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Women candidates constitute only 8% in first two phases of LS polls

By Uzmi Athar
April 28, 2024 16:23 IST
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Women constituted only eight percent of the total 1,618 candidates in the first two phases of the Lok Sabha polls, with political activists saying it reflects a deeper issue of gender bias and that the talk of empowering them rings hollow.

IMAGE: BJP East Tripura candidate Kriti Devi Debbarma meets with supporters during an election campaign for the Lok Sabha polls, at Asharambari in Khowai, in Tripura, April 24, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

In the first phase of the Lok Sabha polls, there were 135 women candidates while in the second phase, there were 100 women candidates, bringing the combined total for the first two phases to 235 women candidates.


Of the 135 women candidates in phase 1, Tamil Nadu had the highest share at 76, but they account for just 8 percent of the candidates in the state, while Kerala has the maximum women candidates at 24 in phase 2.

Party-wise, the Congress has fielded 44 women till now while 69 women have been fielded by the BJP in the first two phases.

This significant gender imbalance has sparked criticism from political analysts and activists, who ask why parties are waiting for the Women's Reservation Bill to be implemented instead of proactively issuing tickets to women.

Dr Sushila Ramaswamy, associate professor at Delhi University's Jesus and Mary College, said political parties should take concrete steps to promote women's candidacy.

"Political parties should have been more proactive and fielded more women candidates," she underscored, citing the effectiveness of seat reservations for women within party structures, as seen in the Britain's Labour Party.

With women constituting nearly half of India's electorate, their under-representation in the candidate pool raises broader questions about the barriers hindering women's full participation in the political sphere, Dr. Iftekhar Ahmad Ansari, Associate Professor at the Aligarh Muslim University, said.

Beyond the symbolic gestures and promises, he stressed the importance of structural reforms to ensure equal opportunities for women in politics.

He highlighted the critical role of party leadership in promoting gender diversity.

"Political parties must prioritise gender inclusion in candidate selection and provide adequate support to women aspirants," she emphasised.

The issue of women's political representation extends beyond numerical quotas to encompass systemic changes in party dynamics and electoral processes, Farhat Jahan, a retired faculty member at the Abdullah Women's College at the AMU said while emphasising the need for gender-sensitive policies that address challenges faced by women in politics.

"The upcoming phases of the elections present an opportunity for political parties to demonstrate their commitment to gender equality through concrete actions. Initiatives such as mentorship programs, capacity-building workshops, and awareness campaigns can empower women to actively participate in the electoral process and pursue leadership roles," she added.

Prof. Mohammad Aftab Alam from the political science department at the AMU pointed out the challenges women often face in forming independent political opinions amidst societal influences.

"Even the ones elected are often relegated to symbolic roles," he remarked, highlighting broader issues of token representation.

The BJD is the only party, which as a policy, gives 33 percent tickets to female candidates.

Meera Parida, state vice president of the Biju Mahila Dal of the BJD, stressed the need for substantive action in women's empowerment and praised her party's initiative of reserving 33 percent of seats for women.

"Reserving seats alone is not enough. We need a cultural shift where women are seen as leaders and decision-makers," she emphasised, advocating for comprehensive reforms.

Both major parties -- the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress-- have listed women-centric initiatives in their manifestoes.

The BJP's manifesto promises to implement the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam to honour and empower women, integrate women self-help groups into the service sector to enhance their economic participation and expand health services.

The Congress has pledged legislative reforms for women's empowerment, including the immediate enactment of the Women's Reservation Bill.

However, these commitments are yet to translate into substantial numbers of women contesting elections.

Alka Lamba, chief of Congress Women's Wing, highlighted the Congress's commitment to gender equality across sectors.

"The Congress has extended political, economic, and social rights to women," Lamba affirmed, outlining ambitious targets for women's representation in leadership roles.

As the Lok Sabha elections progress, the spotlight is on political parties to address these concerns and demonstrate tangible commitments towards fostering women's participation and representation in governance.

The upcoming poll phases will be closely monitored to assess whether there is a meaningful shift towards greater gender inclusivity in the political landscape especially after the hype over passage of the Women's Reservation Bill, Aftab said.

"While parties are vocal about empowering women, the lack of women candidates reflects a deeper issue of gender bias within political systems," noted Dr. Ramaswamy.

The Lok Sabha polls are being held in seven phases beginning from April 19 and the counting of votes will take place on June 4 for the world's biggest election exercise.

The second phase was held on April 26 while other phases are scheduled for May 7, May 13, May 20, May 25 and June 1.

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Uzmi Athar in New Delhi
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India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024