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An Analytical View of Women in Politics

Info: 4367 words (17 pages) Essay
Published: 9th Jan 2018 in Politics

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“Achieving the goal of equal participation of women and men in decision making will provide a balance that more accurately reflects the composition of society and is needed in order to strengthen democracy and promote its proper functioning… Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspectives at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved.”

– Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, 1995: Article 181

Women represent more than half of the world’s population and just less than half of the global electorate. Nevertheless, women constitute a marginal proportion of representatives in the world’s legislative bodies. In 2008, the average rate of female representation in national parliaments stands at a meager 18 per cent. India has of yet managed notably limited success in rectifying these imbalances, with women currently holding only 8 per cent of parliamentary seats. Although India was one of the first democratic nations to grant women the vote, women are neither represented in the legislative spaces nor contributing towards the formation of national laws. [1] 

“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.”

– B.R. Ambedkar

Taking measures to enhance the status and visibility of women is critical for sustainable progress against the range of human development indicators, both because women are particularly vulnerable to social and economic marginalisation when resources are scarce, and because women are critical agents in the development processes. According to various international reports, development in India is being severely hampered by the breadth of the gender gap and limited female participation in traditionally male dominated institutions and social strata. There are countless studies to demonstrate the effectiveness of women’s empowerment as a tool for development. For example, Kerala and Manipur have experienced rapid progress in improving health and reducing mortality and fertility rates – the benefits of which affect men as well as women – and in these states women also play a vital social and economic role. This correlation should not be surprising, given that nutrition and child health generally fall within the remit of the woman’s household decisions. Ultimately, healthy, educated and empowered women are more likely to raise healthy, educated and confident children and engage positively with the life of the community (UNICEF). To eliminate gender discrimination and promote female empowerment, women’s decision making capacity must therefore be enhanced within the household, the workplace and the political sphere. Increased political influence should have reverberations for women’s equality in the other two realms, which will in turn have implications for India’s performance against all milestones for social progress.

Women and Reservation

Reservation of seats is a basic, consistent and logical step towards both women’s emancipation and inclusive development – particularly for a government which promised that the “equal access to participation and decision making of women in the social, political and economic life of the nation” would be at the heart of its agenda [2] . The concept of democracy will only assume true and dynamic significance when political parties and national legislatures are decided upon jointly by men and women in equitable regard for the interests and aptitudes of both halves of the population. [3] Whilst there is no universally accepted definition of ‘democracy’, any functional analysis must include two fundamental principals: all members of the society must have equal access to power, and all members must enjoy universally recognized freedoms and liberties. The Indian model of democracy also prioritizes representation so as to avoid the pitfalls of “majority rule”. On this basis, there already exists a quota for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It is clear from the statistics alone that women do not have easy “access” to traditional power structures. Their entry into public spaces is persistently disabled by prevailing historical constructions of gender, created and perpetuated by the dominant institutions such as family, religion, education and the State. Nevertheless, the nature of this relationship also means that the same institutions which created the imbalance can take responsibility for its repair. The final objective of reservation is to increase women’s visibility in all policy decisions on the basis that all policy decisions affect women as well as men, and affect women differently to men. This applies equally to the “harder” issues such as trade, industry, agriculture, defence, employment etc., as it does to those “softer” issues which are traditionally assigned to women politicians. Political participation of all sections of society is essential for building a functioning and representative democracy. Women must therefore be present in new arenas of decision making, with their experiences, perspectives and visions of the future informing public debate. Reservation will provide elected women with the ability to compliment elected men in making the rules that apply equally to both sexes, and which women are equally expected to abide by.

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The World Economic Forum’s annual Gender Gap Report (2007) affirmed that there are just six countries – Iran, Bahrain, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – performing worse against economic parameters, with women constituting a mere 3 per cent of legislators, senior officials and managers and making up 90 per cent of informal workers in the economy. Against other major indicators, there is also immense cause for concern: India has the largest number of maternal deaths in the world and shocking rates of female malnutrition, and a woman in India has lesser chance of survival than in all but 2 of 128 countries. The oft-discussed imbalance in the sex ratio can be attributed – not only to female infanticide, as is often assumed – but to sustained neglect from infancy of female health, nutrition and wellbeing. A girl child is up to 3 times more likely to be malnourished than her brother (UN), and is also significantly more likely to drop out of school before completing a full eight years of education. As well as passive neglect, violence against women and girl children is on the rise: the number of rapes per day has increased by nearly 700 per cent since 1971, and thousands of dowry deaths occur each year. [4] 

