Speaking to women students at Sacred Heart University in Tokyo on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared with a hint of pride that a quarter of India’s Cabinet Ministers are women. While that is indeed true, the prevailing reality is a lot less rosy.
India has one of the lowest percentages of women parliamentarians among South Asian democracies. India’s 11 per cent representation is lower that those of Bangladesh (19.8 per cent), Nepal (29.9 per cent) and Pakistan (20.7 per cent).
Even in the Cabinet, a majority of portfolios have never been held by a woman. In his speech, Mr. Modi likened the portfolios in a Ministry to the Hindu pantheon and said: “Education is with goddess Saraswati, money with Lakshmi, security with Mahakali and food security with goddess Annapurna.”
Since Independence, India has never had a woman Finance Minister — in control of the nation’s money. Neither has there been a woman Defence or Home Minister.
Those three portfolios have been held by 82 ministers (excluding intervals when the Prime Minister held additional charge). All of them were men.
Current External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is the only woman among the 27 Foreign Ministers who have represented India till now. And Smriti Irani is only the second woman to be at the helm of the Education Ministry.