2019 has been one of the most critical electoral contests that have resulted in a progressive mandate. For decades, the representation of women in parliament never went beyond 12% even as we kept talking about quotas and reservations for women in parliament. The political set up of India was largely driven by men while the identity of a “woman” never featured in such politics driven by identity. Additionally, even for the women who did manage to get elected, most of the time, their governance and politics were controlled by their husbands and other family members.
The 17th Lok Sabha Elections has systematically broken this trend, and this is a welcome sign. For the first time, 78 women will be the members of 17th Lok Sabha i.e. 14.39% which is the highest figure since independence though we have to go miles to reach equal representation.
In Odisha, Biju Janta Dal gave tickets to 33% women candidates, one of them is a leader emerged through self-help groups. Out of a total of 8000 candidates, 723 were women contestants, which is only 9% yet, still, it is the highest ever. This suggests that women have had a better strike rate at getting elected these elections which represents how the electorate has matured over the last couple of years.
According to the Election Commission (EC), the voter turnout for the 2019 elections was the highest ever, with a record 67.11% turnout, as compared to the 66.40% in 2014. It’s refreshing to note that women have voted more in absolute numbers and in percentage terms, as they crossed the turnout of men in 9 states and UTs. The higher turnout was recorded in Bihar, Odisha, Kerala, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
I was curious to know, what motivated women to go and vote in large numbers. While speaking to women who were active in the campaign, I got some answers regarding the changing power structure at the household level. A lady who was campaigning in Chandni Chowk said, she met a young girl, who said “earlier I used to be afraid even if the food prepared by wasn’t liked by my in-laws. I was scared as I didn’t know what my husband will utter in rage, my life was always at stake. Now, not only me but many opened their mind, argue with their husbands and assert their opinion”, referring to ban on Triple Talaq.
An old lady of Rajasthan who has crossed 95 and where the sex ratio is worrisome, appreciated “Beti Bachao”. Many benefitted out of “Ujwala Gas”, many with road connectivity, electricity and so on, for which they were vocal, and hence they decided to go out and vote in large numbers.
Besides, three political parties are lead by women, Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee; Priyanka Gandhi, Smriti Irani, Nirmala Sitharaman played a lead role in the campaign. Twitter and debate soldiers contributed a lot in this election, where the presence of women was remarkable.
The role of women in the campaign itself was a motivating element. Women candidates and a wife or a daughter or a sister of the candidates walked to villages and met women. They were at the forefront of the campaign and managed the whole campaign. It’s but natural that a woman connects better to a woman… but to note she can connect to men and youth as well is more interesting. This compartmentalization in a way is helping to fix stereotypes.
In a nutshell, women politicians, ministers, campaigners are motivating women voters to come forward and cast a vote. They are seen as role models by many. It’s an appeal of aspiration; positivity for change that has made the numbers in Lok Sabha 2019 and as the voters too. Importantly, assertions of women as ‘citizens of the nation’, I hope, have crossed the barriers and compelling elements through the ballot. No doubt, 17th Lok Sabha has shown many positive trends and immense possibilities of change towards more n more participation of women in politics.
I see a larger turnout of women voters as a sign of women led governance… more empathetic and equitable.