National

All the President's women: Lowdown on female MPs

The lack of impetus to the cause of equal representation is captured by the lackadaisical attitude with which the the Women's Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, was allowed to lapse.

The lack of impetus to the cause of equal representation is captured by the lackadaisical attitude with which the the Women's Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, was allowed to lapse.   | Photo Credit: V.V. Krishnan

Presidents of the Republic have overseen investiture ceremonies where women have been cumulatively administered oath of office over 600 times.

In the summer of 2014, Narendra Modi, on making his bow in Parliament – fresh from a windfall electoral victory – cupped his hands, and lowered his head in obeisance to the temple of democracy. The monument celebrating the right to self-determination has been a male bastion ever since the first Lok Sabha was constituted in 1952, with women being represented only in sparse pockets within the ranks of the treasury benches.

The latest cabinet reshuffle, possibly the last, before the 2019 general elections, saw Nirmala Sitharaman create history by becoming the first woman minister to be allotted the Defence portfolio on a full-time basis. President Ram Nath Kovind administered the oath to the newly sworn-in ministers on Sunday, at an event in which Smriti Irani took charge of the Information and Broadcasting ministry, taking the count of women in the cabinet of ministers to six.

Sushma Swaraj (Minister of External Affairs) , Uma Bharti (Minister for Drinking Water & Sanitation) , Maneka Gandhi (Minister for Women & Child Development) , and Harsimrat Kaur Badal (Minister of Food Processing Industries) round off the rest of the female contingent who find a place at the Prime Minister’s high table. This takes the representation of women in the upper echelons of power to 22.23% of the 27-member cabinet.

Over the years following independence, in the fulfilment of their duties, Presidents have attended a multitude of investiture ceremonies where the course was charted for a fledgling democracy whose protagonists were awakening to the late joys of universal suffrage. Presidents of the Republic have overseen investiture ceremonies where women have been cumulatively administered oath of office over 600 times, but in relative terms, the number of female representatives in the lower house of Parliament, has been staggeringly low.

% of women legislators in the Lok Sabha

Source: Lok Sabha website

 

 

In the inaugural general elections held in 1952, only 24 women got elected to the lower house of parliament, which translates into 4.41% of the 543-member strong Lok Sabha. In addition to those who are directly elected, members of minority communities such as Anglo-Indians are nominated to the house.

However, the share of women parliamentarians hit its nadir in the adolescence of Indian democracy, when the ruling Congress lost its stranglehold over power for the first time since independence, in 1977. The Janata alliance of parties came to power Morarji Desai. Only 3.77% of legislators in the Sixth Lok Sabha were women. Subsequently, there has been a gradual rise in both the participation of women in the electoral process, as well as their representation in the lower house.

The Sixteenth Lok Sabha, convened in June 2016, had 64 elected women parliamentarians – the most in the history of the house. However, this translates into a meagre 11.8% of the total strength, which is well below the levels of gender parity attained by countries in India’s neighbourhood.

Despite being conservative societies, Bangladesh and Pakistan send 20% and 20.6% women to parliament respectively, according to data compiled by the World Bank and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). Single-party rule in China has been more representative of its demographic, with 23.6% women holding elected posts in the National People’s Congress. Similar figures for Nepal stand at 29.6%.

While an ideal democracy would be truly reflective of the entire populace, given its diversity in matters of religion, gender, caste, creed, or sexual orientation, it is hardly realised in practice. Political parties have also favoured brass tacks politicking in selecting candidates based on their ability to win elections.

Women in the Lok Sabha - Party-wise data

Source: Lok Sabha website

 

In 2014, of the 64 women MPs, 32 represented the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), 11, the All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC), and four, the Congress party. However, this in itself, would present a rather skewed picture. If one were to consider all the parliamentarians elected since the first Lok Sabha, of the 4,099 candidates who got voted to the lower house on a Congress ticket, only 307 were women. This translates into a measly 7.38%.

Likewise, in all the elections the BJP fought since its amalgamation from the Jan Sangh, 106 winning MPs were women. A total of 1,303 candidates have won representing the BJP, which implies that 8.13% of Lok Sabha MPs in its history are women. This is only marginally better than the Congress’ track record in promoting gender equality within the ambit of inner-party politics.

The lack of impetus to the cause of equal representation is captured by the lackadaisical attitude with which the the Women's Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, was allowed to lapse. If passed, it would have guaranteed reservation of 33% of all seats in the Lok Sabha and all legislative assemblies, for women. The case for affirmative action has been further strengthened by acts of violence against women.

The 2015 Human Development Report prepared by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ranks India 125 on the Gender Equality Index (GEI). India’s neighbours from the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka, and Maldives, rank 87 and 64 respectively. The GEI is computed by factoring in aspects of healthcare, education, and poverty such as maternal mortality rate, representation of women in parliament, and educational attainment till secondary school.

There is empirical evidence to prove that more number of women in politics correlates with a higher GEI score. Iceland has 47.6% women parliamentarians and a GEI rank of nine, whereas, Nigeria has 5.6% women parliamentarians and a GEI rank of 152. However, there are exceptions to this trend. Oman's lower house of Parliament, the Majlis al-Shura, has only 1.2% women, yet it manages a GEI ranking of 52, outperforming Ukraine, and Brazil, which have more female lawmakers.

The McKinsey Global Institute report titled ‘The power of parity’ believes that achieving gender equality in India would add $700 billion to the economy by 2025. It also stresses on the importance of women in participative democracy, and how improving the representation of women in parliament can go a long way in ultimately attaining gender parity.

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Related Topics
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 2:56:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/all-the-presidents-women-lowdown-on-female-mps-in-parliament/article19697352.ece

Next Story