A bill to provide reservation for women in parliament and legislative assemblies has been pending for over two decades. Almost all political parties commit themselves to a quota for women in their manifestos before the elections but conveniently forget about the commitment after the elections.
Congress party did take a good initiative in the previous Uttar Pradesh assembly elections by implementing a quota of 40 per cent in tickets distribution to women but it did not do so in the other four states which went to polls earlier this year. It was a good initiative but was not taken further even in the recent elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
Other major political parties keep talking of giving more reservations for women, who constitute nearly half of the electorate, but back away while distributing tickets. The role of women generally begins and ends as voters.
Consequently all parties offer concessions and freebies aimed at wooing female voters. These include monthly cash payout to women, free two wheelers, laptops, mobiles and other such incentives.
A total of 139 women candidates from different political parties and independents were in the fray this time in Gujarat out of which only 40 were from recognised political parties. Only 15 emerged victorious out of which 14 were from the BJP and one from the Congress.
Similarly in Himachal Pradesh only 24 women candidates were in the fray for the 68 seats and only one emerged winner.
Reena Kashyap from the BJP would be the lone female member of the new Himachal Pradesh assembly. She defeated Dayal Pyari of the Congress. BJP had fielded six candidates (8 per cent) women, the Congress had fielded only three (4 per cent) women.
Interestingly women outnumbered men in voting by over 4.5 per cent and played a major role in the final outcome of the elections.
While the Congress had promised a monthly stipend of Rs 1500 for women, BJP had gone a step ahead by releasing a separate manifesto for women promising 33 per cent reservation in jobs and educational institutions, Rs 25,000 grant for pregnant women, bicycles for school girls and scooters for those pursuing higher studies.
The representation to women across the states and parliament is not even 15 per cent. The current Lok Sabha has just 14.94 per cent women while Rajya Sabha has 14.05 per cent women.
Among the states the highest representation to women is in Chattisgarh where 14.44 per cent legislators are women.
There are eight states where the population of women is more than that of men but their representation in assemblies is merely five to eight per cent. In fact in some of the states like Mizoram and Nagaland there is no female legislator.
While the long pending bill for reservation for women in Parliament and legislative assemblies would help in increasing representation for women, it is the political parties which must frame internal policies to encourage more women to contest elections.
Several countries including Iceland, Norway, Netherlands – countries known for gender equality, and with high shares of women in their parliaments – have ensured high representation. This is because political parties have internal policies to ensure representation of women at the candidate level and not because the law reserves seats for women.
A better representation of women in parliament and legislative bodies would have a cascading effect and would help boost contribution of the gender to the national growth and development. They would bring more discipline and efficiency and help improve the levels of debate.
Women are doing extremely well in various spheres including the corporate world, banking and finance, science and engineering, education and sports. Many have done very well in politics too but the gross inadequate representation in elected bodies remains disappointing. It’s high time either the bill is passed on political parties take internal calls to give a minimum representation to women.
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