The question of representation has been a crucial issue in today’s era, specifically, the representation of women, LGBTQ+, tribal and minorities are being demanded more not just for visibility but for empowerment and dignity. With an agenda to understand the gender gap in a modern world the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) at Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) organised ‘The State of Gender Equality’ a part of the lecture series of #GenderGaps on women’s representation in India.
The esteemed panellists included speaker Dr Ranjana Kumari, Director, Centre for Social Research, New Delhi. The chair of the session was Prof Vibhuti Patel, Retired Professor, TATA Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. Prof G Sridevi, Professor, Economics, Central University of Hyderabad, and Dr Shephalika Shekhar, Assistant Professor, BNMV College, Bhupendra Narayan Mandal University (BNMU), Madhepura (Bihar), as our discussants.
It does not come as a surprise that the Lower House of the Parliament has only 75 parliamentarians as women and the Upper House has only 25 women parliamentarians, while there are more than 43% of MPs with a criminal record in the lower house. This data makes the conversation more relevant as to why we are willing to choose candidates with criminal records when we can support women candidates and uplift their subordinate status in the patriarchal society. The issue of representation also determines the lopsided power structure in our society that isn’t only noticeable in politics but is also apparent in every household.
The chair of the session, Prof Patel, began by explaining that earlier, women were extensively visible in the freedom struggle of our nation, though it was from the 1960s that we have seen an erosion in women’s participation. Earlier, the demand for affirmative action from the government was not held strong as it was believed even by the women in work that there must be absolute equality.
But with an increasing trend of domination by men in the workspace led to a movement by women demanding for affirmative action to lay a level playing field for a fair allotment of power. The year 1975 saw a global debate on women’s representation. It was seen that the position of women in power was nominal as they were considered a novice and were manipulated to work in a certain way under men in authority. Sometimes, women in power were not even allowed to speak and act on women-centric issues because of the prohibition by their male counterparts.
It might only have been very few times when women could take a stand for issues surrounding women, but participation by literate and vigilant women in various popular movements has always caught the eye of the world, be it the Chipko movement or the brave women of Shaheen Bagh. While women in politics are bound to act as per what they are told by their male-dominated party members after winning the elections, it is significant to also reflect upon what they face throughout the complicated process of election. It’s quite normal to see that they suffer character assassination and have to face opponents with outrageous money and muscle power.
Although constitutionally, women have a 33% reservation in the local governments, the legislation to give reservation to women in the Union Government still awaits. We still need to question: is 33% reservation enough for a gender that represents more than 40% of the population of India?
Some European Parliaments have 40% of seats reserved for both men and women, and 20% for others. When we are already lagging far behind in the Human Development Index, is 33% enough to bring equality in the governance system in India? It won’t be incorrect at this point of time to call India ‘Man’ocracy instead of Democracy due to the poor representation of women.
Democracy, which is considered the best system of representation, a system where the government becomes the voice of the voiceless, has not been able to deliver justice due to its women. The Constitution in its written form provides all the political rights to every citizen, but who does benefit more from these rights? Which gender is mostly equipped to fully enjoy these rights? Which gender is not character assassinated or socially policed for exercising their right to contest?
We all know the answer to these questions. The big turnout of women on the polling day but fewer women candidates contesting for those seats indicates their vigilance and political maturity but no affirmative action taken up to promote their full participation lessens their contestation rate.
The right-wing, BJP government, which shows concerns about women-centric issues in their every election manifesto, is not capable of facilitating a minimum of 33% reservation for women in the Parliament. This indicates the significance that such issues hold but the deep-seated misogyny that restricts these governments to act upon them. Dr Ranjana Kumari argued that providing the right to vote to women is not democracy, but there is a need for a levelling mechanism that promotes the participation of women at each level of governance.
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It is no lie that after persistent efforts, many laws have been implemented to protect the socio-economic rights of women, but there are many more affirmative actions that need to be enforced to uphold the stature of women in India. Women in leadership are a symbol of empowerment, they are an inspiration for many others who are fenced in their own space by the male members of society. Their political engagement, capacity building and involvement in the decision-making process of Bills concerning their lives should be given considerable importance.
Dr Kumari further said that the number of women in leadership is rising but the pace is highly disappointing. Women only have an ornamental presence in politics. Their future in politics depends on the male politicians of their party. While their words are restricted in Parliament, they are also prohibited from joining any women’s movements.
“Women are put in a position of power without actual power at their end.” – Dr Ranjana Kumari
Work culture improves, policymaking improves, agendas improve, the inferior status of women improves and crimes against women diminish. Ms Shekhar stressed the point that more focus must be given to education to empower women. The strength in the solidarity among the educated women can alter the existing structure of patriarchy and can help in achieving the due rights for women.
Prof Sridevi said that there exists intersectionality among the women of India. The ones at the bottom, including the Dalit women and trans women, are more subjected to violence, abuse and discrimination. There is a need for laws specifically made to empower women at the periphery of this patriarchal society. India is persistently falling in the Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum with indexed 140 out of 150 countries of the world.
Our neighbouring nations are performing well ahead of us and are consistent in improving the lives of women in their countries. It’s high time now that by using male privilege, male politicians of this country appreciate the women in the frontline and also prepare a map to make a safe space for women everywhere to promote leadership among them. Women need to support each other and be each other’s strength to construct a nation where women are the core of its national policies.
Acknowledgement: Aryan Verma is a Research Intern at IMPRI and is pursuing a BA (Hons) Political Science from Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi, Delhi.