Simi Meta, Anshula Mehta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Ritika Gupta, Mahima Kapoor, Sakshi Sharda, Nishi Verma

Women have long been excluded from the decision-making authority organizations around the world, reinforcing the existing gender stereotypes and lowering confidence among women for participation. Even though the situation does seem to be improving, the pace of growth seems slow. To discuss the same, the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organized a #webpolicytalk on ‘Political Participation of Women: Impact and the Way Forward‘, on June 10, 2021.

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Prof Vibhuti Patel, Eminent Economist, Feminist; Former Professor, TATA Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, introduced the speakers and the discussants, and then lead the discussion by pointing out that despite constituting almost 50 % of the world’s population, women’s representation in politics and apex decision-making bodies has been considerably low. Out of 204 countries, only 20 have female leaders. These countries have shown excellent performance in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic by ‘putting people before profits.’ Prof Patel pointed out that even though they globally have been at the forefront of social movements, mainstream politics is still dominated by men with high muscle and mafia power, preventing sincere and gifted women from entering electoral politics.

“It is impossible to predict when women will have equal opportunities in politics as we cannot see a clear trend”. According to Prof Patel, some countries, such as India, are going backward in terms of participation in politics. It is time to bring commitment and legal changes in the matter, and power-sharing must happen equally between men and women. Despite an increase in women at higher levels of political power, widespread gender inequality persists, and the progression holding ministerial portfolios has slowed right-wing politics reigning supremely around the planet.

The number of countries with no females in government has increased from 21% in 2020 to 21.9% in 2021, and currently, they account for only 25% of national parliamentarians. This is when 70% of frontline workers in the ongoing pandemic are women. Only 29 countries have them as elected and appointed heads of state of the governments. There is also minimal or no transgender representation in parliamentary spaces.

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Trends in Women’s Participation

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Prof Irma-Clots Figueras, Professor, Economics, School of Economics, University of Kent, iterated that even though the political representation of women in politics has increased over time, it is still not ideal, and there is a long way to go. Portfolios of female ministers are focused on areas of family, women, children, and environment and rarely focused on finance and defense. In India, the representation has improved but is still very low. However, data shows that, in general, most of them standing for elections tend to be successful and win the elections.

Dr. Irma introduced her research based on two questions – whether increasing the political representation influenced policy choices, and whether it influenced participation in politics. Results showed that women’s participation does increase when women candidates win, as observing their success can lower supply-side barriers, for instance, through role model effects. However, it does not encourage new women to join as much as it encourages incumbents to run for the elections. It revealed that 30% of women in India who win a seat do not run for elections. The female candidature was found to be higher in states with a higher women population proportion.

It was also presented that a women’s reservation bill proposing the reservation of a third of seats in state assemblies and parliament is currently pending approval in the Lok Sabha in India. A victory for the grassroots movement was achieved when a third of seats for females was reserved in village council quotas in 1993. Limited support at the state level reflects concern that them claiming those seats will be elite and hence, unlikely to represent the interests of the common females. Evidence from literature shows that they are more likely to favor redistribution and invest in children. Policy choices reflect voter preferences and are independent of legislator identity.

As per the journal of public economics, 2011, both gender and caste affect policy. SC or ST female legislators invest more in health, early education, women-friendly laws, and redistributive policies. General female legislators do not have an impact on women-friendly laws, oppose redistributive policies, invest in higher tiers of education, and reduce social expenditure. A study by Baskaran, Bhalotra, Min, and Uppal found significantly higher growth in economic activity in constituencies that elect women. Female legislators seem to be more efficacious, less corrupt, and less vulnerable to political opportunism.

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Dr. Roxana-Elisabeta Marinescu, Professor, Faculty of International Business and Economics, Department of Modern Languages and Business Communication, Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Romania added that, in European Union, although the share of women in politics is much higher than the rest of the world, it is still very low at 53.5%. The possible reasons for this disparity in politics across the world are unequal distribution of resources, political organizations, societal pressures, and electoral laws and institutes. She also agreed with Dr. Imra on the importance of women being represented by females themselves.

Gender Inequalities

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Prof. Jaya Dantas, Deputy Chair of the Curtin University Academic Board; Professor of International Health, Curtin School of Population Health and Dean International, Faculty of Health Sciences, Curtin University, Western Australia, then took over to provide a comparative analysis of Rwanda, a country with highly successful representation, and Australia, a country being unsuccessful in increasing representation in the government despite being a democracy.

