When the results to the Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly elections came out two weeks ago, the northern State had produced twice the proportion of women legislators as its western counterpart.
This isn’t an exception; States with poor records on gender equality are consistently producing more female MLAs.
Using Election Commission of India data, The Hindu found that as of today, Bihar, Haryana and Rajasthan have the highest proportion of women MLAs in the country (14 per cent) while Nagaland, Mizoram and Karnakata bring up the bottom (2 per cent and below). Using 50 years of State elections data until 2012, economists Mudit Kapoor and Shamika Ravi of the Indian School of Business found that women were far more likely to contest elections from constituencies with a sex ratio skewed against women, most of which were in the northern States. While fewer women contested elections in the southern and western States, however, they were more likely to win, they found.
Professors Kapoor and Ravi hypothesise that the greater propensity of women to contest from the northern States is a result of the skewed sex ratio: “[I]n places where the gender ratio is in favour of women, they do not have to incur the high cost of contesting an election to achieve their preferred policy outcomes. They achieve this through the simple act of voting…[I]n constituencies, where the gender ratio is unfavourable to women, woman candidates incur the costly strategy of contesting elections, not always with the objective of winning but to prevent those candidates whose policy preferences are farthest from their interest,” they wrote.
Another explanation sometimes put forward is that women politicians often tend to be “proxies” of male politicians who might be their relatives, and that this trend is likely to be stronger in the north.
Between Maharashtra and Haryana, however, the western State had a higher proportion of women MLAs who come from political families (55 per cent) than the northern State (38 per cent), The Hindu found.
In general, women politicians are more likely to come from political families. In its analysis of newly elected members of the 16th Lok Sabha, The Hindu found that women MPs were twice as likely to come from a political family as male MPs. Moreover, those female MPs who are “placeholders” – those who get ticket because of the inability of their husband or other male relative to contest that particular election – have worse parliamentary participation than other female MPs, Suraj Jacob, a political economist at the Azim Premji University, found.