Women make up 49% of our population – but their representation in Parliament and in the Elections is far lower

Will the 16th Lok Sabha Elections go down in history as the biggest baloney of the decade, or are they simply an indication of the future? It’s no secret that we Indians love a good show, but our seasoned showmen have managed to exceed themselves this time. Hyperbole has been aplenty – from vicious personal digs to divisive statements, fashion dressing and Slapgate What gets conveniently overlooked are the real issues – such as health, education, equality and safety.  

Women make up 49% of India’s population, but hardly get any attention during the elections  - from interviews to live coverage, it’s men who occupy centre stage. Things are a little different this year – savvy advertisers were quick to point out the “Power Of 49″ to their political masters, who in turn have ensured that there is a bullet point on Women & Welfare on the last page of their manifestos. So while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has promised to address women’s safety, BJP & Congress have sworn to expedite a legislature that guarantees 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha (There are 60 women in the current Lok Sabha, a mere 11%).

While we are conflicted about reservation for women in Parliament, the promises around the Bill made us wonder: How many women are fighting the national elections? What is the performance of major political parties in promoting women candidates? Are there significant differences between male and female candidates when it comes to education, financial assets or registered criminal cases?

To come up with some answers, we used data compiled by Association For Democratic Reforms, which analysed self-sworn affidavits of 5380 candidates (out of 5432 candidates) who have contested or are contesting in Phase 1 to 6 of the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections. Here is what we came up with:

1. Women make up a mere 7% (402) of the 5380 candidates that are part of ADR’s analysis. This is a drop from the 556 women candidates who contested in the last General Elections (2009), and the highest ever number of 599 in the 1991-92 General Elections. For perspective, the female population of India is currently estimated to be 614,397,079, or 614.4 million. (2014 numbers are for Phase 1-6 of the 2014 Elections.)

2. If this number seems disappointing, we can take heart from the fact that the number of women contesting the General Elections was less than the magical number of 100 merely 37 years ago – only 70 women were in the fray in the 1977 General Elections.

3. If you think that political parties are promoting women candidates, think again: One third of the 402 women candidates in this year’s elections are Independents. Amongst major political parties, newbie Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seems to be serious about the cause of women representation – it has the largest number of women candidates (39) in fray. In contrast, the BJP has fielded 20 women candidates.

How about regional parties led by women leaders, such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Mayawati, AIADMK led by Jayalalitha and Trinamool Congress led by Mamata-Di? AIADMK is the worst performer here, with a mere 4 women in contention. In contrast, Trinamool Congress has 12 women candidates and BSP has 16.

4. When it comes to registered criminal cases, women candidates are only marginally better than their male counterparts – 14% of them have criminal cases registered against them, compared to 16% for male candidates (the overall average for all candidates is 16%).

5. Money makes the world go round for politicians in India, and more so for women. 31% of the women candidates have declared assets greater than 1 crore, compared with 26% for men (the overall average for all candidates is 26%).

6. Luckily, education is more important for our women contestants – 53% of them are Graduates or above, compared with 48% for male candidates the overall average for all candidates is 48%).

In a companion article, we look at India’s performance on the Global Gender Gap Index, and some thoughts on addressing the low representation of women in politics.

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 All data on 2014 Lok Sabha candidates from Association For Democratic Reforms. Data on women candidates in prior years from the Election Commission website.

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