparent. Closely observing politics in India will help us understand further why it is that women are missing from politics," the book said.

"Traditional patriarchal attitudes regard women as physically, intellectually and socially inferior to men. As a result, women in India face many social restrictions as well as a plethora of expectations and assumptions," it said.

Kumari said the disparity between men and women starts right from childhood.

"Inequality starts at childhood and shapes the future of society and a woman's place within it. Due to these inequalities, men in society do not view women as valuable components of decision-making structures and, as a consequence, women are forced to subscribe to the very same view," she stresses.

"Beyond the immediate family, there are extended family members, neighbours and entire communities to confront, all of whom have some kind of stereotype or preconception of what a woman's role should be and decide what is and what is not acceptable," the book said.

Kumari also said as a girl child's education is not given preference over a male child's, a woman's growth in politics gets hindered. She points out that political parties are reluctant to support a woman against a male candidate.

Of the larger states in India (having more than 20 seats in the Lok Sabha), Madhya Pradesh has the highest percentage of women MPs (21 percent), followed by West Bengal (17 percent) and Uttar Pradesh (15 percent).

In the state assemblies too, women's representation is poor. According to PRS Legislative Research, a research body that seeks to strengthen the legislative process by making it better informed, more transparent and participatory, Karnataka and Meghalaya have only two percent women legislators. 

They are followed by Maharashtra (four), Tripura (five), Bihar (10), Haryana (10), Chattisgarh (11), West Bengal (13) and Rajasthan (14), according to figures applicable till March 2010.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Brinda Karat said: "I believe that there are many more women in politics, but the large number is not reflected either in party hierarchy, elected representatives or decision making bodies. 

"This gap is a poor reflection on India's democracy because it is not the question of bringing women in politics as a policy but not bringing them in politics is discrimination." 

Kumari's book says in India, the largest democracy, women make up 10 percent of parliament. India has prominent women leaders in President Pratibha Patil, United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj. 

Citing the ratio in other countries, Kumari said in Britain, women's presence in parliament is 17.12 percent, while in the US Senate, it is 13.6 percent. She said women's representation in the Nordic countries is the highest.

"Tangible steps for the future centre around the affirmative actions such as the women's reservation bill in India and their successful implementation," said the book, being brought out by Har-Anand Publications and is priced at Rs.595.

"Women should, and will, have an equal share in politics: they cannot continue to be subjugated, disrespected and ignored."

The bill, which was first introduced as the Constitution (81st Amendment) Bill Sep 12, 1996, is expected to be considered by the Lok Sabha in the current budget session. It is now called the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill 2010. It seeks to reserve for women one-third the seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. 

"What is advocated here is not female hegemony, but a democracy that is truly egalitarian where both men and women are equal partners in moulding our nation," concludes Kumari.  


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