Indian Women in Parliament

SIGNIFICANCE OF WOMEN IN PARLIAMENT

While the global average for Women in Parliament stands at 22.4%, India is at the 103rd place out of 140 countries with women occupying just 66 seats in the 543 member Lok Sabha that is a mere 12% representation and Rajya Sabha female MPs constitutes just 11.5 per cent of the total members. Within Asia, India is at the 13th position out of 18 countries. Countries like South Sudan, Saudi Arabia have better Women representation in Parliament than India.

The scenario for women Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) across all state assemblies in India is even worse, with the national average being a pitiable 9%. The best among them, Bihar, Rajasthan and Haryana have 14% representation while the worst states are Pondicherry and Nagaland, which have no women MLAs at all.

The 40 percent Group

It is encouraging to find some countries with a fantastic number of women MPs making up their Parliament. 13 countries in the world constitute, what can be aptly called the ‘40 percent group’ i.e women constitute 40% or more of the total seats in the National Parliament. Topping this group is Rwanda, where women MPs make up for 63.8% of the Parliament. Another interesting aspect to note is that an overwhelming number of the countries that constitute this group are from Africa, followed by Europe and South America.

The shocker comes in the form of surprise countries that figure way up in the rankings table. Algeria at 27th (31.6%), Iraq and South Sudan at 44th (26.5%) each, Saudi Arabia at 69th (19.9%). The other surprising aspect is that the U.S. ranks a tad below Saudi Arabia with only 19.3% in its House of Representatives. Of the 8 SAARC countries, India’s position is a ignominious 5th. Nepal with 29.5% women leads the SAARC group, followed by Afghanistan with 27.7% MPs. Pakistan and Bangladesh at 20% each, ensure much better representation for women in their parliament. In BRICS, India stands 4th among these countries, with only Brazil with mere 9% women, that fares worse than us.

Why do some countries fare better than others?

  • Rwanda has 30% reservation for women as do most of the countries in the top 20. Closer home Nepal has 29% legislated quota for women, Afghanistan has 28%, Pakistan and Bangladesh have 20% seats reserved for women.
  • Some European countries have voluntary political party quotas that encourage and ensure women’s participation in the political process.
  • Initiatives aimed at changing mentalities and building an environment that is conducive to a greater role for women in parliaments would also play a vital role in increasing women electoral participation.

Women running for election face numerous challenges

  • Addressing discrimination or cultural beliefs that limit women’s role in society
  • Balancing private, family and political life
  • Gaining support from political parties
  • Securing campaign funding
  • They may also face violence, harassment and intimidation
  • Some women may even be dissuaded from running for office, leaving men in the positions of power.

 

Impact of equity in women representation

  • As per recommendation of International Parliamentary Union (IPU), participation of female MPs in these committees is of vital importance to ensure that the legislation and policies formulated by Parliament are gender-inclusive.
  • The concentration of female MPs in a particular group of committees reveals that the stereotypes of women’s interests are reinforced by committee membership. Hence there has to be well balanced distribution to ensure women’s concerns are addressed in every field.
  • Equal opportunity to female MPs to participate in the business of the house would help voice out relevant concerns of women and find appropriate solutions.
  • The report also noted that women legislators are more effective at completing road projects and hence creating infrastructure for growth. It also challenged the presumption that men are more effective at delivering growth-producing infrastructure.

Way forward

Recent development of 33% reservation for women in Odisha Legislative Assembly has become the first strong step towards a gender inclusive Legislature and it would encourage others to follow this success story. Given the patriarchal structure of Indian society, to mainstream Indian women in politics, affirmative action is needed.

The Constitution 108th Amendment Bill, commonly known as the Women’s Reservation Bill (33%), is a concrete step in this direction. It needs to be passed unanimously displaying respect for the cause behind it. While it is very convenient to celebrate the symbolic value of electing the world’s first woman prime minister or electing a woman as Speaker of the Lok Sabha, it is more crucial to address the gross under-representation of women in Parliament and within its different bodies and structures.