In 1990, the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council endorsed the implementation of measures to reach a target of 30% women in national legislatures by 1995. Nearly 20 years later, women occupy only 18% of parliamentary seats around the world, and at the current rate of progress it has been estimated that gender parity in parliaments will not be achieved until the turn of the twenty-second century (Norris: 2004). More countries are therefore deciding to implement a “fast track” route to tackling structural discrimination and increasing female participation. During the last 15 years, nearly 50 countries have introduced legal quotas for women, which guarantee a minimum representation of women in their highest decision making bodies. Percentage of women representatives in Parliament:

Nordic countries – 41.4%

Americas – 21.8%

Europe (excluding Nordic countries) – 19.1%

Asia – 17.4%

Sub-Saharan Africa – 17.2%

Pacific – 13.4%

Arab states – 9.6%

In the high performing Nordic countries, no constitutional clause or law demands a high representation of women; rather, women’s groups have exerted sustained pressure on the major political parties to voluntarily ensure increases in the number and caliber of female candidates being fielded through party lists. However, this was not introduced until women were already present in the Parliament, and already holding between 20 and 30% of the seats. Elsewhere, there have been numerous problems with implementation and enforcement of party quotas. In France, for example, many political parties have preferred to pay fines rather than put their women candidates up for election. In October 2003, Rwanda came closer than any other country to achieving parity between men and women in a national legislature, with reservation of seats securing 48.8% women in the Lower House and 34.6% in the Upper House. Taiwan has introduced an outwardly complicated but well-functioning system of reservation. In addition to a stipulated number of seats reserved specifically for women, there is also a policy of reserving every fifth seat in a district for the best performing female candidate. It is therefore in the interests of the parties to nominate women of the highest possible caliber so as to guarantee winning the “woman’s seat”. Moreover, the women are directly elected and are therefore treated as legitimate political actors. Currently, women ministers remain concentrated in social areas (14%) rather than legal (9.4%), economic (4.1%), political (3.4%) and executive (3.9%), and there are just 13 female heads of state across the globe [5] .

The proponents of the policy of reservation state that although equality of the sexes is enshrined in the Constitution, it is not the reality. Therefore, vigorous affirmative action is required to improve the condition of women. Also, there is evidence that political reservation has increased redistribution of resources in favour of the groups which benefit from reservation

A study about the effect of reservation for women in panchayats shows that women elected under the reservation policy invest more in the public goods closely linked to women’s concerns

A 2008 study, commissioned by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, reveals that a sizeable proportion of women representatives perceive an enhancement in their self-esteem, confidence and decision-making ability.

Some opponents argue that separate constituencies for women would not only narrow their outlook but lead to perpetuation of unequal status because they would be seen as not competing on merit. For instance, in the Constituent Assembly, Mrs Renuka Ray argued against reserving seats for women: “When there is reservation of seats for women, the question of their consideration for general seats, however competent they may be, does not usually arise. We feel that women will get more chances if the consideration is of ability alone.” Opponents also contend that reservation would not lead to political empowerment of women because:

Larger issues of electoral reforms such as measures to check criminalisation of politics, internal democracy in political parties, influence of black money, etc. have not been addressed, and

It could lead to election of ‘proxies’ or relatives of male candidates

The recent UNO report shows that Women hold just over 18 per cent of the seats in parliaments around the world. This represents a 60 per cent increase since 1995 but it is still a long way to go to achieve equality with men in national legislative bodies.

