December 18, 2018 witnessed the launch of an all-women political party, the National Women’s Party, which claims to be the country’s first national-level women’s party. The party headed by Swetha Shetty, 36, started its groundwork in 2012, was launched with the aim of getting 50% reservation for women candidates in the Lok Sabha Elections. Swetha said at the launch of the party at Delhi Press Club that they have applied for registration with the Election Commission. With no notable names to mention, the party claimed it has the support of 1.45 lakh women members of Hyderabad-based NGO called Telangana Mahila Samiti.
At present, there are only 64 women members in 547-member Lok Sabha and 28 in the 244-member Rajya Sabha. Will this new political party make a difference in the already overcrowded political system prevailing in India is a big question. It is a known fact that women in India participate in voting, run for various public offices and political parties at lower levels more than men but this is not the first time that the women in India have initiated the formation of their own political party. In 2007, the United Women Front party was created by Mrs. Suman Krishan Kant, a social worker and the wife of a former vice-president, to boost women’s representation in traditionally male-dominated Indian politics. Before launching the United Women Front, Mrs. Kant also headed a national charity called Mahila Dakshata Samiti, working for the socioeconomic empowerment of women.
Both these political parties being headed by former charity workers leaves us thinking whether Indian women need the help of a charity to be heard in India. Since the inception, gender inequality has remained the focus of majority of women’s movements with specific focus on issues such as the Uniform Civil Code, Women’s Reservation Bill, and sexual violence against women.
According to Global Gender Gap Report published in 2018 by the World Economic Forum, India scored 0.665 and was at 108th rank but its gap was directionally larger this year with a 33% gap yet to be bridged. On political empowerment font, our neighboring country, Bangladesh has reached a level of gender parity of more than 50%, while India has closed nearly 40% of its gender gap on this subindex. India recorded improvements in wage equality for similar work, succeeded in fully closing its tertiary education gender gap for the first time, and managed to keep primary and secondary education gaps closed for the third year running. However, it continued to rank third-lowest in the world on Health and Survival, remaining the world’s least-improved country on this subindex over the past decade.
Women’s participation in Indian politics is largely challenged by various cultural and societal barriers in the form of discrimination, violence, and illiteracy. Huge burden of household duties becomes the major reason why many Indian women do not participate in active politics. Also, there is very little public space for them as men have dominated the political arena for several years in India. But, we have to keep our fingers crossed to see the impact of this new political entry.