MAKING NATIONAL LEGISLATURES MORE GENDER-BALANCED
- The recently released Global Gender Gap Report and Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) report highlights the glaring gender bias that exists in world parliaments.
- Democracy has become a truly universal value and pursuit. Yet although international instruments, norms and standards continually reinforce democratic principles, achieving them remains a daunting challenge across the world.
- While more women than ever are being elected to parliaments around the world, equality is still a long way off, and current progress is far too slow.
- Women are excluded from decision-making at every step of the ladder, starting from the household to the top layer of policy making.
- Most parliaments are still heavily male-dominated, and some have no women MPs at all. Even where women are present in greater numbers, glass ceilings often remain firmly in place.
- The recently published Global Gender Gap report also highlights the widest gender disparity in the field of political empowerment.
Women in Political Arena – A Worldwide Scenario
- To cite the Inter-Parliamentary Union report, women legislators account for barely 24% of all MPs across the world.
- However, the experience of the top ranked countries in the IPU list does give an indication of how women’s presence in political spaces took an upward turn in those nations.
- Rwanda, a landlocked nation with a population of 11.2 million, tops the list, with 61.3% seats in the Lower House and 38.5% in the Upper House occupied by women.
- Since 2003, the country has implemented a legislated quota of 30% in all elected positions, which has enabled a steady inflow of women parliamentarians after successive elections.
- Its Constitution has also set a quota of 30% in all elected offices.
- Cuba, the largest Caribbean island nation with a population of about 11.1 million, holds the second rank, with 53.2 % seats of its 605-member single House being occupied by women representatives.
- The Communist dispensation in Cuba did not opt for legislated gender quotas, but does follow a practice akin to voluntary quota systems.
- However, Cuban women are less represented at the local level, where candidates are selected by the local communities that often overlook women candidates.
- Sweden, the fifth rank holder in the IPU, has a professedly feminist government and has maintained a women’s parliamentary representation of at least 40% since 90s.
- The 349-member single House, Swedish Parliament, now has 161 women with 46.1% representation. Sweden does not have any constitutional clause or electoral law earmarking representation for women in elected bodies.
- The issue of compulsory gender quota didn’t find favour in Sweden as it was believed that such a quota will create reverse discrimination and violate the principles of equal opportunities. Almost all political parties there have adopted measures to ensure a fair representation for women at all levels. In 1993, the Social Democratic Party adopted the ‘zipper system’ is a gender quota system where women and men are placed alternately on all party lists. This further boosted women’s seat share.
- Nepal occupies the 36th position in the IPU and its 275-member Lower House has 90 women, about 32.7% of the total strength.
- The Nepal Constitution stole a march over many others in the South Asia by earmarking 33% seats for women in all state institutions including the legislature.
What about India?
- India, at 149 among the 192 countries in the IPU list, had barely 11.8% women’s representation in the 16th Lok Sabha, which improved to 14.5% in the current Lower House. At least seven out of the 29 States have not sent a single woman MP to the lower house.
Why gender balance in the political arena matters?
- The Indian system has electoral representation to the Lok Sabha based on population. But the current women’s representation at 12% is far below the actual population of women. So, on grounds of fairness, this is an anomaly. A fully representative Parliament allows the different experiences of genders to craft priorities and shape the economic and social future of a democratic society.
- There is documented evidence both at the international level and at the gram panchayat (village) level to suggest that a greater representation of women in elected office balances the process and prioritizations that elected bodies focus on.
- A wide range of international studies have focused on policy style, agenda and outcomes. In terms of policy styles, for instance, the inclusion of women adds behind the scenes discussion rather than direct confrontation on the floor of the House. In terms of agenda (as measured in Rwanda), a wider range of family issues get tackled.
- A randomised trial in West Bengal also shows that women pradhans (heads of village panchayats) focus on infrastructure that is relevant to the needs of rural women, suggesting that at least at the local level outcomes can be different.
Methods to diminish the Gender Bias:
1.Quotas for women in Parliament
- The 73rd and 74th amendments to the Indian Constitution reserve one-third of local body seats for women.
- But the 108th Constitutional Amendment Bill stipulating 33% quota for women in the Parliament and in State Assemblies remains in political cold storage.
- The idea which requires a constitutional amendment is controversial with both men and women supporting and opposing it.
2.Reservation for women in political parties.
- Around the world, more countries follow the idea of reservation in political parties Sweden, Norway, Canada, the UK and France are examples.
- Reservation in political parties will also require education, encouragement, and role- modelling for women to aspire to a political role as it is in the party’s interest to ensure that their candidate wins.
3.Awareness, education and role modelling that encourage women towards politics.
- Gender stereotypes which 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.
- Changing parliaments is key to changing society. Women’s increasing presence and influence will obviously result in changes in laws, practices, behaviour and cultures.
- Women running for election face numerous challenges—including addressing discrimination or cultural beliefs that limit women’s role in society, balancing private, family and political life, gaining support from political parties, securing campaign funding violence etc…Change is possible if political commitment and adequate legal and policy frameworks are in place to provide a level playing field for both women and men.
- Just like the recent success of women’s movement to enter the sanctum sanctorum of dargahs and temples, a similar movement needs to begin to increase women’s participation in electoral politics.
- The problems of lack of education and leadership training should be given due addressal so that necessary opportunities for women to participate in the political process is strengthened leading to healthy representation.