During 2008, parliamentary elections and renewals took place in 54 countries and women’s representation increased to 18.3 per cent – up from 17.7 per cent last year and 11.3 per cent in 1995, the Inter-Parliamentary Union report said. The U.N. Economic and Social Council had set a target of having a minimum of 30 per cent women lawmakers in all parliaments by 1995. According to the IPU, 15 per cent of parliamentary chambers reached the 30 per cent goal for the first time in 2008. That translates to 39 out of 264 chambers in 32 countries. Forty per cent of those chambers are in Europe, 33 per cent in Africa and 23 per cent in Latin America, the report said

International conventions and India’s stand:

The Constitution of India is a progressive document that guarantees equal rights for both sexes, and entitles women to enjoy economic, social, cultural and political rights on an equal footing with men (Article 325). It proceeds to consider the appropriate use of legislation to redress inequality and prevent the further infringement of women’s fundamental democratic freedoms and human rights. Under Article 15 (3), the State is thereby empowered to make “special provisions”, legislative or otherwise, to secure women’s socio-political advancement. Indian case law has already interpreted the Equal Protection provisions to allow for affirmative action for women. In addition, India is a signatory to a number of international agreements that support proactive state measures for women’s political development:

The Convention on the Political Rights of Women provides for equal political rights for women [6] . Under this Convention, states are obligated to ensure that women have the right to vote in elections, to be elected to publicly elected bodies, and to hold public office on equal terms with men. Women are entitled to be free from discrimination in the exercise of these rights. Articles 1 and 2 [7]  provide for the right to vote and to be elected to publicly elected bodies, such as parliaments, established by national law. These are the basic rights which all people must have to express their interest and protect themselves against discrimination or deprivation of liberty. The Charter of the United Nations reaffirms in its preamble the principles of equal rights for men and women. The first General Assembly endorsed these rights when it unanimously adopted the resolution recommending that all member states, which had not already done so, adopt measures necessary to fulfill the purposes and aims of the Charter in this respect by granting to women the same political rights as men. This convention spells out this recommendation in clear and practical terms, on which all parties in a country can unite. Article 3 [8]  of this convention goes beyond the basic rights in articles 1 and 2 into the matter of public office. It provides that women shall be entitled to hold public office established by national law on the same terms as men, and to exercise all public functions in the same way. The object of this article to encourage opportunities for women in government service.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was ratified by India in 1993. Article 3 discusses appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full advancement of women and Article 7 affirms that signatories should take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country.

The Inter Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) Universal Declaration on Democracy (1997) asserted that “the achievement of genuine democracy presupposes a genuine partnership between men and women in the conduct of the affairs of society in which they work in equality and complementarily, drawing mutual enrichment from their differences.”

The Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA), 1995 affirmed that women’s persistent exclusion from decision making was substantially hampering the achievement of democratic transformation, women’s empowerment and achieving the goals of sustainable development. The BPfA therefore endorses affirmative action for women in the political spheres.

The Mexico Plan of Action (1975), the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (1985), the Beijing Declaration as well as the Platform for Action (1995) and the Outcome Document adopted by the UNGA Session on Gender Equality and Development & Peace for the 21st century, titled “Further actions and initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action” have been unreservedly endorsed by India for appropriate follow up.

NATIONAL POLICY FOR THE EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN (2001)

Goal and Objectives

The goal of this Policy is to bring about the advancement, development and empowerment of women. The Policy will be widely disseminated so as to encourage active participation of all stakeholders for achieving its goals. Specifically, the objectives of this Policy include

(i) Creating an environment through positive economic and social policies for full development of women to enable them to realize their full potential

(ii) The de-jure and de-facto enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedom by women on equal basis with men in all spheres – political, economic, social, cultural and civil

(iii) Equal access to participation and decision making of women in social, political and economic life of the nation

(iv) Equal access to women to health care, quality education at all levels, career and vocational guidance, employment, equal remuneration, occupational health and safety, social security and public office etc.

(v) Strengthening legal systems aimed at elimination of all forms of discrimination against women

(vi) Changing societal attitudes and community practices by active participation and involvement of both men and women.

(vii) Mainstreaming a gender perspective in the development process.

(viii) Elimination of discrimination and all forms of violence against women and the girl child; and

(ix) Building and strengthening partnerships with civil society, particularly women’s organizations.

Women in local bodies:

The Panchayat Raj, a system of self-governance, was introduced in 1959, following the submission of Balwant Rai Mehta Committee Report of 1957. The 64th Constitutional Amendment Bill was introduced in Parliament in 1989, which provided for 30% reservation for women. But it could not be passed. The Bill was defeated by a narrow margin in the Upper House. The Bill was reintroduced in September 1991, as the 72nd & 73rd Constitutional Amendment Bills with an additional provision such as one-third representation for women in chairperson positions. The Bills were finally passed on December 1992. Ratified by half the states by April 1993, they came into operation as 73rd & 74th Amendments to the Constitution of India on 24th April 1993. But very recently Union Cabinet approved a proposal for amending the Constitution to increase the women reservation in urban local bodies from one third to 50 percent.

