Are women in India redefining electoral politics? Is the new-found constituency of world’s largest democracy is women?
Being brought up in a politically influenced family, i have always remained fond of election campaign, news, voting and result and being a political reporter i have seen election very closely and with my own perspective. I remember the old days when i used to go to polling booth holding my mother’s hand, scared, of don’t know what (may be men in khakhi !). There used to be very small que of women voters. Hardly 5-6 women ahead us. But time has changes, in my tenure as a journalist i have seen a different electoral phase. The que getting longer and longer. Symbolising more and more politically aware women voters.
Even social media is getting flooded with politically influenced post and shares from women. Yes! This is the change. We are now talking about election, politics that once used to be discussion topics for our male counterparts only. Yes, elections over the last decade have brought more women to the polling booths in India. And today, her vote matters.
The 2019 Lok Sabha elections will be the first national elections where the overall turnout of women is expected to be higher than that of men.
Powerful women are no strangers to Indian politics. Indira Gandhi, held the position of prime minister for a total of fifteen years. Today, several prominent women dot India’s state-level political landscape, including Mayawati, the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Mamata Banerjee, the incumbent chief minister of West Bengal, until December 2017, the president of the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi and the emerging leader of congress Priyanka Gandhi.
When India and the United States held their inaugural 2+2 summit in September 2018, pictures from the press conference in New Delhi spoke a thousand words. The U.S. side was represented by two older white men. Whereas, two veteran female politicians sat on the dais representing India—External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Swaraj and Sitharaman preside over not just any two portfolios in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet but arguably two of the most consequential.
The increasing dependency of government on women politicians have influenced women to come out and vote. So, women have made great strides as voters also. When we look at the statistics, the gender gap in voting has substantially reduced: in the 1960s there were 715 female voters for every 1,000 male voters and in the 2000s there were 883 female voters for every 1000 male voters. In the 2014 national elections, female voters outnumbered male voters in several states, with Bihar and Odisha topping the list. Between 1962 and 2018, women voters’ turnout increased by 27 per cent, as opposed to men’s turnout, which increased only by 7 per cent in this time. The substantially increased turnout of women voters has started to affect election outcomes in recent years, and women’s issues now feature more prominently in election campaigns.
Targeting women voters separately as an interest group or a constituency is a new phenomenon in a democracy where caste, religion, region and ethnicity have been the major rallying factors for political parties to seek votes.
The present election campaign where Priyanka Gandhi can be seen surrounded be women voters gives a clear picture of how an increasing number of women are voting independently and do not consult their husbands on who to vote for.
Women voters making their own voting decisions has led political parties to promise special welfare measures related to women’s education, health, employment and safety in public places.
So, the most optimistic of scenarios in the present election is the unprecedented mobilization of female voters, a trend that is shaping how parties campaign and governs.