The urban legend is that women leaders are proxies and decision-making is done by husbands and fathers, especially when the seat is reserved for women. But a new study disproves this, finding that women MLAs are less corrupt and more efficient.

Development in a constituency is likely to be 25 per cent higher if it has a woman legislator, says the decadal study. Using infrastructure growth like night-time lighting and roads, a working paper by UN University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) found that Indian women MLAs are less likely to be criminal and are more efficient in finishing developmental projects.

The paper written by Thushyanthan Baskaran, Sonia Bhalotra, Brian Min and Yogesh Uppal looks at 4,265 state assembly constituencies across India between 1992 and 2012, spanning four elections.

"This perception that women MLAs are controlled by their husbands seems to be based mostly on a few publicised cases. There is no systematic evidence that would show this. Our results would certainly suggest that most women MLAs are able to pursue their own agendas," said co-author Baskaran.

The study found that male legislators are about three times as likely as female legislators to have criminal charges pending against them. Assets of women legislators grow by about 10 percentage points less per annum while in office. For an equal number of funded village road contracts, the share of incomplete road projects is 22 percentage points lower for women.

Though male and female politicians are equally likely to negotiate Central projects for road building in their constituencies, women are more likely to oversee completion of these projects, it said.

The report showed that street lighting was 15 per cent higher than the average in constituencies where woman won by a small margin of votes compared to those where men won by a small margin. This, the researchers inferred, translated into a 1.8 per cent positive difference in GDP growth.

Association for Democratic Reforms co-founder Jagdeep Chhokar says generalisations based on gender are risky considering the low representation of women in politics. "There are greater barriers for women to enter politics. Women who choose politics do so because their commitment to public service is higher than men. The study reflects that, and the good work that they do," Chhokar said.

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