She pointed out that as per the UN Women reports, 70% of health, education, and social sector workers across the world are women and do three times more unpaid care work than men. They have also been hit harder due to the pandemic as compared to men in terms of employment losses, increased domestic violence, and health care accessibility.

A priority theme for International Women’s Day, 2021 was “Women’s full and effective participation and decision making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence for achieving gender equality and empowerment of all females. The women heads of Governments in Denmark, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Taiwan, and New Zealand have been recognized widely for the rapidity, decisiveness, and effectiveness of their national response to Covid-19.

According to data of 190 countries, as of 2020, there are only 6.2% female heads of the government, only 21.3% female ministers, and only 24.9% seats held by them in national parliaments. The number was higher for elected seats held by women in local governments, 36.3%.

A Non-inclusive Field

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Dr. Chaitra Redkar, Associate Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences Department, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, talked about the case of women in Maharashtra, as the state has had a long history of women’s movements. However, despite the long history of movements, there has been no drastic change, and there is not much difference in the political representation in Maharashtra and other states of India.

It was revealed that through the years, there has been an increasing number of women with fortified deposits, and those elected have high family affiliations in the field. It was also shown that through the years, increased no-confidence motions have faced a high number of females running for the local elections. There is a need to address why these candidates don’t get enough votes despite having high competency.

A Socio-Economic Perspective

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Dr. Chitra Lele, Assistant Professor & Head, Department of Political Science, SNDT Arts College, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai, India, pointed out the need to understand the role of caste dominance in women’s representation in politics. She revealed that there is not much representation even in matrilineal states. We have to focus on, not just numbers, but also the quality of representation. Generally, women’s voices are inhibited in political parties. Females tend to face more media pressure and character assassinations are gaining popularity in the field. There are structural inequalities that need to be addressed to increase parity between men and women in politics,

Question and Answer

Prof Vibhuti then posed the first question on behalf of the audience which was related to the low representation in state government, and measures required to improve it. Dr. Imra recommended understanding the internal functioning of the political parties. She added that female victories also encouraged other parties to promote female candidates. There is also a need for a lot of campaigning, and training of women for campaigning in politics. Dr. Roxanna expressed a need for creating grassroots movements, by promoting independent candidates and supporting them and public education about familial ties and the background of those candidates.

 Dr. Chaitra highlighted that there is no single solution for increasing participation. Even though the training plays an important role, at most they can occupy the role of spokesperson, and rarely get the chance to make decisions. Politics in public eyes is associated with power and corruption, and hence, there is a need to redefine politics itself. According to Dr. Jaya, men are at the forefront of networking and lobbying, which females need to take over. It is observed that the work of females is stronger at the grassroots level and gets slower on the top-tier positions.

It is important to acknowledge that women cannot progress without engaging men. It has been noticed that representation is higher in smaller countries as compared to developed countries. Dr. Chitra added that it is necessary to change the role of females at home, at educational institutions, community level, and collaborating with men, and thus, there is a long way to go. Prof Vibhuti also added the example of Rajasthan which requires the individuals to clear HSC to contest elections, thus ensuring high quality of educated leaders.

Another question was posed by the audience asking the discussants for the roadmap to increasing the women’s partnership. Dr. Irma answered by revealing that they have to rely on family connections to contest elections, and so, it is important to change the mindset in regards to women and their family relations. In the beginning, Dr. Irma felt that quotas are required to increase participation, however, not in the longer run.

Prof. Patel added that gender stereotypes need to be broken to change people’s views about female candidates. According to Dr. Roxanna paradigm shifts are needed, and she is hopeful that the facts revealed during the pandemic on their participation will bring a considerable increase in the role of women in leadership, and views of people around the world will change because of the pandemic.

Dr. Chaitra pointed out that it is important to support women without familial affiliations and seeing them for their performance. Dr. Chitra expressed that it is important to have more exchange between female candidates and aspiring students of political science, and educating them about their voting rights, encouraging critical thinking among them, and motivating youngsters overall to promote decision making and initiative among them in the field of politics. Dr. Jaya emphasized the importance of affirmative and well-defined actions, to make the targets meet, and the need for gender-neutral policies to support women, and having them mentored by men.

The session was then concluded by Prof Vibhuti Patel by highlighting the important insights from the discussion such as an increase in women’s participation necessary for gender sensitization, and empowerment, and equal representation is important for the overall sustainable development. It is also important to acknowledge women’s contribution to society and encourage them to equally become a part of the higher-level leadership.

Acknowledgment: Mahi Dugar is a Research Intern at IMPRI

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