Political Participation and Women in India: Today’s Talk on Editorials
Significance: At all levels of government, India performs abysmally in terms of women’s representation in political bodies. According to a study conducted by Inter-Parliamentary Union, India ranks 149th in a list of 193 countries in terms of women’s representation in the lower or single house of parliament. The average percentage of women’s representation globally stands at about 22%, whereas in case of India it is a mere 11.8%. Countries like Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Fiji and Ghana rank higher than India. In South Asia, Nepal (48), Afghanistan (54), Pakistan (90) and Bangladesh (92) rank much higher than India. Even in the Rajya Sabha, the representation of women stands at a mere 11.1%.
State of Women in political participation: Women are excluded from different walks of life, more visibly in Politics. The U.N. observes that women constitute world’s largest excluded category. For the attainment of true democratic spirit they shall be ensured better political participation. Equal treatment to women in political life, to be meaningful and effective should start from the grassroots level.
To provide training and practice in the process of decision-making, the rural democratic institutions are the ideal structures to begin with. One of the aims of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act is to accomplish this purpose. The amendment provides reservation of seats and posts of chairperson or women in all grassroots level democratic institutions in the countryside known as panchayats.
What is political participation? The study of political participation of any society or section of people needs to take into account whether or not it is associated with democratic values. The level and extent of political participation of people may be restricted by the very existence of both natural and man-made inequalities.
Participation helps the individual to be effective and associates him with the political system. Higher the rate and levels, the more varied the forms of political participation. It is vital to the proper functioning of a democratic polity. political participation of citizens is the distinguishing mark of modern states. More than anything else, the modem state is distinguished from the traditional ones by the extent to which people participate in politics. High levels of political participation are usually associated with democracy, which is beneficial both to the individual and to the society. Political participation has been considered as a ‘sine qua non’ of democracy.
Panchayati Raj is an important political innovation and vital conduit in independent India, for popular participation in democratic development. It is envisaged not merely as a method of implementation of rural development policies and the dispersal of developmental benefits, but most importantly, as a training ground for the promotion of local initiative with a view to increasing people’s political consciousness. The real purpose and impact of participation is to make the citizen not a passive spectator but an agent in politics to enable him to show his disagreement to criticise and block as to push, prod and hasten.
Political apathy: Apathy is characterized by individuals’ passivity or abstention from political activity. It may be defined as lack of interest or concern for persons, situations or phenomena in general or particular.34 Apathy leads to the decline of political vitality and vigilance Widespread apathy increases the chances of opportunists and unscrupulous people to dominate the policy making process. There are three major reasons for political apathy common for any section of people regardless of gender. They are : the first reason is perceived consequence of political activity. Second reason is that the individual may regard political activity as futile. The third reason is that political stimuli is an important factor in encouraging political activity and the absence of political stimuli may contribute to feelings of apathy.
Women’s lives in India and the world over are circumscribed by what can be termed as five ‘Ps’ Patriarchy, Productive resources access inadequacy,
Poverty, Promotion advancement insufficiency and Powerlessness.
- Patriarchy: Patriarchal values reinforced in societies will continuously refuse to believe that a woman can take charge of affairs and is capable of making decisions that are binding to everyone. Women are portrayed as weak and incapable of making smart decisions. They have been depicted across generations to be only capable of trivial matters, constantly engaged in gossip and hearsay, utterly incompetent and less intelligent. This was projected and reinforced through the years through male-dominated institutions and patriarchal societies which internalized the idea that the woman was inferior. With the constant reinforcement of the notion that women are inferior in every aspect, it became hard for women to pursue their political rights as an active participant.
- Productive resource inadequacy: Women’s unequal access to and control over economic and financial resources is main reason for the
gender disparity in India and lack of empowerment of women and also for non- equitable and non sustainable economic growth and development in India. Women smallholder farmers and small- and medium-scale entrepreneurs are deprived of access to credit and thus they have low purchasing power parity as well.
- Poverty: Low-income people who lives below poverty line lack funding to effectively advocate for their needs and are under-represented as a result. Their main focus is to meet their daily ends and they give secondary priority to political empowerment.
- Promotion advancement insufficiency: A new research by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. yields some disturbing findings about women’s prospects for advancement in the workplace. Though women and men say they want to be promoted in about equal numbers (75% and 78% respectively), women are significantly less likely to make it to the next tier in their organization. Across all organizational levels, the study found that women are a whopping 15% less likely than men to get promoted. It acts as a glass ceiling for the women to ascend to the higher levels of political ladder.
- Powerlessness: Women in India now possess authority through being incumbents of elective positions, this has not been translated into power, i.e. the ability to actually effect outcomes due to factors like proxy politics and sarpanchpati in rural areas. Gender and other social differences hinder the exercise of power by women representatives, and have reduced their effectiveness as political representatives. Thus, what is required is an alternative conception of power which is centered not on the position but on the individual.