UPSC MAINS 2019: Empowering effects of women in politics

Empowering effects of women in politics


Topic: Empowering effects of women in politics

Topic in Syllabus: GS Paper 2: Indian Society


Reservation for women in politics has positively impacted their inheritance rights as well as marriage negotiations Quotas for women in government have swept the world as a revolutionary tool to further female political inclusion.



  • The term ‘political participation’ has a very wide meaning.
  • It is not only related to ‘Right to Vote’, but simultaneously relates to participation in decision-making process, political activism, political consciousness, etc.
  • Women in India participate in voting, run for public offices and political parties at lower levels more than men.
  • Political activism and voting are the strongest areas of women’s political participation.
  • To combat gender inequality in politics, the Indian Government has instituted reservations for seats in local governments.
  • Women turnout during India’s parliamentary general elections was 65.63%, compared to 67.09% turnout for men.
  • India ranks 20th from the bottom in terms of representation of women in Parliament.
  • The Constitution of India attempts to remove gender inequalities by banning discrimination based on sex and class, prohibiting human trafficking and forced labor, and reserving elected positions for women.
  • The Government of India directed state and local governments to promote equality by class and gender including equal pay and free legal aid, humane working conditions and maternity relief, rights to work and education, and raising the standard of living.
  • Women were substantially involved in the Indian independence movement in the early 20th century and advocated for independence from Britain.
  • Independence brought gender equality in the form of constitutional rights, but historically women’s political participation has remained low.


Facts and figures:

  • Only 24 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of November 2018, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995.
  • As of January 2019, 11women are serving as Head of State and 10 are serving as Head of Government.
  • Rwanda has the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. Women there have won 61.3 per cent of seats in the lower house.
  • Globally, there are 29 States in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of November 2018, including 4 chambers with no women at all.
  • In a country like India with around 49 per cent of women in the population, the political participation of women has been low.
  • Countries like Egypt, India, Brazil, Malaysia, Japan, Sri Lanka and Thailand have less than 15 per cent representation of women in Parliament,
  • Quoting an Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women report — Women in Politics 2017, the survey said Lok Sabha had 64 (11.8 percent of 542 MPs) and Rajya Sabha 27 (11 per cent of 245 MPs) women MPs.
  • As on October 2016, out of the total 4,118 MLAs across the country, only 9 per cent were women,” it said.
  • In India, between 2010 and 2017 women’s share rose 1 percentage point in its Lower House (Lok Sabha.


Challenges to women’s participation:


Sexual violence:

  • Sexual violence in India is exacerbated by issues of education and marriage.
  • Women are sexually abused. Child marriage, domestic violence and low literacy rates have lowered Indian women’s economic opportunities and contributed to sexual violence in India.
  • A 2011 study found, “24% of Indian men have committed sexual violence at some point in their lives, 20% have forced their partners to have sex with them 38% of men admitting they had physically abused their partners.
  • Widespread sexual violence is attributed to the fact that violence within marriage is not against the law, and sexual violence goes largely unpunished.



  • Although the Constitution of India removed gender inequalities among caste and gender, discrimination continues to be a widespread barrier to women’s political participation.
  • A 2012 study of 3,000 Indian women found the barriers in participation, specifically in running for political office, in the form of illiteracy, work burdens within the household, and discriminatory attitudes towards women as leaders.
  • Discriminatory attitudes manifest in the limitations presented to Indian women including low access to information and resources.
  • Women rely on receiving information from family or village members, typically men. Women also lack leadership experience due to the fact they are burdened with household duties.



  • India has one of the largest illiterate populations.
  • In January 2014, the United Nations reported 287 million adults in India are illiterate.
  • Literacy among Indian women is 53.7%, which is much lower than literacy among men reported at 75.3%.
  • Illiteracy limits the ability of women to understand the political system and issues.
  • Problems with exploitation, such as women being left off of voters lists, have been reported as illiteracy limits the ability of women to ensure their political rights are exercised.


According to Economic Survey 2017-18:

  • Domestic responsibilities
  • Prevailing cultural attitudes regarding roles of women in society
  • Lack of support from family
  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of finance


Other challenges are:

  • Lack of will of Political Parties to provide adequate number of party tickets to women candidates for their better representation
  • Delay in passing of Women Reservation Bill providing 33% reservation in Lok sabha and state legislative assemblies
  • Lack of leadership training and limited involvement in decision making process.


