South, North-East India send less than 5% women to legislature

Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya have less than 5% women legislators. However, in Panchayats, in these states, almost 50% of the members are women

Photo by Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Ashlin Mathew

Karnataka elections are just around the corner and the bugle has been sounded for the 2019 elections and as with every year, one can only wonder the number of women candidates who will be in the fray. For the Karnataka Assembly elections, a total of 2,655 candidates will contest elections, according to the data released by the Election Commission on Saturday. However, only 219 of the 2,655 candidates are women – a mere 8%.

Only 15 are women in the list released by Congress and BJP has announced only six women candidates, despite women being 49% of the state’s voting population. This abysmal figure is not just limited to Karnataka. In 2013, the total number of women candidates in the Assembly election fray was 175, just under 6% of the total number of candidates.

Differences between these political parties are also evident. According to the Gender Atlas of India by Radha Kumar with Marcell Korff and Karthika Sudhir, published by Sage, at the national level, the Congress fielded a far greater number of women candidates than the BJP, states, but it also had lower FECR (Female elected to contesting ratio). Regionally, West Bengal had the highest rates of women MLAs and FECR, in Trinamool Congress headed by Mamata Banerjee, a woman, states the report.

According to the report, assemblies of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya have less than 5% women legislators. The maximum percentage of women legislators of around 15% are in Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and West Bengal.

What is also surprising is that state assemblies with the highest proportion of women MLAs are concentrated in Western and Central India, in states that do not have the best performance on other indicators. By contrast, states with relatively high performance on other indicators have poor figures for women representation suggesting that there is no or little connection between women’s status and their votes, stated the report.

But, what has been interesting is the percentage of women in Gram Panchayats, Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad councils is above 33 per cent in all Indian states. In fact, close to 50 percent of the elected members of Panchayati Raj Institutions are women.

Across all three tiers of the Panchayati system during the year 2008, people in Bihar elected 54 per cent women representatives, in the UT of Chandigarh 48 per cent, and in Karnataka 42 per cent. Interestingly, while Karnataka has a relatively high representation of women in local government it has few women in the state Assembly.

The percentage of women in Gram Panchayats, Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad councils is above 33 per cent in all Indian states. In 2008, people in Bihar elected 54 per cent women representatives, in the UT of Chandigarh 48 per cent, and in Karnataka 42 per cent

“Women in the south have better figures for sex ratio, education, maternal mortality and infant mortality and female labour force participation, yet Kerala and Karnataka have worst figures for elected women at Assembly and Lok Sabha levels,” explains Kumar, a specialist on gender, conflict, and public policy.

Kerala also has very low figures for women judges and there has been a sharp decline between 2008-2012. “When it comes to household decisions, the figures for southern states is relatively good, which suggest that there is a far more rigid division between public and private in the southern states, with women relegated to private sphere even though they work and earn,” points out Kumar.

“In general, there has been a contempt for women’s opinion in the south of the country. Better education and better quality of life for women has not translated into better representation or improved decision-making powers. Politics has remained a bastion for men in the south though there were powerful women like Jayalalithaa and VK Sasikala,” said Kumar.

“Northern and Central states have traditionally been far more plugged into national politics which could be the reason for improved figures for women elected whereas the south is far more invested in local and regional politics which might further entrench male and family controls over politics,” explains Kumar.

A point worth stressing is that despite their low numbers women candidates continue to have a higher elected to contesting ratio (ECR) than male candidates; in other words, more women than men who stand for election get elected

A point worth stressing is that despite their low numbers women candidates continue to have a higher elected to contesting ratio (ECR) than male candidates; in other words, more women than men who stand for election get elected. It would therefore be in the interest of political parties to field a larger number of women candidates, not to mention more cost-effective, states the report.

In the 2014 elections, only around 12% of the Members of the Parliament and Members of the Legislative Assembly were women. India continues to under-perform and decreasing levels of FECR in general elections require urgent attention, cautions Kumar. The four neighbouring countries (China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal) which have higher rates for women MPs, have reserved seats for women in both houses of Parliament, while India does not.

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Published: 2 May 2018, 12:11 PM