Women’s political representation and engagement are very important for an open and equitable society. Women and other underrepresented groups must have an equal voice in setting policy and making decisions if the criteria for equal representation and opportunity are to have any real influence.
Issues that are genuinely related to women and other minority genders get a better chance to be accounted for and more opportunities for proper redressal. As mentioned in UN Women, “Political accountability to women begins with increasing the number of women in decision-making positions, but it cannot stop there. What is required are gender-sensitive governance reforms that will make all elected officials more effective at promoting gender equality in public policy and ensuring their implementation.”
Hence women’s political participation is a huge step towards a sensitive and inclusive society and governance.
However, women do not need to be present in the political arena and conversation solely to address women’s issues, as the economy, foreign affairs, gun restrictions, inflation, and so on affect everyone. This political and public discourse stems from patriarchal social institutions’ prejudices and biases.
Women’s representation and participation have evolved over the years but it is still quite low. According to UN Women, “till 2022, 30 women were serving as elected heads of state and/or of government in 28 countries (out of a total of 193 UN member states).” And if we look at the numbers on the local governance level, “Data from 136 countries shows that women constitute nearly 3 million (34 per cent) of elected members in local deliberative bodies. Only two countries have reached 50 per cent, and an additional 20 countries have more than 40 per cent women in local government.”
Despite various nations’ efforts to curb this low representation and efforts to increase participation, the numbers remain pretty common.
India on the other hand, has historically alienated and marginalised women in the political spectrum because of the inherent biases, prejudices and stereotypes associated with patriarchal institutions and systems in the country.
Indian Women have been kept out of decision-making and policy-making that can only come from active political engagement. Women’s persistent efforts to gain a constitutional reservation in parliament and at the state level have been thwarted.
As a consequence, we lack sensitive governance, effective policy-making, and gender-inclusive political and constitutional reforms and regulations. At parliamentary and state levels as well as local governance levels, issues that are gender-related or gender-sensitive are not addressed and reflected in policies and legislations, due to the gap in gender political participation and representation.
Moreover, when gender intersects with other social identities like caste, religion, ethnicity etc., we witness further marginalisation and exclusion. Dalit and Adivasis women, Muslim women, persons from LGBTQI+ Etc are almost negligible in numbers. Though policies and frameworks to enable the representation of Dali women at the grassroots have been incorporated the reality remains grim.
It should be noted, however, that women’s representation has improved at the grassroots and panchayat levels. This is due to Article 243 D of the Constitution, which mandates that one-third of the total number of seats in Panchayats (local self-government) at all levels be filled by direct election, including those of the Chairpersons.
Unless there is equal political participation of women of various social and cultural identities as well as minority genders, having sensitive governance and equality in all parameters is not going to happen. Equal political participation and representation is an inherent human right of all humans in a democracy.
Alas, even if we see representation and participation from women and minority genders ( e.g. Bobby Kinnar, a trans person councillor of AAP Party) at various political levels, it is always accompanied by gender discrimination, sexist politics and prejudices.
The road for women in politics is not an easy one as various nuances are at play. Sometimes the woman is a nominal head at the Panchayat level and men make all decisions and sometimes women and other genders receive gender-based violence in the form of defamation, trolling and others.
Feminism In India, therefore, attempts to create and build a discourse that addresses the issues of lack of political participation, underrepresentation, insensitive policies and legislations, unaccountability of gender issues and various other matters that pertain to gender, politics, polity and their intersection with caste, religion, ethnicity etc.
FII invites submissions on Gender and Political participation in September 2023. We hope to contribute to the conversation about gender biases in politics by stressing the importance of an all-inclusive gender perspective in the field and the best practices needed for better outcomes and narrowing inequities.
We have curated some pointers that might be helpful while putting together your thoughts:
- Women’s representation and participation at Parlaimenaty and State levels
- Gender, caste and political participation
- Gender, religion and political participation
- Dalit women’s political representation and participation at the grassroots
- Need for a gender-inclusive and sensitive governance
- Steroptyes and biases against women politicians
- Trolling, gendered disinformation and online abuse against women politicians
- Women’s Reservation Bill and the ongoing debate
This list is not exhaustive and you may feel free to write on topics within the theme that we may have missed out here. We understand that some topics may be personal and hence, if you wish to publish them anonymously, kindly mention that in your email.
We look forward to your drafts and hope you enjoy writing them!
Featured Illustration: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism In India