Still too few women: New assemblies continue to have skewed gender representation

A crucial factor in the latest round of assembly polls was the women’s vote. But while issues seen to be prioritised by women attracted more attention from political parties, a commensurate increase in women representatives in assemblies remains elusive. Consider Bengal where Mamata Banerjee as the lone woman CM in the country heavily banks on her female support base. Her government has introduced a plethora of welfare schemes to empower and woo young women. Yet the number of women candidates fielded by TMC in the latest polls was just 50 out of 291. Women’s representation in the new Bengal assembly remains unchanged at 40 out of 294.

Similarly, in Tamil Nadu the winning DMK’s manifesto was replete with women-centric schemes ranging from enhanced maternity leave for women government employees to free bus passes for women. But at the level of representation, the number of women MLAs in the state assembly has actually declined from 21 in 2016 to just 12 out of 234 this time.

Kerala raises some hopes with an increase in women MLAs from eight to 11 out of 140. This includes state health minister K Shailaja’s historic 60,000 vote margin victory. But women MLAs have never exceeded 10% of the total strength of the Kerala assembly. This indicates that women continue to face structural hurdles in political representation despite an increase in their vote share over the decades. While parties say that winnability is the prime factor in ticket distribution, social biases often skew the perception of winnability. The merit argument will not have credibility until they make more space for women in their rank and file. Don’t expect women voters to be satisfied with welfare schemes in their name. They should demand and get a more just share in political representation.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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