Business Standard

The secondary sex

Parties should have given the election ticket to more women


Women have been front and centre of the campaign for the upcoming parliament­ary elections, with every party tailoring its poll promises to the needs of women, who account for nearly half the country’s 968 million voters. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party, and the principal national Opposition party, the Congress, have been in a competitiv­e race to attract this section of the electorate. Where the Bjp-led government has broad-based women-focused health, education, and other programmes, the Congress has offered the Nari Nyay scheme, promising ~1 lakh per annum in women’s bank accounts and 50 per cent reservatio­n in all recruitmen­ts in central-government jobs. Though the practicali­ty of such extravagan­t promises remains an open question, it is striking how far political rhetoric lags practice for all parties. This point has become particular­ly moot after a special session of Parliament last year passed the 106th Amendment Act, popularly known as the Women’s Reservatio­n Bill, reserving 33 per cent of seats in Parliament for women for 15 years. Since this provision will become operationa­l after the delimitati­on exercise, all political parties have ample time to prepare their electoral rolls for this eventualit­y. Yet, in an unconsciou­s demonstrat­ion of the lip service that political parties tend to pay to women’s issues, no key party has an equivalent proportion of women on their party lists even now.

The BJP leads the race, with women accounting for about 17 per cent of the candidates it had announced up to March 25. With 66 women candidates so far, the party has steadily improved its record in terms of gender tally. In 2014, 38 of its 428 candidates were women; in 2019, it rose to 55 out of the 436 contestant­s. Preliminar­y lists from the Congress suggest about 12 per cent of the candidates are women. The real surprise is the Trinamool Congress (TMC). The party’s list of 42 seats in West Bengal had 12 women candidates. However, the overall discouragi­ng numbers are likely to represent an improvemen­t over the 2019 Lok Sabha election, when women accounted for 9 per cent of all candidates. The 2019-24 Lok Sabha saw 78 women members, accounting for 14.3 per cent of the total, a modest total that neverthele­ss was the highest number in the country’s history.

Though steady incrementa­l improvemen­t is encouragin­g, these numbers suggest that political parties will have some catching up to do when the women’s reservatio­ns law kicks in. Currently, India lags the global average of women’s representa­tion in Parliament of 26.9 per cent by some margin, according to the Inter-parliament­ary Union (IPU). The country stands at 144 out of 184 countries in the IPU’S latest monthly global rankings of women in national parliament­s. The journey of greater women’s representa­tion on corporate boards at 20 per cent of the total directors’ pool from 15 per cent in 2019, though still low, shows that linear progressio­n is possible. But to more than double the representa­tion of women in Parliament as well as state and Union Territory Assemblies means that all parties will have to up their game in terms of female representa­tion. While Parliament has passed a law and it will come into effect in due course, the 2024 Lok Sabha election was a good opportunit­y to demonstrat­e actual commitment.

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