Amidst the fervor of election wins, gains and ministry formation, what is often missed out or relegated to the background are the women. Constituting a mounting 49% if not more, of the population, women often find themselves in a fray year after year, especially during times of elections. In the recently concluded state assembly elections across the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Chattisgarh and Mizoram, apart from their varying regional dynamics, what stands out is the bleak participation of women candidates in all these states. Women’s conspicuous presence in elections especially as active leaders brings to the fore many worrying notions and beliefs that are set deep within our cultural setup reflecting that of a patriarchal mindset that when it comes to the concept of power – innate and outward, women are seen as capable, contending and competent leaders. Is this a problem of India’s blind-eye towards its women or a result of its misogyny?
In the recently concluded elections, out of a total of 189 candidates, a total of 50 women candidates were fielded – 27 by the Indian National Congress and 23 by the Bharatya Janata Party. As a matter of fact, this is the highest number of women candidates ever contesting in the past ten years in Rajasthan.
Looking back at the history of Telangana, Chief Minister Chandrashekhar Rao’s ministry ran the full term without a single woman in his cabinet, and the highest post given was to the Deputy Speaker Padma Devender Reddy. In the present elections, however, where Congress gave tickets to 11 and Telangana Rashtra Samiti to 4 women candidates, respectively, it still didn’t make a huge step forward as the number of candidates projected was less than the 2014 elections 4% against 6%.
The State President of BJP, J V Hluna was quoted saying “women were not traditionally interested in politics but are now participating in social activities” and therefore 15 women candidates were given tickets out of a total of 200.
In Raipur, women voters outnumber men in 15 districts and in a total of 33 Assembly seats. However, in their representation, it has remained at a dismal rate of 10-13% during the previous three elections. In the recently held elections, a total of 235 women candidates contested out of a gigantic number of 2716.
Madhya Pradesh was no different where BJP fielded 24 and Congress 28 candidates accounting for only 12 – 14% of the total candidature.
While the two leading parties of the country try to outscore each other in the tussle for power, holding the reigns of governing the states as an outright male bastion, women are relegated to mere vote banks. On an average, largely women candidates who feature in the political spectrum are those from political families, upper caste, influential families, and a small percentage of backward classes. What makes this situation unique for women? How do gender roles and gender stereotyping play a pivotal role in women’s participation or the lack of it in and during elections?
Traditionally, leadership roles and positioning in the form lawmaking, legislation, and governing of states are stereotypically viewed as masculine jobs. The highest political positions in the country are largely occupied by men with a few exceptional cases of women taking the lead, showcasing a prominent example of just how much women aren’t involved in the highest levels of politics. Further, like in any other professional field, in politics too, women candidates have to work and fight harder than men fighting against the misogynist beliefs, imagery and gender bias from contemporaries. Overall, it is more likely for male candidates to receive suggestions to run for office and less likely for them to receive sexist, derogatory comments from the opposing party/candidate. However, all both these analogies prove to be in reverse for female candidates. Additionally, women candidates even if victors are still held responsible for childcare and household chores and are often expected to balance professional and personal life balance.
In our endeavour towards achieving a gender just and gender equal society, Centre for Social Research has been working for the passage of the 33% Women Reservation Bill to undo the wrongs that women face while being selected as suitable candidates during elections or whether that is decades of mistreatment on the basis of gender. The passage of the bill is seen as a crucial one to ensure equality of women towards accessing their political rights in the largest democracy of the world and thereafter working towards the injustices prevalent in society on the many girls and women of the nation.