More women vote in India’s state assembly elections
Mr Anil Bairwal, National Coordinator, Association for Democratic Reforms; Ms Seema Mustafa, Eminent Journalist; Mr N Gopalaswami, Former Chief Election Commissioner; Ms Smita Gupta, Deputy Editor, The Hindu; Ms Zoya Hassan, Professor of Political Science, Jawaharlal Nehru University; and Ms Neerja Chowdhury, Former Political Editor, The Indian Express, at the panel disussion (from left to right)
New Delhi - More women than men have voted in the recently concluded state assembly elections in five states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Uttarakhand and Goa. Their voting patterns are largely influenced by their families and communities. This was the major finding of a panel discussion organized by UN Women, United Nations Information Centre and the Institute of Social Studies Trust to understand the voting behaviour of women.
The panelists included Ms Neerja Chowdhury, Former Political Editor, The Indian Express; Ms Smita Gupta, Deputy Editor, The Hindu; Ms Zoya Hassan, Professor of Political Science, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Mr. Anil Bairwal, National Coordinator, Association for Democratic Reforms. Mr N. Gopalaswami, Former Chief Election Commissioner, chaired the discussion.
According to the Election Commission, there were more women voters than men across all states. In Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India, 60.29 percent women turned out to vote in comparison to 58.82 percent of men. In Goa this was much higher, with 85.97 percent women voting in comparison to 79.67 percent men.
“This change can be attributed to an unprecedented increase in political participation by women, panchayat reservation and women centric development programmes that have boosted women’s participation,” said Zoya Hassan. In India, there is 33 percent reservation for women in panchayat bodies.
According to the Election Commission, nearly 61 million women voted in these elections and 55 women were elected as Member of Legislative Assemblies across the five states. “ This time several measures by the Election Commission such as the distribution of voter slips and support to first time voters. This increased the level of confidence among voters, especially women. We saw minimum ever violence and the losing party accepted defeat in a very peaceful manner,” said Neerja Chowdhury.
Women candidates also had cleaner records than men. “Among the women elected, none of them had any serious criminal record, but among the men, about 76 of them did. It seems that women look twice cleaner than men,” said Mr. Anil Bairwal from the Association for Democratic Reforms.
The journalists and Mr Bairwal visited various districts of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab and spoke to 90 women to understand their voting patterns. Their analysis showed that all women thought that voting was important and that women must exercise this right. “Voting has become an empowering act for women. It gives women the feeling that they are independent to do what they want. They feel equal to men and to other citizens,” said Smita Gupta, Deputy Editor, The Hindu, who spoke to 30 women in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
It was also evident that women voted on the basis of the decision of their families and communities. In many cases, they had never heard of a manifesto. “It is important to further examine these trends. Three questions need to be investigated: do women vote for women candidates, do women leaders make a difference to politics, and do women have distinct political preferences?” asked Ms Zoya Hassan, Professor of Political Science, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
There are presently only 59 (11%) women MPs in Lok Sabha ( lower house of the Indian Parliament) as compared to 484 men.
“UN Women believes that women’s full and equal participation in the political and economic arena is fundamental to democracy and justice. Women are change-makers and will help shape India’s future,” said Ms Anne Stenhammer, Regional Programme Director, UN Women South Asia Regional Office.
UN Women works in five states of India to strengthen the leadership skills of elected women representatives in panchayat and ensure that women are able to stand for elections and vote during panchayat elections.