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Increased representation of women is likely to yield significant benefits in terms of higher priority to women’s issues in critical areas of urban Governance and service delivery such as water supply, sanitation, solid waste management, education and health etc. [9] Reservation policies clearly have a strong impact on women’s representation. Women participate more in the political process in Gram Panchayat in which seats are reserved for women. In that Gram Panchayat, there are significantly more investments in drinking water, road construction, health, public toilets etc.

Women’s experience of being involved with the PRI has transformed many of them. They have gained a sense of empowerment by challenging men. They have become articulate and conscious of their power. They have used their elected authority to address, critical issues such as education, drinking water facilities, family planning facilities, hygiene & health, quality of healthcare & village development. They have also brought alcohol abuse & domestic violence onto the agendas of political campaigns. In these and other ways, the issues that women have chosen differ from conventional political platforms, which are usually caste/ethnic/religion based. [10] 

Women Reservation Bill:

In Valsamma Paul (Mrs) v. Cochin University and others, the Supreme Court had occasion to refer to the human rights of women and this is what it says:

“The human rights for women, including girl child are, therefore, inalienable, integral and an indivisible part of universal human rights. The full development of personality and fundamental freedoms and equal participation by women in political, social, economic and cultural life are concomitants for national development, social and family stability and growth – cultural, social and economical. All form of discrimination on grounds of gender is violative of fundamental freedoms and human rights”

In 1996 the United Front government led by Deva Gowda introduced the reservation bill in the Parliament but the bill was rejected in an uproar with, some male politicians arguing that women should stay at home where they really belonged. The media had described the debate as the “battle of the sexes”.

The Women’s Reservation Bill is a powerful normative signal about the desirability of the empowerment of women. It comes against the backdrop of profound social change. Women have, by the dint of their capabilities and efforts, torn down so many barriers. [11] In 1993 the 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution came into force, affecting the Indian rural governing bodies, the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). The Amendment, at focal point for this thesis, provides a 33% reservation for women as members and as chairperson in the PRI’s three-tier system. The reservation has led to a tremendous mobilization of women in the countryside, resulting in one million elected representatives. [12] 

Women have already captured 40 per cent (numbering more than a million) of the seats in panchayati raj institutions, exceeding the constitutionally mandated one-third. It is good that the Government is all set to raise this to 50 per cent soon. However, women form only 15 per cent of the civil service, although many of them have risen to high positions in Government, bureaucracy, police, armed forces, professions, science and technology, business, industry and the corporate world. Their proportion in State and national representative institutions has regrettably been small, disabling them from making their full contribution to the political process in matching strength. Compared to men, they are found to be more assiduous, more result-oriented, more earnest, more successful in getting the best out of those they work with, more disciplined and more particular about adhering to norms of propriety, prudence and probity. [13] 

Conclusion:

In C. Masilamani Mudaliar and others v. Idol of Sri Swaminathaswami Thirukoil [14] ,the Supreme Court construing Article 21 of the Constitution of India as encompassing the right to equality, to dignity and to development, held that women are entitled to enjoy all these and without it, the right of life would be shorn of its meaning and purpose.

A democracy grants political sovereignty to the people: the people must therefore retain a fundamental belief in its ability to represent their needs and act in their interests. In terms of countering apathy, reservation for a sub-group of the population can open up the system and demonstrate that a democratically elected government works for them, and that is not just an elite bureaucracy functioning solely for the dominant sections of society. Indeed, economic and social empowerment cannot be sustained unless women are politically aware, active participants in all levels of decision making. It is thereby imperative that women are politically mobilised and engaged with political processes, and for this to happen they must believe that their voices are being heard within the legislative spaces. Women’s political participation can provide the inspiration for women to take action on a vision of a better and more equal society, and to make meaningful contributions towards inclusive national development. There can be no equal society until women help to elect lawmakers and make laws.

There is an old saying that, educate one man only one man is educated. However when a woman is educated whole family is educated. Similarly when one woman is empowered whole family is empowered.

 

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