Women in Political Leadership Roles

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    Context

    • It is necessary to get rid of inherent biases and perceptions about female effectiveness in leadership roles.

    History of Women in decision-making roles in India

    • Women’s suffrage:
      • Independent India can rightly be proud of its achievement in so far as women’s suffrage is concerned. Women were allowed to vote from 1950 onwards and so could participate on an equal footing with men from the first general election of 1951-52. 
        • In contrast, In the U.S., it took several decades of struggle before women were allowed to vote in 1920. Most countries in Europe also achieved universal suffrage during the inter-war period.
    • Women leaders in Politics:
      • India had and has charismatic female leaders like Indira Gandhi, Jayalalitha, Mayawati, Sushma Swaraj and Mamata Banerjee among several others. 

    Issues & challenges

    • Data on women participation in Politics:
      • Ministerial position:
        • Female members make up only about 10% of the total ministerial strength. 
      • Chief Minister:
        • The underrepresentation of female Ministers in India is also reflected in the fact that Ms. Mamata Banerjee is currently the only female Chief Minister.
      • Strength in Legislature:
        • The underrepresentation of women in Indian legislatures is even more striking. 
        • For instance, the 2019 election sent the largest number of women to the Lok Sabha. 
        • Despite this, women constitute just over 14% of the total strength of the Lok Sabha. 
        • This gives us the dismal rank of 143 out of 192 countries for which data are reported by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. 
    • Women’s performance in the Legislature:
      • Token representatives:
        • The study draws attention to women’s performance in the Lok Sabha through a quantitative analysis of the questions posed by women leaders on the floor. 
        • It claims that they act as mere token representation in political spheres.
      • Question Hour:
        • Women’s performance during the Question Hour session becomes relevant as it is a space where legislators act free from party regulation
        • Study contests claim that women members act as silent dolls or ‘gungi gudiyas’ during the Question Hour in Parliament.
    • Access to power:
      • India has not had a single women’s movement that challenged patriarchal and gender norms in the last two decades.
      • Women have had to use alternate methods to come to power. 
      • Education and wealth have aided women in political participation.
    • Extending Quotas for women:
      • The establishment of quotas for women is one of the requirements to create a level playing field for women. 
      • Attempts have also been made to extend quotas for women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies through a Women’s Reservation Bill. 
      • Unfortunately, the fate of this Bill represents a blot on the functioning of the Indian Parliament. 
    • Politics as men’s profession:
      • Politics is often seen as a male bastion, and women are discouraged from entering it on the pretext that it is not a ‘feminine’ profession.
      • Female candidates were often made to contest in elections as “namesakes” for their husbands.

    Government initiatives & international commitments

    • The Women’s Reservation Bill(2008)(108th amendment):
      • It has also been introduced in the national Parliament to reserve 33 percent of the Lok Sabha seats for women.
    • Gender-neutral procedures and language:
      • In 2014, under the leadership of the then Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Rules of Procedure of the Lok Sabha were made entirely gender neutral
      • Since then, each Lok Sabha Committee Head has been referred to as Chairperson (not chairman) in all documents. 
        • This initiative is proof that amending legal documents to make them inclusive for all genders is an attainable goal if there is a will.
    • Convention for Elimination of Discrimination Against Women:
      • India is a signatory to the Convention for Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
      • The convention obliges states to take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in political and public life and, in particular, to ensure that women are as eligible as men to contest elections to all public bodies.
      • They have the right to participate in contributing to government policy and its implementation.
    • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:
      • Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is binding on signatory states including India
      • It says that “every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections.

    Way Ahead

    • There is substantial evidence showing that increased female representation in policy making goes a long way in improving perceptions about female effectiveness in leadership roles. 
    • The problem of the under-representation of women is only superficial
    • What lies underneath is the problem of structural inequality, wherein women are marginalised at different levels. 

    Source: TH