Women are less involved when it comes to participation in campaigns and contacts with public officials.
Despite the world celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8, the United Nation’s celebrating upcoming Generation Equality forum in June 2021. (The Generation Equality Forum is a high-level international conference organized by UN Women, co-hosted by France and Mexico, in partnership with civil society. The Generation Equality Forum celebrates 25 years). However, in India is seen to be climbing the ladder downwards in political leadership remains an inequitable enterprise.
Indian women’s presence in Indian Polity
Indian elections saw increase in representation of women.
- Globally, India ranks 122 out of 153 countries when it comes to women’s representation in parliament, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020.
- At the national-level, while the 2019 Lok Sabha elections saw an increase in representation of women representatives, only 14% of the Members of Parliament (MPs) in India are women.
- At the state-level, women make up only 9% of the elected candidates of state legislative assemblies.
- Women’s representation in panchayats in India, on the other hand, is relatively better, thanks to the reservations brought in by the 73rd constitutional amendment that ensure one-third of leadership positions for women.
However, this increased representation masks the barriers that women face in getting elected or while in office.
Why women lag behind?
Women candidates in India differ from their male counterparts in a number of ways:
- Women candidates are more likely to come from political or wealthy families.
- A frequent path to panchayat leadership for women is belonging to political families where men are unable to serve due to a reserved seat.
- This pattern is also reflected at the national level, for example, 42% of women MPs come from political families compared to 15% of male MPs.
- This could be because campaign expenses required to run office tend to favour more well-off families as political families ensure greater resources.
- Women candidates are also assumed to have an added sense of electability, identity promotion and awareness of benefits when their family members are popularly known.
- Women candidates, unlike male candidates, are much more likely to run in SC/ST reserved seats than general seats.
- At the panchayat level, reservations for women can unintentionally make it difficult for women to contest general seats, which have come to be seen as seats for men.
- Political aspirations are notably different between men and women.
- Studies also reveal a “backlash effect” in states with higher gender bias, where the election of women leads less women to run in future cycles.
- Much of the absence of women in political leadership stems from gender gaps in overall political participation.
- Women candidates also have less education and experience, on average, compared to male candidates.
- Some research has shown that people can be less satisfied with women leaders even though they are shown to produce equal or greater results. Different societal expectations from political leaders of different genders and people feel that women would not be able to fulfil the electorates expectations.
While female voter turnout has even surpassed men’s in some states, women’s political involvement in non-electoral activities lags behind.
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How women’s leadership can improve the situation?
- The gender gap in the society will reduce.
- Evidence shows that having women leaders leads to improved provision of public goods and greater addressable of women’s issues, such as in health and education.
- There is also consensus that local-level reservations have increased bargaining power and improved the situation of women overall in India.
- Improving political participation — women have been shown to speak up more in village meetings when the panchayat head is a woman.
- We have seen the results aligned with the larger discourse on women leadership, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Recent research shows that countries with governments headed by women have arguably managed the pandemic better. In the United States too, research suggests that states with women governors had fewer Covid-19-related deaths.
Yet, despite yielding improved outcomes, a recent study suggests that women are being left out of decision making at all levels of Covid-19 response structures. An often-ignored quality of women leaders, which may also explain their more empathetic Covid-19 response, is their “soft skills”. Women tend to outperform men in areas such as coaching, teaching and building trusting relationships.
International opinion survey
It is not as though India is not ready for gender equality. In a recent international opinion survey, a large majority (76%) of respondents in India think the government “should do more” to promote gender equality. Interestingly, 49% of respondents want the government to “reform laws to promote equality between women and men and end discrimination against women”.
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Perhaps it is time that longstanding promises from political parties to pass the decades-in-waiting Women’s Reservation Bill be met. The idea may be radical, but if evidence on India’s reservation system for women in local panchayats is considered, then it may require affirmative action to give women the space they deserve in Indian policymaking.
4th March 2021 | UPSC GS Paper-II | Editorial | Indian Polity | This article is based on “The missing women leaders”