Supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate after learning of the initial poll results outside the party headquarters in Kolkata, India, March 11, 2017. REUTERS
After the results of the recent five state assembly elections were announced, Bharatiya Janata Party, the party which has come to power in four out of five states, put out a tweet:
Implementation over mere lip-service – BJP has given maximum number of women MLAs in 17th UP assembly, highest since independence. pic.twitter.com/HNgsBdZa6s
— BJP (@BJP4India) March 14, 2017
The leading party claims that it has not just promised, but also worked towards women’s representation in the party.
BJP indeed has the highest number of women Members of Legislative Assembly (MLA) in the 17th Uttar Pradesh (UP) Assembly. However, of the total BJP MLAs (312) only 10% (32) are women. Also, only 11% (43/384) of BJP’s UP candidates who fought elections this time were women.
Of the total candidates (around 4,823) from all parties, only 9% (445) were women. Table 01 shows the proportion of women candidates in major parties who contested in Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections 2017. BJP’s proportion of women candidates is only marginally higher than the SP, but the stark difference in actual winning candidates can be explained by their landslide victory in the elections this time.
Table 01: Women’s Participation in Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections 2017
A look at the Uttar Pradesh State Assembly since 1952 shows the extent of gender disparity which has existed in the legislative assembly.
Source: Election Commission of India
Source: Election Commission of India
The proportion of female MLAs in India’s largest state has not crossed 10 % in all these years. As per 2011 census, UP’s female population is 48% of the total population of the state.
BJP, What About The Remaining 4 States?
BJP argues that it has gone beyond lip service in terms of women’s representation in the party. Here, we also look at how women candidates had represented BJP in the five states which held Assembly elections in 2017.
Table 02: Women’s Participation In State Assembly Elections 2017 Held In 5 States
The number has not crossed 10% in the four states other than Uttar Pradesh.
These trends could also explain why India scores poorly when it comes to country wise comparison of women in Parliament and ministerial positions. As per ‘Women in Politics 2017 Map’, published by Inter- Parliamentary Union and United Nations Women, India ranks 88 out of 186 countries in the list of ‘Women in Ministerial Positions’. India has only 18.5% (5/27) of female ministers, as of appointments up to January 1, 2017.
In the other list of ‘ Women in Parliament’ which refers to women in the lower house of the parliament up to January 1, 2017, India ranks 148 out of 193 countries. Out of the 542 Members of Parliament (MPs) in Lok Sabha, only 64 are women – which means among 100 MPs only 12 are women. In the Rajya Sabha, the count is 27 out of 245, which is only 11% of the total members.
Meanwhile, women comprise 27.7% of parliamentarians in Afghanistan, 29.6% in Nepal, 25.3 % in Iraq, 20.6% in Pakistan and 20.3% in Bangladesh. This should call for huge introspection as India is trying to cement its place as one of the leading democracies in the world with progressive policies irrespective of genders. It doesn’t help that countries with questionable development indicators and gender equality fare better than India when it comes to representation of women in Parliament.
As the bill for 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and the State assemblies remains stalled, after being passed in Rajya Sabha in 2010, India still struggles to maintain the gender balance with a mere 11% in the lower house.
With a brute majority across states and the centre, BJP should take a lead in correcting this imbalance.