India Needs More Women In Parliament, And We Need To Act Now

By Shravani Prakash, First published on Youth Ki Awaaz

“With more than 50 years having passed since the inauguration of the nation’s first female prime minister in 1966, maintaining its global top 20 ranking on the Political Empowerment subindex will require India to make progress on this dimension with a new generation of female political leadership” stated the 2017’s Global Gender Gap Report.

In 2017, India fell 21 places in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index. The decline was largely attributable to a widening of its gender gap in Political Empowerment (India ranked 118 out of 144 countries on the criteria of women in Parliament). As per the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the country ranked 149 out of 193 countries in terms of women’s representation in the lower house of parliament – even countries like Pakistan (90) and Bangladesh (92) rank much higher than India.

But now it’s time to set things right. Since, in 2019, Indians will vote to elect a new Government for the next five years, we need to make sure that there will be a substantial number of women in power in the coming years. Having a critical mass women in decision making roles in the Government is extremely necessary if India has to improve its gender statistics and make the country a better place for women to thrive in.

For that, we need to act now – by ensuring there are enough women even running for elections. Currently, only 11% of seats in the Lok Sabha (62 of 545). This number is largely a consequence of the small number of female candidates who even ran for Lok Sabha elections in 2014 –

  • BJP gave only 38 of 428 tickets to women candidates
  • Congress gave 60 tickets to women
  • Bahujan Samaj Party fielded 21 women
  • Communist Party of India nominated six women,
  • Communist Party of India (Marxist) fielded 11 women
  • Nationalist Congress Party gave tickets to 4 women

But political parties will have to recognise that if the Parliament does not reflect the current trends of more women getting educated and achieving excellence in varied fields, they will face a crisis of credibility. Especially in the light of the #Metoo movement, politicians cannot ignore the lack of representation of women in the decision-making process for much longer.

The private sector has begun to take actions to be seen as “women-friendly” – and consequently proportion of senior roles held by women in India has increased from 14% in 2014 to 20% in 2018. Now the spotlight is on the Government to show its commitment towards making India a better place for women.

Globally, 2018 has seen several countries take big leaps towards addressing gender gaps in political leadership:

  • A “Pink Wave” has swept across America, with more than 100 women winning in the mid-term elections in November – larger than ever before. This was a direct consequence of a record-breaking number of women candidates running for governor, U.S. House and U.S. Senate positions. Americans are calling 2018 “The Year of the Woman.”
  • Brazil elected a new Parliament in October in which the number of women elected jumped 5%.
  • Ethiopia elected its first female president – Africa’s only female head of state.

Research suggests that more women holding political power are good for the country:

  • Studies show women legislators are more likely to advocate for changes that promote the interests of women, children and families and support public welfare in areas such as health care and education.
  • Data also shows a positive relationship between women ministers and confidence in national governments.
  • Specifically for India, research shows that women legislators raise economic performance in their constituencies by about 1.8 percentage points per year more than male legislators.

How Do We Get More Women Into The Indian Parliament?

There are two ways of getting more women into political leadership:

(1) Legislated ‘reserved seats’ that regulate by law the gender composition of elected bodies or

(2) Party quotas (voluntary or legislated) regulate the gender balance of candidate lists by individual parties

The Women’s Reservation Bill in India, which proposes reserving 33% of seats for women, is very unlikely to get the pending clearance from the Lok Sabha before the next elections.

So, the only other way to make sure there are enough women Parliamentarians in 2019 is by imposing voluntary Party quotas, as is done by parties in more than 50 countries.

Gender quotas are numerical targets that stipulate the number or percentage of women that must be included in a candidate list. To date, gender quotas have proved to be the single most effective tool for ‘fast-tracking’ women’s representation in elected bodies of government. Studies confirm that quotas in electoral lists increase the number of women elected. The quotas will make sure women get a fair chance to campaign and qualify for their candidature, as they otherwise face challenges stemming from low levels of encouragement and access to financial resources.

For the benchmark, parties could give at least 30% of total tickets to women candidates, since the UN Economic and Social Council has recommended that at least 30%  of every Parliament should be represented by women.

Party quotas themselves will not be enough – it is just the first step. To ensure more women get elected into Parliament, individual parties will have to show commitment to women in public office and make sure women run from seats that could get them elected to parliament positions. The Parliament itself will have to become a women-friendly employer.

And we, citizens of India, will have to give our full support and vote for deserving female candidates.

But, getting more women to run for elections is a very vital first step to ensuring we have more women in Parliament.

Bringing more women into India’s Parliament in 2019 should be our priority.

For Step 1, I have initiated a petition to request Presidents of all National Parties to ensure they have a fair gender balance when giving out tickets to candidates for the 2019 elections.

If you feel strongly, please support and share the petition (here)