7 PM | Disrupting the gender-blind political discourse in India | 27th December 2019

Context: Women Empowerment and how democracy can facilitate the process of empowerment.

More in news:

In the recently released Global Gap Index report 2020, India slipped to the 112th rank from its 108th position in the 2018.

Women Empowement:

  • Women Empowerment refers to complete emancipation of women from socio-economic shackles of dependency and deprivations.
  • Often made synonymous to gender equality, the term women empowerment encompasses a much larger set of principles that needs whole-hearted attention.
  • The concept of empowerment flows from the word power. Empowerment of women would mean encouraging women to be self-reliant, economically independent, have positive self-esteem, generate confidence to face any difficult situation and incite active participation in various socio-political development endeavors.
  • The growing conscience is to accept women as individuals capable of making rational and educated decisions about them as well as the society, increasing and improving the economic, political and legal strength of the women, to ensure equal-right as men, achieve internationally agreed goals for development and sustainability, and improve the quality of life for their families and communities.

Democracy as a form of government facilitates social transformation as the basic feature. It is presumed that the social transformation will work for the betterment of every section of the society.

Democracy to promote women empowerment:

  • It is acknowledged that democracy should entail the elimination of religiously endorsed privileges, the ending of domination by some over others and a general ushering in of equality of opportunity.
  • This process is abetted by economic growth and the emergence of markets, which enable people to shed the constraints that have held them back. 
  • When women lead equally (as men) in the political arena, it makes for stronger decision-making and more representative governance. 
  • Democratic features such as participatory and representative nature helps in promoting women participation in decision making. This helps in women empowerment in various other aspects like social, economic and health etc.
  • As do democracy strenghthens women empowerment, so does women empowerment strenghthens democracy.

Findings of Global Gender Gap Report 2020:

  • The Global Gender Gap Index was first introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress over time.
  • The index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, education, health and political criteria and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups.
  • India has slipped to the 112th spot from its 108th position in 2018 in the Global Gender Gap Index 2020, which covered 153 economies.
  • India has closed two-thirds of its overall gender gap (score of 66.8%). However, the condition of women in large fringes of India’s society is precarious. It has lost four positions since the previous edition, despite a small score improvement, as some countries ranked lower than India have improved more.
  • The economic gender gap runs particularly deep in India. It ranks 149th in economic participation and opportunity, and 117th in wage equality for similar work. Only one-third of the gap has been bridged (score of 35.4%, down 7 places).
  • Among the 153 countries studied, India is the only country where the economic gender gap is larger than the political gender gap.
  • India ranked 18th in political empowerment and 4th in the number of years a female or a male ruled a state.
  • The subindex where the average gender gap is the smallest is Health and Survival, where 95.7% of the global gap has been closed so far. However, four large countries, Pakistan (94.6%); India (94.4%); Vietnam (94.2%) and China (92.6%) trail behind, which means that millions of women in these and other countries are not yet granted the same access to health as men.
  • India ranks a low 150th on the Health and Survival subindex (94.4), as a result of the skewed sex ratio at birth: there are 91 girls born per 100 boys born, a ratio well below the natural one. Violence, forced marriage and discrimination in access to health remain pervasive. The situation and the trend are more positive in terms of gender gaps in education. The country ranked 112th in educational attainment

Political Empowerment:

  • The Constitution of India attempts to remove gender inequalities by banning discrimination based on sex and class, prohibiting human trafficking and forced labor, and reserving elected positions for women. Women’s involvement in political parties is tied to the increasing demand for equal rights. In spite of constitutional provisions of gender equality yet only a few women have been able to make decisions by themselves in legislature. Indian women are relatively disempowered and they enjoy lower status than that of men from times immemorial.
  • 78 of these women have been elected to the Parliament in 2019 general elections, a slight increase from the 2014 polls where 62 women parliamentarians were elected.
  • While 2019 Lok Sabha elections witnessed the highest number of women candidates securing seats in the lower house of the Parliament, equal representation of women in Parliament still has a long way to go. A 2018 study by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research estimates that “women legislators in India raise luminosity growth in their constituencies by about 15 percentage points per annum more than male legislators.”

What limits women representation?

  1. Political parties in India tend not to follow provisions in their constitutions reserving seats for women in different committees. The Women’s Reservation Bill is pending since a decade in the Parliament.
  2. The second barrier is the lack of education and leadership training
  3. Additionally, since women are not integrated in any local political process initially, and, unlike men, are not part of the relevant social and power networks, women leaders are prone to inefficiencies.

The Economic survey for 2017-18 tabled in Parliament said factors such as domestic responsibilities, prevailing cultural attitudes regarding roles of women in society and lack of support from family were among main reasons that prevented them from entering politics.

The survey said there are developing countries like Rwanda which has more than 60% women representatives in parliament in 2017.

Way Forward:

  • Affirmative action can empower more women: The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, commonly known as the Women’s Reservation Bill, which seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies has been still pending. Passage of such a inclusive bill will help in enhancing the process of women empowerment.
  • National Policy for the Empowerment of Women (2001): The policy has been envisioned to bring about the advancement, development and empowerment of women. However, there is need to implement the policy in a more stringent way.
  • Inclusive economic institutions and growth both necessary for and dependent on social empowerment require inclusive political institutions.
  • Political parties should come forward to increase women representatives. The absence of critical mass of women representatives has pushed women to the fringes in power sharing and has adverse impacts on their overall political status.
  • Gender stereotypes which perceive women as weak representatives should be changes through awareness and education. Efforts need to be taken to enhance the participation of women in governance in large numbers.
  • Women Panchayati members have to be trained to analyse and understand their roles and responsibilities given in the 73rd amendment act.

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/disrupting-the-gender-blind-political-discourse-in-india/article30405483.ece

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