Quick-guess how many countries send a higher percentage of women to the Parliament than we do. You may well be surprised.
The Global Gender Gap Index, introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006, is a framework for capturing the magnitude and scope of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress. The Index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education and health metrics, and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups, and over time.
As per the 2013 report, India ranked 101 out of the 136 countries evaluated, well below countries from a similar income group such as the Phillipines (Ranked 5th in the world), or Sri Lanka (Ranked 55th).
As part of our Women and Politics issue, we were especially interested in seeing how India fared against the rest of the world when it came to the political empowerment of its women. Here’s what we discovered:
1. India ranks 9th overall in Political Empowerment of its women. However, this is largely due to just one variable – the number of years the country has had a woman head of state in the last 50 years. With 21 years under a female head of state in the last 50 years (between Indra Gandhi and Pratibha Patil), this ratio is better for India than for any other country in the world.
2. However, a true picture of women’s overall representation in the “World’s Largest Democracy” only become apparent when we look at the two other sub-indices:
- Women in Parliament: With just 11% Women in the Parliament, India ranks 106th on this metric, significantly below the leader Cuba which has 49% women representation, Nepal (33%), Saudi Arabia (20%) and Pakistan (also nearly 20%)
- Women in Ministerial Positions: With 10% of the Ministerial positions belonging to women, India again fares rather poorly, ranked 100th- much below leader Norway (53%) or Bangladesh (14%)
3. The Report doesn’t look at the representation of women in local and state legislatives. (The Union Government approved a 50% representation of women in Panchayati Raj Institutions in 2009. Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand and Himachal have implemented the suggestion already. It remains to see how effective this measure was in increasing the overall ‘political empowerment’ of women constituents)
As an editorial team we are divided on the issue of reservations for women in Parliament. On the one hand, it is likely that any kind of reservation will be a loophole for politicians and leaders to field candidates that have little agency outside of being “wife of” or “daughter of” another decision maker . History has also taught us that women politicians don’t necessarily have a better record on women’s issues than their male counterparts.
On the other hand, some kind of affirmative action may just be the incentive parties need to seek and groom women representatives at the local and grassroots level. It is disappointing that even new-age parties don’t have adequate female representation in their Candidate Lists, because it speaks of the absence of a female voice in our country’s political discourse.
The truth is that when a new Parliament gets sworn in a month or so from now, it is unlikely that any of these ratios will be significantly different from before. What we can try and change is the way the new legislative addresses our concerns.
Perhaps the way to begin affecting a change would be to ensure we become a greater part of the conversation in the first place -by not shying away from political discussions, by exercising our rights to vote, and by educating female family members who often treat ‘politics’ as something dirty and somewhat male. It is also important that we challenge the male rhetoric of politics – asking the difficult questions that get swept under the rug in most election cycles. Women voters can ensure that male candidates with a past history of sexual harassment, or those who make irresponsible statement be punished by the power of their votes.
As evidenced in the Delhi Assembly Elections of 2013- with a 65.17% turnout of women voters- perhaps the best way to ensure our voices are heard, would be to be present to cast our votes.
In a companion article, we look at the representation of women candidates in this year’s elections, and their characteristics.
My Big Red Bag brings original content inspired by life’s joys and passions. Check out other articles from our Women & Politics issue, and stay tuned to our latest content by following us on Twitter and FB. See you on the other side!