‘Performing Representation — Women Members in the Indian Parliament’ review: Gender disparity

The long, chequered history of the Bill to increase the representation of women in all legislatures to 33 per cent, introduced as far back as September 12, 1996, in the Indian Parliament stands testimony to the fact that it continues to be a “deeply gendered” institution.

Today, 71 years after Independence, women in the world’s most populous democracy constitute just 11.93 per cent of the Lok Sabha, the lower house, whereas the world average in September 2017 was just under 23%.

Making a strong case for increasing the representation of women MPs in their timely, new book, Performing Representation: Women Members in the Indian Parliament, Shirin M. Rai and Carole Spary provide the first comprehensive analysis of women’s representation in Parliament, and their place and performance within the institution.

They also reveal a startling fact: using data from 1957 onwards, it will take another 11 Lok Sabhas, each of five-year tenure, for one third of MPs in Parliament to be women.

The core of the book offers insights into women who have successfully become MPs, by scrutinising electoral data, news reports and their fascinating life stories, overcoming multiple challenges not only on their way to success, but thereafter in their parliamentary lives.

It explores how they operate in a Parliament, a political economy and party system, all of which continue to be deeply patriarchal.

The book makes a plea to see parliamentary politics for what it is — that while women MPs participate in the deliberations, law-making ceremonies and rituals of Parliament, that in doing so, “they reproduce dominant forms of gendered power relations while at the same time challenge them.”

This, the authors stress, does not lead to “a utopian framing of women MPs, either as challenging dominant politics or simply as docile actors in a gendered institution”. It however reaffirms their analysis that “we need more women (critical mass) and more feminist women in Parliament (“collective critical actors of a different kind”).

If India is to become a more equitable and safe society, the number of women law-makers must increase to ensure the transformation needed in what continues to be a patriarchal — often misogynist — society.

This book, that is widely acknowledged as breaking fresh ground in scholarship on gender and politics, is, therefore, a must read for everyone, but especially for Indian Parliament’s male MPs.

Performing Representation: Women Members in the Indian Parliament; Shirin M. Rai & Carole Spary, Oxford University Press, ₹995.

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Printable version | Mar 9, 2021 4:39:33 PM |

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