Did the women in your family vote in the last General Election? Was their voting choice affected by the family opinion? Do you know equal rights did not exist from the beginning of time? Let’s take you on the journey of women’s political empowerment in India and across the world.
A landmark legislation on September 19, 1893, in New Zealand, led to women getting the right to vote for the first time in a self-governing country. It took nine years for another country, Australia, to grant Women Suffrage in 1902.
The first European country to join this movement was Finland; it was also the first to grant women the right to stand in Parliament. Norway and Denmark followed these countries and the suffrage went on to spread around the world. The most recent country to grant women suffrage in 2011 was Saudi Arabia. Vatican City now remains the only country not to have given its women the right to vote.
Coming closer to home, in India during the British Raj, a majority of men and women did not have the right to vote. The first to grant suffrage to women in India was Madras in 1921, yet this was restricted to propertied men and women. Voting rights for all only came in 1950 after Independence from the British. All this reflects that this was a long and hard struggle for women around the globe. Think about being a woman in those times, not having a say on policies and decisions directly affecting you, being practically voiceless, unheard and uncared for. Suffrage and the right to vote was only the first step to political participation for women. There were still many roadblocks ahead in our way.
Representation of women was the next step on the ladder. In 1993, the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution led to a 33% reservation of seats in local self-government institutions for them in creating 1,000,000 seats for women. This came after 46 years of independence, countless women empowerment movements and protests. Some states even increased the reservation to 40%–50%, which brought a lot of strength to women in terms of participation. For many years women had next to no representation, half of the population—completely neglected. This is deeply saddening.
At the national level, the representation of women is in a terrible state. India has only 12% of representation for women in the Lok Sabha. Pakistan has 21% participation of women in its, which is way more than India. Out of 190 nations, India ranked 153 in the percentage of women in the lower house of world Parliaments. This reflects very poorly on our mindset and the extent to which patriarchy has a foothold in our country.
The Women’s Reservation Bill (108th Amendment) is pending in the Lok Sabha for the past 11 years. The bill gives 33% reservation to women in the lower house. In an online survey amongst students, a variety of opinions arose on the same topic. Many felt that votes drive decisions in the Indian Parliament and passing this bill might hurt a lot of sentiments and result in loss of vote. Another popular belief found in the survey was that this was due to lack of concern by the male-dominated Parliament members, which was a misogynistic and patriarchal community. People strongly felt that consciously or unconsciously, there is a belief in our society that women are inferior to men, and the position of men will be in jeopardy if women’s voices are heard.
Perhaps it was also not passed because of the predominance of male MPs who have the stereotypical notion of gender roles and that the political area isn’t safe for women as compared to the “safe” four walls of their homes. A lot of students pointed out those tedious procedures, and implementation issues also contributed to the same. There were also people who did not support these reservations because they were already a plethora of reservations existing in our country, reducing chances and opportunities for the common man. People were also of the opinion that in today’s day and age when the concept of feminism and equality hold a lot of value, providing reservation to one gender is not a viable option.
Gender quotas can create long-term economic and social benefits to the society and the country at large. Research indicates that having a female legislator has a substantial impact on policy priorities. There is evidence that as more women are elected to office, there is an increase in policy making that focuses on quality of life and reflects the priorities of families, women, and ethnic and racial minorities. The positive impact of women in politics cannot be denied.
Kofi Annan, the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations, noted, “Study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity or to reduce child and maternal mortality. No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and promote health, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation.” Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, has stated, “The world is wasting a precious resource in the dramatic underrepresentation of women in leadership positions, often resulting in the exclusion of women’s talents and skills in political life.”
Depending on age, education, rural or urban living, women can have very different life experiences that lead to different priorities and opinions—agreed that not every woman elected to parliament will place women’s issues or rights at the forefront of her agenda. Women’s representation is not the only factor, but it is a crucial one for the development of inclusive democracies.
Male and female MPs must work together in order to solve the kaleidoscope of problems in our country. To meet development goals and build strong, progressive nations, women must be made a part of the change; they must be encouraged, empowered and supported in becoming extraordinary political and community leaders.
About the author:
Ananya Bathla is a student of the High School Achievers Program conducted by Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC). The High School Achievers Program identifies promising high schoolers and builds their capacity to lead change. This study was undertaken as part of the 2019 Delhi edition of the program.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this study are solely those of the authors and do not represent the views of YLAC as an organization
Narayan Ramachandran. (2019, February 19). Retrieved from Livemint: https://www.livemint.com/opinion/columns/opinion-india-needs-more-women-parliamentarians-1550514703491.html
Sandra Pepera. (2018, February 28). Retrieved from Women Deliver: https://womendeliver.org/2018/why-women-in-politics/