Women's political contribution has occurred as a crucial element of the discourse around the approaching state elections in India. Even though it would appear that more women are contributing to electoral politics in India, there are numerous qualitative ways in which they are politically omitted. Whereas female representation in higher offices remains low. In particular, the female leaders at the state level lagged quite behind, prohibiting women from important seats of institutional power and decision-making. About Six states in India have no female ministers, that includes Nagaland, Sikkim, and Manipur. No state comes close to a third of female ministers; the highest proportion of female ministers is in Tamil Nadu with 13%, and 68% of states have less than 10% female leaders in state leadership positions.
History of female leaders
Aruna Asaf Ali was the first prominent political leader in the Indian nationalist movement, she later went on to become the very first mayor of Delhi in 1958. In 1925, Sarojini Naidu was elected as the president of the Indian National Congress, the major nationalist party in India before and after independence. Since then, the number of women in leadership roles in Indian politics has only increased. Indira Gandhi became the first female Prime Minister of India in 1966 and the next democratically became a female leader in the world. Sonia Gandhi, President of the Congress Party from 1998 to 2017 was one of the most influential women in India and directed her party to power twofold at the Centre in two general elections. We are using examples of powerful women leaders to point to the achievement of female empowerment because India avoids more structural and systemic constraints women in politics face in India today.
Women as voters
Women have played a major role as voters since the initial election in India. After the introduction of the Universal Adult Franchise, women were provided equal voting rights to men when India became independent. Women’s contribution as voters in the decades after Indian independence continued to be low; female voters turned out to be behind male turnout by 11.3% in 1967. This gap began to narrow in the 1990s, declining to 8.4% in 2004 and further decreased to 4.4% between 2004-09. In fact, in half of all Indian states and union territories, the female turnout exceeded the male turnout.This was repeated in the state elections carried between 2012 and 2018 where women voters exceeded the male turnout in twenty-three Indian states. Women are now an important enough voting block for political parties to turn statements like these into a battleground for their verbiage in the run-up to the election. However, women proceed to be underrepresented in policymaking parts within politics.
Women as political leaders
Women have occupied roles of power in Indian politics. Women accomplished almost five per cent of elected leaders in the first Lok Sabha in 1952. Over the next seven decades, women’s improvement in policymaking has stagnated. Women Makeup only 11.2% of the members of the Lok Sabha after the 2014 elections and 9% in state legislatures. India is placed fifth in women’s political representation in parliament in South Asia, after Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal. An important component is patriarchal attitudes towards female leadership in politics, where women politicians are often seen as completing certain gender-specific parts. The Women’s Reservation in 1996 Bill was introduced which suggested reserving 33% of the seats in the Lok Sabha for women. The bill was passed by Rajya Sabha in 2010 but was lapsed in the dissolution of parliament. Approving this bill was also an election pledge of the recent government but, five years later, there continues to be little sign of it becoming law. This bill has been left deteriorating for 22 years, and the representation of women, therefore, remains harshly limited.
Discrimination against women in common there has occurred as the need for their empowerment both politically and economically. The leaders of both before and after independent India did nothing but lip service for the upliftment of women in various walks of life. As a result, even now women do not enjoy a place of dignity in the power centres of constitution, administration and party leadership. At the international level also, on women’s problems, women’s political empowerment was at the major Stage of all the speeches, but still, in any political system, the contribution is very low as compared to men right from developed to developing countries. To face the gender disparity in Indian politics, the priority instead needs to turn to the representation of women as decision-makers and policymakers, the guardians of real political power in the world’s largest democracy.