Female representation in politics, or lack thereof, has always been considered a sensitive topic that has garnered a lot of criticism throughout the years. Historically, figures and statistics showed the majority of decision-makers and political leaders to be male. Unfortunately, many countries today, including India, display the same trend, resulting mainly from the lack of opportunities for and inclusivity of females. Political participation of women in a country gives an idea of how women and their voices are valued in society. Currently, India falls in the lowest quartile with respect to the number of females active in the parliament. This issue has worsened due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as more and more women are forced to stick to their role as the “care-taker” at home instead of participating in mainstream politics.
The crucial question arises: why is it so difficult for women to be part of Indian politics? Sushma Swaraj, a Former Chief Minister of External Affairs of India, gives a glimpse of reality for many women that are working hard to enter the political scene.
“It is very difficult for a woman to enter politics. Once she makes up her own mind, then she has to prepare her husband, and her children, and her family. Once she has overcome all these obstacles and applies for the ticket, then the male aspirants against whom she is applying makes up all sorts of stories about her. And after all this, when her name goes to the party bosses, they do not select her name because they fear losing that seat.”
India is known to have laws that enforce gender equality and freedom for all. However, in reality, patriarchal customs, societal norms, and deep-rooted misogynistic perceptions have made women be seen as “weaker” than men – physically, mentally, financially, and so on. It is also important to note that men are not always the culprits, as these kinds of discriminations often arise from their own families and friends. Indian society teaches women to be submissive to men because compared to men (who are typically breadwinners), their contributions are not acknowledged. From a young age, they are taught that the main job of a woman is to raise children and take care of the family. As a result, they are not provided with confidence and support to become leaders for the country since that is the job “suited for men”. Moreover, unequal distribution of resources also means women are generally disadvantaged compared to men.
In addition to the already-existing gender inequality, issues such as the caste system, illiteracy, and poverty also contribute to the problem. For example, women from poor families may be focused on earning money for their families rather than aspiring to become political leaders. A larger percentage of Indian women go through similar hurdles as opposed to men, as they are less likely to receive assistance from society. This, once again, stems from the negative way society views them.
Even in cases where women have sufficient education and qualification, they are often required to go a long way proving their worth to even be considered. And yet for male candidates, even those with minimal education or experience can easily be placed as a candidate. Furthermore, women face the added burden of becoming targets of sexual harassment, abusive language, violence and objectification from the public. Men are able to get away with sexism and misogyny but when women point out these issues, they may risk getting removed from the parliament.
The only way we can combat these issues is by education and awareness. The Indian society must get rid of its stigma towards women, and allow women to take part in the country’s decision-making process. There cannot be a real democracy if the voices and issues of women that constitute almost half the population of the country are neglected. When we are able to have men and women, shoulder to shoulder, working to make India a better place, we will be able to see the country flourish and become a leader among other nations.