The Big, Fat, Gender-Biased Indian Election


Via: WSJ

You may have heard the numbers: 815 million voters; 543 lawmakers; 9 rounds of voting in the world’s largest democracy. You also know who’s projected to win: the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party led by divisive leader Narendra Modi, with the ruling Congress party set for its worst performance ever.

What you probably haven’t heard is how skewed India’s voter gender ratio is: 883 women voters per 1,000 male voters. Give or take. That’s an improvement from 715 per 1,000 male voters in the 1960s, according to data compiled by Shamika Ravi and Mudit Kapoor, professors at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. But it is lower even than the national gender ratio, embarrassing as it is, of 940 women per 1,000 men.

How has this come about? Not for want of legislation. Indian women were granted the right to vote and run in elections three years after India’s independence in 1947, the same year as men. Women have played a significant role in Indian politics down: from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to present-day chief ministers Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa Jayaram.

Still, India’s largely patriarchal tradition and cultural mores that require women to acquiesce to the opinion of men has meant that women have often not been a part of the political conversation, or showed up to vote on election day. That has also resulted in very few women lawmakers: of nearly 5,000 lawmakers across the country, less than 10 percent are women.

While the Indian government did implement a law in 2009 that mandated the reservation of at least half the seats at panchayati raj or local government institutions in villages and districts for women, it has dragged its feet on the Women’s Reservation Bill. The bill proposes to amend the Indian Constitution to reserve a third of all seats in the lower house and all state legislative assemblies for women, and has not been passed by the lower house after the upper house passed it in 2010.

India ranks 101 out of 136 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2013 global gender-gap index that examines economic participation, education, health and political empowerment. That is the lowest ranking among the BRIC economies, and is lower than Botswana and Bangladesh.

In this election, the year-old Aam Admi Party has the highest percentage of women candidates, about 15 percent, while the Congress has 12 percent and the BJP has 9 percent. That doesn’t bode well for the future of women’s representation in India.

Dig my daughters? Vote for me

It’s not unusual for politicians to parade their families before voters to drive home the point that if they have managed to raise a family with few calamities, surely they can be entrusted with the task of running a country – or a constituency.

But Tony Abbott, leader of Australia’s Liberal-National coalition and the country’s freshly-elected prime minister takes the biscuit.

In a video message that lead candidates were required to send to participants in the Big Brother house (I know, but let’s focus on the matter at hand for now), Abbott appeared flanked by two of his daughters and proceeded to say: “If you want to know who to vote for, I’m the guy with the not bad looking daughters.” To the credit of the contestants, even they appeared taken aback.

It wasn’t the only sexist remark Abbott has made. During his campaign, he also made reference to the housewives of Australia doing the ironing and described virginity as “the greatest gift” a woman could give someone. There’s also, of course, the infamous “breast” menu for a party fundraiser that set new standards in sexism Down Under.

But of course, Mr. Abbott’s biggest claim to fame is being the subject of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s completely inspired — and totally unscripted — diatribe in parliament, in which she described him as the very definition of misogyny in modern Australia. If you haven’t seen that video in full, I urge you to do so. It’s worth all 15 minutes of your time.

Sadly, nothing’s changed since that speech. Going by the campaign and the repeated, vicious attacks on Gillard — not just from politicians but even radio personalities — it would seem that that brand of misogyny is not going anywhere in Australia. Is it any wonder then that so few women take the plunge into politics.