Women Empowerment and Political Representation

Beyond voting, there is a huge gap between men and women in political activities
Women Empowerment and Political Representation
"Women constitute half of the population, but face political discriminations irrespective of region, identity, and status."Pxfuel [Creative Commons]

The status of women is measured internationally by the participation of women in politics and their empowerment. Women remain seriously underrepresented in decision-making positions. It is argued that women need to be empowered in the realm of political decision making so as to facilitate their empowerment. Women constitute half of the population, but face political discriminations irrespective of region, identity, and status. The voting rights to women came first in New Zealand only after a great struggle in 1893, in Switzerland in 1971, in Saudi Arabia in 2011. Vatican City is yet to decide upon the voting rights of women, which speaks volumes about the issue itself.

The issue of political empowerment of women has attracted global attention. The United Nations (UN) adopted Convention on the Political Rights of Women in 1952. UN has organized four World Conferences on Women. Fourth was held in Beijing in 1995 and it declared that women’s equal participation in decision making is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women’s interests to be taken into account. It also affirmed that women should have at least a 30% share of decision making positions.

However, participation of women, in general, in politics and public life in India has been abysmally low. There is a huge gap between men and women in political activities beyond voting. Participation of women at the higher level is lower in comparison to their participation at the lower level of governance structure. In the domestic arena leadership and managerial skills of women are silently recognized however, they are not given space in the public arena. While other marginalized communities such as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes got reservations in the Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies, no reservation for women was given in the Constitution of India in the beginning which restricted their political empowerment.

A recent survey, commissioned by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj and executed by the Nielsen Company–ORG Marg under the guidance of an academic advisory committee, provides many new insights into Social and Political empowerment of women in the new Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). This is the largest-ever survey on any aspect of Panchayat functioning, covering Gram Panchayats in 23 states, with a total sample size of over 20,000, including Elected Women Representatives (EWRs), Elected Male Representatives (EMRs), ex-EWRs, official functionaries and members of the community. Nearly three-fourths of the EWRs in the sample belonged to the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and OBC categories, and were evenly divided above and below the poverty line.

The participation of common women citizens in various activities such as attending Gram Sabha meeting, etc. has reportedly increased (68-78 percent). However, issues related to the planning for rural development works and identification of BPL families were discussed mainly by the Male Pradhans and Ward Members. While 21 percent claimed to be self-motivated, about 22 percent said that their spouse had inspired them, which was higher in the case of women representatives (30 percent). Interestingly, members of community groups (such as Mahila Mandals, Self Help Groups, Youth Clubs, Cooperatives, etc.) seem to have played an important role, as 22 percent of elected representatives reported how they were motivated to take the plunge in electoral politics.

However, 8 percent of the elected representatives-mainly from West Bengal, Sikkim, Tripura and Kerala-also disclosed the role of political parties in motivating them. Husbands (30 percent) and other family members (12 percent) were reported as playing an important role in motivating women representatives to contest elections the first time.

Constitutional Provisions:

Article 15 (3) to the Constitution of India empowers State to make special provisions for women. This constitutional mandate is recognition of the fact that women in India need to be empowered socially and economically so as to ensure their full participation in social, economic and political activities of the country. However, to make use of potential of women and also to empower them, 73rd Amendment Act 1992 (73rd CAA) for the first time provided one-third reservations for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and thus ushered a new era of women’s participation in the local governance in India.

Although 73rd CAA provides for only 1/3rd reservation for women in PRIs, as many as 19 States (Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana) have raised reservation of seats and offices of chairpersons to women to 50%.4 Efforts are on to increase the reservation from 1/3rd to 1/2 all over India. There are approximately 13.45 lakh Elected Women Representatives (EWRs) in PRIs which constitute 46.14% of total Elected Representatives (ERs). The State-wise details are available at the website of Ministry of Panchayati Raj, GOI

According to the statistics on women participation in politics women participation in politics is gradually increasing but not drastically as we see women participation in politics from 1952 to 2014 in India. but still awareness should be created among women to participate in politics with courage.

India’s ranking in women’s participation in political empowerment by United Nations is ranked 148 out of 193 nation with only 11.48% women in Lower House of Parliament. The number of women heads of state government fell from 19 to 17 since 2015

In a nutshell, reservation for women in PRIs provided by 73rd CAA and subsequent increase in the quota by States have brought an unprecedented huge number of women in governance arena in India. Women’s political empowerment of such magnitude is among the best in the world. A quarter century has passed since the above mentioned Act came into force and in most of the States fourth or fifth generation of Panchayats are in place. Women leadership in Panchayats which started with a shaky beginning has definite signals of getting well established and recognised. However, EWRs have still not been able to realise their full potential as they face many challenges including patriarchy, inadequate capacities and self-confidence, rotation of terms etc.

Government of India and State governments are making sincere efforts to strengthen EWRs through various initiatives of capacity building, promoting network of EWRs, SHGs-PRI convergence etc. Much more is desired to be done to further strengthen the hands of EWRs in future. Among these are nationwide one third reservation for women in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies, 50% reservations in PRI's and ULB's, rotation of terms only after minimum two terms, removal of two child norms as it is prevalent in some states, educational criteria, timely induction and refresher trainings, exposure visits, mentoring and handholding of EWRs in PRIs. With various governmental and non-governmental initiatives, it is for sure that political empowerment of women would contribute their best in achieving national goals of Samriddha Bharat (prosperous India) and Sashakta Bharat (empowered India) and the seventeen global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to which India is committed.

To secure women’s rightful place in society and to enable them to decide their own destiny and for the growth of genuine and sustainable democracy, women’s participation in politics is essential. This will not only uplift their personality but will open the way for their social and economic empowerment. Their participation in public life will solve many problems of society.

Women’s participation in decision-making is essential for women’s interests to be incorporated into governance. It has been widely experienced that governance structures which do not provide for adequate participation of women, often suffer from state interventions which are neither inclusive nor democratic. Without equal participation of women to political process, the hope for democracy and democratization is nonsense. Thus, the democratic process is able to grow and develop effectively when all people are given equal encouragement to exercise their democratic rights, and when women can experience benefits equally with their counterparts.

Shabir Ahmed is a UPSC aspirant from Raiyar Doodhpathri & writes on current affairs.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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