As the US Presidential elections slowly sweeps your headlines, the amount of recognition the women in politics are getting is remarkable. After the 2018 historic rise of women parliamentarians in the House and Senate, we saw six women announcing their candidacy for President (Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Marianne Williamson & Kamala Harris); all represent diverse backgrounds and differing views and yet stand together for equality and women rights. It is a good start for the USA which till now ranks 75th of the 193 countries when it comes to women representation in parliament.
Moving forward, Finland, recently welcomed their woman Prime Minister, UK’s latest general elections that witnessed the highest number of female members elected to the parliament. In countries like Bolivia, Brazil, and Mexico, the elections saw the highest numbers of female candidates running for seats. In India too, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections paved way for 78 women legislators to represent our parliament.
However according to the SDG Gender Index 2019, these countries (including the ones that have the highest number of women MPs) have a long way to go to truly become gender equal when it comes to political representation. A major reason is the lack of women in politics in the highest ranks of power. For instance, Rwanda has gender-balanced Cabinet with 52 per cent of its member’s women and 61% of parliament members are women. However, reports suggest the real influence these women parliamentarians have is often limited.
SDG GENDER INDEX 2019 PAINTS A DIFFERENT REALITY AND REMINDS US TO LOOK BEYOND THE MEASURE OF WOMEN IN PARLIAMENTS ALONE WHEN ASSESSING HOW A COUNTRY HAS FARED IN PROMOTING GENDER EQUALITY IN THE POLITICAL SPACE.
When you talk about countries with highest number of female representation in the parliament, the quota system or ‘reservation’ seems to be a common factor behind more women in politics as legislators. For instance, while women dominate Rwanda’s national legislature (thanks to the thirty percent quota for women in parliament and government), a 2014 electoral law in Bolivia required 50 percent of each political party’s list be women. Similarly countries like Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, South Africa etc., too have legislated quotas that women are elected in their respective parliaments.
Argentina adopted the world’s first gender quota law in 1991, mandating that political parties nominate women for 30 percent of the electable positions on their candidate lists. However, according to Tiffany Barnes research paper titled ‘Women’s Representation in the Argentine National and Subnational Governments‘ (2018), the country is still combating problems of gender inequality including domestic violence and sexual harassment. One major reason for the situation is because the women parliamentarians have limited powers and are largely underrepresented. The scenario is pretty similar in Rwanda.
However, the ability of Rwandan legislators, male or female, to shape and design policy is largely limited by whether or not the executive branch approves of the policy suggesting that greater participation did not immediately mean greater legislative gains. As a result of limited powers and opportunity for women in policy making, it is not surprising that gender violence is still a major problem in Rwanda.
THE COUNTRY STILL SUFFERS FROM SERIOUS PROBLEMS OF GENDER INEQUALITY, CASES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT, AMONG OTHERS AND ONE MAJOR REASON FOR THE SITUATION IS BECAUSE THE WOMEN PARLIAMENTARIANS HAVE LIMITED POWERS ARE LARGELY UNDERREPRESENTED.
The Case In India
First let us look at the bright side.
In India we have seen that with every election, more women MPs are occupying the center stage, i.e. 78 women MPs are elected to the parliament out of the 700-plus female candidates who contested the 2019 general elections, 43 percent of the women coming from a political class, more and more independent candidates fighting their way out in the most controversial seats and women like Remya Haridas, 32 year MP from Kerala (second ever Dalit MP) and Pramila Bisoyi, 69 year old MP from Odisha who belongs to a economically lower class are now representing their constituencies in their parliament.
However, when it comes to a women in politics and their involvement in real decision making process, the power still lies with the men. There are still 176 males MPs as compared to the 78 woman MPs in the Lok Sabha and 20 out of the 240 MPs are women in the Rajya Sabha. The numbers of women MLAs is much worse. While national parties like BJP and INC try to sell the idea of reservation on paper, they have hardly managed to stand by their own words when it comes to giving more women an equal chance to participate in elections.
Even regional parties that are led my women (TMC, BSP, AIADMK by late Jayalalitha etc) have failed to field more women. Further, talking about the women parliamentarians in the country, the 17th Lok Sabha elections recorded a total number of 78 women (14%) out of the 542 seats coming to power, still less than the proposed 33% and out of these women MPs, tragically only 3 out of the 78 women parliamentarians were given Cabinet Ministerial positions. In the 16th Lok Sabha session, only 11 women MPs introduced Private Member’s Bill, around 17 had over 90% attendance as compared to 39 in the present session.
According to NCRB, the number of cases reported on crimes against women have been increasing in the last three years. Uttar Pradesh has again topped the list with 56,011 cases of crime against women. It is followed by Maharashtra with 31,979 cases and West Bengal at 30,002. Interestingly, these are among the States with most number of women MPs elected. This means that somewhere women MPs still remain invisible or there are underlying interconnected barriers (more male MPs occupy greater control over party positions—party leaders who decide their agenda and are more visible in the public sphere, their success or failure depends on their party’s performance broadly or even the caste they belong from) that restrict their growth and visibility in a male dominated environment.
What Needs To Be Done?
Even though reservations are an important tool for more women in politics to enter the parliament, a positive enabling environment alive with gender equality in terms of access and opportunities, distribution of resources are equally important.
While more women MPs will eventually have an impact on the gender hierarchy in the public space and in this case the Parliament, the liberty to take action without pressure and work independently will make a great impact on their performance and a transformation in their leadership. This can only come through ‘Awareness, Recognition and Demand’ of the women, by the women and for the women.
Nancy D Cruz is currently working as a Researcher in a Think Tank based in Delhi. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science (Honors) from Jesus & Mary College. She takes a keen interest in social and political issues in India and religiously follows Middle East politics.
Featured Image Source: Yourstory