Political Participation and Representation of Women in Indian Politics

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Foundation Course

1

Human Rights, Gender & Environment

POLITICAL PARTICIPATION AND REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN IN INDIAN POLITICS Malathi Subramanian∗

Women’s participation in mainstream political activity has important implications for the broader arena of governance in any country. Governance relates to a set of rules, institutions, and values that are involved in the management of state and society. Governance institutions and processes include political parties, parliaments, government and their interactions with society. Although governance is a generic term which could mean good government or management, the governance values, types of government, the nature of political processes, the political parties and organizations, which/whose interests are represented and protected, and the extent of power that the masses have to challenge the state or in suggesting alternatives in methods of governance etc. may vary in different political systems. Liberal democracy is founded on reason, law, and freedom of choice but the position of different social groups in the social and political space where power is located is not always equal in practice. This is particularly so in the case of women. The nature of society or state has a decisive impact on the extent and effectiveness of women’s political presence and participation. Notions of democracy, governance and the state are often not gender neutral constructs but result from both historical factors and experiences. The state and its organizational entities reflect the same social forces as other social organizations. It is thus necessary to examine the gender balance in women’s participation in the political process, decision making and policy formulation. The limited nature of female participation and representation in national decision making institutions has important consequences for women and for the legitimacy of the institutions. Where women constitute half the population in a political system which supports equality and where both women and men are legally eligible for political office, women’s participation should be equal to that of men. If this is not the case, it signifies deep flaws within the political system. Representation is not only a means of ensuring individual participation. It is also the responsibility of the representatives to act on behalf of the constituents, including women, who elected them and reflect their ideas and aspirations. Women’s disproportionate absence from the political process would mean that the concerns of half the population cannot be sufficiently attended to or acted



Rtd Principal, Daulat Ram College for Women, University of Delhi, Delhi

University of Delhi

BA Programme II

Foundation Course

2

Human Rights, Gender & Environment

upon as it denies their viewpoints sufficient opportunity to be integrated in the political system.

While the Indian democratic state is committed to the protection of individual rights within the context of citizenship, a closer look at how it operates for the women reveals that these rights are not accessible in the public and private spheres in their full potential to all the women in India. There are historical, social and cultural factors that have limited women’s capacity and chances to exercise their freedom to participate in the political processes. The evolution of Indian democracy through the 14 general elections so far has reflected a low representation of women in Parliament, State legislatures, in political parties and other decision-making bodies. The under representation of women in the political sphere is inextricably linked with the low and inferior status of women in society in India especially in the context of the declining sex ratio (Table 1), increasing violence and crimes against women and their marginalized status in employment, education and health sectors.(Human Development in South Asia:2000). The comparative position of gender-related development...
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