While Indian women occupy major leadership roles in major international companies, the government hasn’t seen as much participation from women. The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung attempts to understand the possible reasons in its report titled Women and Politics: Changing Trends and Emerging Patterns.
It looks at various aspects relating to women and politics in India, including political participation and representation, how women perceive their roles in politics, and the larger socio-economic and cultural context of the situation.
The odds for ‘women politician’
Women have not lagged in exercising the most basic democratic rights of voting. In fact, the turnout rates of women voters have often exceeded that of men’s in several states. The study revealed that women have more autonomy in electing their own representatives with little to no influence of their family members, including in-laws.
At the same time, it also revealed that women hailing from financially better backgrounds and upper castes engage more actively in electoral politics than those who are at the lower ends.
The survey found that many women think it is easier for women who are from upper caste, upper class, or political backgrounds to join politics.
In the last few years, the survey finds, more women have geared up to run for elections. While men are still a long way ahead of women in terms of the number of candidates, the gap is shrinking. Records show an increased number of women registering as candidates across different levels.
Women want to serve, not rule
One of the big revelations of the study was that ‘only a little over one-fourth of the women respondents were keen to make a career in politics’, showing that while politics as a career may not interest women, the reality is starkly different.
Revathy Ashok, CEO and Managing Trustee of Bangalore Political Action Committee has a different view to share. “The loss of idealism and the sense of public service and service to society in politics have all contributed to declining success in women winning seats in elections. Politics has become less of service to the nation, which is appealing to women. It is now driven more by desire for accumulation of power and wealth. The profession is marked by high degree of corruption as large amounts of money are required to contest elections,” she said.
In contrast with the report, Revathy explained, “The number of women aspiring to be in politics has grown significantly; but they are either not given tickets or the success ratio to women contesting is low.”
Respondents of the survey echoed a similar attitude. When asked who will win the ticket to contest from political parties between two equally skilled and good candidates (a man and a woman), an overwhelming 44 percent strongly agreed that the male candidate will get to contest while 33 percent of respondents ‘somewhat agreed’.
Revathy also highlighted the need for reservations to help women who aspire to become politicians. She cited how Karnataka Council showed great success as 51 percent of its seats are held by women as a result of reservation.
Without reservation, she explained, it becomes difficult for women to contest. The Women’s Reservation Bill has been pending in the Parliament for over two decades now.
The report also revealed that male candidates fear the chances of losing out on their seats if reservation for women is implemented.
However, women also feel unfit to join politics or are prevented from doing so due to cultural norms, patriarchy, and household duties. Several women mention not being allowed to talk to other men and the purdah system as reasons for the same. A few also believe they are incapable and unqualified to lead.
The political landscape of India, which has remained a male-bastion, could actually benefit from healthy participation from women. A report by McKinsey Global Institute in 2018 estimated that giving equal opportunities to women could add up to $770 billion to India’s GDP by 2025. With Indian women establishing themselves as leaders across sectors, it is high time they become more active in politics too.