New Lok Sabha Will Have Fewer Women
Prachi Salve, Nileena Suresh (IndiaSpend) 06 June 2024
The Women’s Reservation Bill allocates 33% of all seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures for women. However, only 13% of the Members of Parliament (MPs) elected to the 18th Lok Sabha are women. Of 543 elected MPs, 73 are women, marking a decrease from the 78 women elected to the 17th Lok Sabha.
The gender gap in elected representatives begins with the disparity among candidates. Of the 8,337 candidates who stood for election, 797 were women. Although the total number of women candidates increased by 10% from 720 in 2019, their share among total candidates only rose marginally, from 9% in 2019 to 9.5% in 2024. 9% of these 797 women won.
The Women’s Reservation Bill, 2023 was introduced in Lok Sabha on September 19, 2023. This Bill aims to reserve one-third of the seats in Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for women. The reservation will become effective after the first census conducted following the enactment of this Bill. The last census was in 2011. The 2021 census is now three years delayed. Whenever the next census happens, based on the results, delimitation will be undertaken to reserve seats for women, with the reservation lasting for 15 years.
The Bill specifies that reserved seats will be allocated by rotation after each delimitation exercise, which is expected to occur approximately every 10 years, as delimitation is mandated after every census post-2026.
A study (2008) by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj recommended discontinuing the rotation of constituencies at the panchayat level, noting that nearly 85% of women were first-time representatives and only 15% could secure re-election due to the de-reservation of their seats.
Only 12% of candidates from national parties are women
In the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, women constituted 16% of Bharatiya Janata Party candidates and 13% of Indian National Congress candidates. The Aam Aadmi Party did not field any women candidates. Of the 69 women candidates from BJP, 31 won. The INC had 41 women candidates, with 13 winning. The All India Trinamool Congress fielded 12 women candidates, with 10 of them winning.
“Most mainstream parties don't give tickets to women, bypassing even those who have dedicated 40-50 years to the party,” says Vibhuti Patel, former Professor of Advanced Centre for Women's Studies at the Tata institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
“Even when given tickets, it's often for unwinnable constituencies where the opposition is much stronger,” Patel said. “If they want a placeholder candidate just for dividing the votes, such tickets are given to women. They are assigned tasks that no man is willing to do.”
She explains that women are often relegated to the role of a footsoldier within the party. “They organise rallies, provide food and water, inform communities, and mobilise people, but they are rarely given substantial power or leadership roles.”
Among national parties, the BJP and the INC have 13% women MPs each. The number of women MPs in the BJP decreased from the 17th Lok Sabha, when the party had 42 women MPs, while it increased for the INC, which had seven women MPs.
Of the 797 women candidates, 276 (35%) ran as independent candidates, yet not one of them won.
Of the larger states, none achieved 33% women MPs
The new Lok Sabha has the highest representation of women MPs from West Bengal, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.
Of the larger states, Kerala, which has 20 Lok Sabha seats, did not elect a single woman The number of women MPs declined in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Odisha, but increased in Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.
Maharashtra fielded the most women candidates overall, while Delhi and Telangana had the highest number of women candidates per constituency. In Delhi, 24 women contested across seven constituencies, and in Telangana, 50 women participated across 17 constituencies.
Among the 131 reserved seats, 18 elected women to power
Of the 84 seats reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC) communities, 13% were won by women, while 15% of the 47 Scheduled Tribe (ST) reserved seats were won by women.
In the 17th Lok Sabha, over a quarter of the MPs in constituencies reserved for ST were women. The share of women among SC reserved seats and in general seats was 13%.
The proportion of women candidates was higher in SC constituencies compared to both general and ST constituencies during the 2024 elections. On average, the number of women who contested elections per constituency was 1.6 in SC constituencies, while it was 1.4 in ST and general constituencies.
Patel highlights that women from marginalised communities face more challenges. “If they are part of Dalit or youth organisations, they receive at least some support and protection.
“Our experience working with women in local bodies shows that when women from weaker or marginalised sections dare to contest and succeed, they become role models, which is very empowering. Providing opportunities to women naturally leads to capacity building. There is aspiration at the grassroots level, but women often lack opportunities due to political bosses.”
In 2019, IndiaSpend looked at how reservations for women in panchayats changed the face of rural governance in Tamil Nadu in a five-part series. Sharmila Devi who did something no man could in half a century: She solved her village’s water crisis. Despite her personal poverty, Rajanikandham, a dalit panchayat president and a daily wage worker lobbies hard for extra funds for public works in her panchayat. Muthukanni, a dalit, was locked out of office, barred from hoisting the national flag, bullied, abused and defamed on streets. With the help of corporate social responsibility funds, Muthukanni built a swanky new panchayat office--a testament not only to her efforts to reclaim her community’s dignity but also to her commitment to the idea of social justice. Panchayat presidents Menaka and Leelavathi were murdered when they challenged Tamil Nadu’s land and tanker mafia. Other women presidents have--barely--survived assaults by political thugs and goons. But very few of these administrators made it to mainstream politics, the assembly or the parliament because party structures are dominated by upper caste men and sexism is deeply entrenched, we had reported.
The women’s reservation is critical to bring about change in the culture, according to Patel. “Having a critical minimum of women in parliament ensures they have a voice. Women can unite to demand disciplinary actions, counter foul language, and address sexism and misogyny and alternative force against money-muscle and mafia power. They are not just present for diversity.”
Courtesy: IndiaSpend
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