“The reservation of seats for women in the institution of local self-government has had a limited impact on the patriarchal character of the Indian political process”. Comment. (15 marks)

Mentor’s comment

  • In the intro, mention the significance of local self-government (Democratic decentralization, transparency & accountability).
  •  In the first part of the body, elaborate on the significance and the positive impact of reservation of seats for women in these institutions like their increased political participation, empowerment, providing a political voice to their concerns, increase in their bargaining power, etc. can be mentioned.
  •  In the second part, elaborate on how in some cases the women exercise no power and reals decision are made by her husband, how the political space is still dominated by the male resulting in the subversion of the provisions made for the empowering the women and ultimately resulting failure to tackle the patriarchal character of the Indian political process.
  •  In conclusion, state the need to improve the system by encouraging more active participation of women.

Answer:

Even though a significantly large number of women vote in the country, yet only a few of them assume the reins of power. Gender inequality leading to deprivation of power among women continues to be a political reality in India today. Although the Constitution of India attempts to remove gender inequalities by interdicting discrimination based on sex and class, and enshrining fundamental rights for all citizens, women still have only de jure rather than de facto access to political representation. There is no denying the fact that greater participation of women in the political process would be a precondition for their economic and social emancipation. 

How the reservation of seats for women in the institutions of LSGs plays an important role in the political empowerment of women:

  • LSG institutions are a watershed in India‘s democratic history as they not only percolated democratic decentralization to the grass-root level but also made a giant leap in women empowerment by granting them 33% reservation restoring its faith in women leadership.
  • The recent Economic Survey states that there were 13.72 lakh elected women representatives (EWRs) in LSGs, which constitute 44.2 percent of total elected representatives (ERs) as of December 2017.
  • Women Sarpanchs accounted for 43 percent of total gram panchayats (GPs) across the country by December 2018.
  • This is a testimony to the active leadership of women in local government. 
  • They are bringing their experience in the governance of civil society making the state sensitive to the issues of poverty, inequality and gender injustice, thus influencing the decision-making process, planning, implementation and evaluation of various developmental programs at the local level.     
  • It also provided an opportunity to hitherto deprived low caste women to participate in the mainstream political processes. Its spiral effect boosted women’s confidence in their abilities and encouraged them to seek a meaningful role in society.  

Why this reservation of seats for women has had a limited impact on the patriarchal character of the Indian Political Process:

Nonetheless, this representation has been limited by patriarchal norms. Also, women‘s representation at the level of LSGs has not translated to other levels of participation. For instance: 

  • Lok Sabha had 11.8 percent and the Rajya Sabha 11 per women MPs.
  • In 2018, out of the total 4,118 MLAs across the country, only 9 percent were women. In the recent general election total of 78 women representatives have been elected which constitutes 14.6% of the total Lok Sabha strength. Out of 78 women representatives, 46 have been elected for the first time.
  • Thus, in a country like India with around 49 percent of women in the population, the political participation of women has been very low.
  • Factors such as domestic responsibilities, prevailing cultural attitudes regarding the roles of women in society and lack of support from family were among the main reasons that prevented them from entering politics.
  • In LSGs as well the real power was usurped by the husbands of elected women representatives colloquially known as the Sarpanch Pati depriving them of any meaningful gains.
  • Lack of political will by all parties to give tickets to women candidates. 
  • For a common woman, it’s not that easy to raise the ladders of politics without a strong political background. Therefore, the elected women mostly come from the 3B brigade – beti, bahu, biwi. 
  • 108th Amendment Bill, calling for reservation for women in the legislature, is languishing for 2 decades.
  • The empowerment of the women at the top has not trickled down while the achievements of 73rd and 74th CAA have not moved up towards state legislatures and parliaments.
  • The cultural environment puts maximum emphasis on men. Apart from that criminalization of politics and the political environment of instability and personality traits are the primary causes of the marginal participation of women in politics.

However, the LSGs have provided a much-needed opportunity to women. The need of the hour is to make women aware of their rights to better exercise their powers.

Way Forward to reverse the trend of fewer women participation in Indian politics:

  • Politics should be seen as a career rather than a muddy affair where only rogue elements participate. It will be a first and a much-needed step.
  • Political parties should come forward to increase women representatives. 
  • Gender stereotypes that perceive women as weak representatives should be changed through awareness and education. 
  • Efforts need to be taken to enhance the participation of women in governance in large numbers.
  • 108th CAA or Women’s Reservation Bill which reserves 33% of seats for Indian women at the legislatures has to be passed soon in the Parliament.
  • Women’s leadership and communication skills need to be enhanced by increasing female literacy, especially in rural areas. They should be empowered in order to break socio-cultural barriers and improve their status in society.
  • Women LSGs members have to be trained to analyze and understand their roles and responsibilities given in the 73rd and 74th amendment act.
  • Thanks to the university and college elections, some from student politics have made their mark but their examples are minuscule and we need more like them. 
  • Some forms of political activity like elections for unions or head girls should be encouraged at the school level, so that girl children can have a taste of how democracy works and they should be realized that politics is not a bad thing after all.
  • Financial support for women candidates is an idea worth considering.
  • Promoting the idea of the significance of women‘s role in decision making at educational institutions and homes.

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