Possible Approaches For A Robust Measurement Framework:


Application of Technology:

  • The new government in India has a penchant for using technology for taking government schemes to the remote areas.
  • The mobile penetration in India is even more than the penetration of electricity connections.
  • The digital communication advancements may be introduced to capture the actual participation of women in Panchayat activities by counting their attendance and their vote share in passing a decision in the Panchayat.
  • Portals and mobile applications may be developed to voice the women issues by calling response from general women.


Application of Analytics:

  • Advanced analytics can be used to validate, cluster and segment data regarding women participation in local level politics.
  • Big Data techniques have allowed policy planners to work with huge chunk of data which can be both quantitative as well as qualitative.
  • Techniques like text mining and video mining can be utilized to extract meaningful information out of the huge data which can be in the form of recordings, documents and other information.
  • Work has been started by the new government to use social media analytics for grass root development and gender issues can be incorporated into this framework.


Development of Women Political Participation Score:

  • The collection of data on women participation in politics is essential for policymakers.
  • With lot of related and unrelated data, it becomes imperative to convert that information into an indicator which can be utilized for policy intervention.
  • Data required for this task may include all the three aspects of political participation which are: women as electorate, women as elected representatives and women as policy makers.
  • Other aspects of gender statistics can also be included as an input to give a holistic measure of women participation in that area.
  • A single score which can be weighted average of normalized version of different dimensions can be used for both budgeting and policy intervention purposes.


Significance of political participation:

Those speaking out against reservation often cite its inability to take a person’s ‘merit’ into account. However, a recent study by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) found that assembly constituencies with women representatives show significantly higher economic growth than those under their male counterparts.


Researchers from the UN University sifted through data for 4,265 State assembly constituencies over a period of two decades (1992-2012) across an average of four election cycles.

  • Women legislators in India raise the economic performance in their constituencies by about 1.8 percentage points per year more than male legislators.
  • Women are more effective at completing road projects and hence creating infrastructure.
  • Women legislators are significantly less likely than men to be carrying criminal charges. They are also slightly younger on average.
  • Evidence suggests that women legislators are less likely than men to exploit their office for personal financial gain.


Women’s Reservation Bill [The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008:

Commonly known as the Women’s Reservation Bill, it seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies. Introduced by the UPA-I government in May 2008, it also provides that one third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups. Similar Bills have been introduced thrice before in the late 90’s but lapsed with the dissolution of their respective Lok Sabhas.


Highlights of the Bill:

  • The Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008 seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies. The allocation of reserved seats shall be determined by such authority as prescribed by Parliament.
  • One third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies.
  • Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory.
  • Reservation of seats for women shall cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of this Amendment Act.


Key Features

  • The Bill seeks to reserve, as nearly as possible, one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies (including Delhi). The allocation of reserved seats shall be determined by such authority as prescribed by Parliament.
  • As nearly as possible, one third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies shall be reserved for SC/ST women.
  • Reservation of seats for women shall cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of the Act.


Key Issues and Analysis

  • There are divergent views on the reservation policy. Proponents stress the necessity of affirmative action to improve the condition of women. Some recent studies on panchayats have shown the positive effect of reservation on empowerment of women and on allocation of resources.
  • Opponents argue that it would perpetuate the unequal status of women since they would not be perceived to be competing on merit. They also contend that this policy diverts attention from the larger issues of electoral reform such as criminalisation of politics and inner party democracy.
  • Reservation of seats in Parliament restricts choice of voters to women candidates. Therefore, some experts have suggested alternate methods such as reservation in political parties and dual member constituencies.
  • Rotation of reserved constituencies in every election may reduce the incentive for an MP to work for his constituency as he may be ineligible to seek re-election from that constituency.
  • The report examining the 1996 women’s reservation Bill recommended that reservation be provided for women of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) once the Constitution was amended to allow for reservation for OBCs. It also recommended that reservation be extended to the Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils. Neither of these recommendations has been incorporated in the Bill.



  • The Women’s Reservation Bill was finally passed in Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010 but is yet to withstand the test in Lok Sabha.
  • Some argued that the bill should have a quota for women from underprivileged background.
  • The bill would only help women from the affluent class as rural women were not attractive enough.



India has a rich history of measuring political participation of women since its independence. The decentralization of governance which is taking place for last two decades has increased the importance of measuring participation of women in decision making. Proper gender budgeting has already been worked out for inclusive growth of women & girls by ear-marking one third budget for the women in all the schemes. The Indian Government has a lot of emphasis on utilizing real time data for measuring different social indicators and using them for policy intervention. With more responsive data on women participation, better gender budget initiatives aim to move the country towards a gender.


Sample Question:

Critically evaluate the Women in Indian Politics? Will women ever get their due in Parliament? Comment.

Empowering effects of women in politics Infograph