Women are already shaping India’s social and political future. It is time more of them have a seat at the high table of democracy
The portraits of 75 women from the Vedic era to modern times are likely to adorn the walls of the new Parliament building as part of the celebrations marking 75 years of India’s Independence, this newspaper reported on Sunday. The women selected for this project will likely span a diverse cohort, from spiritual leaders and mythological figures to war heroes and social reformers. This is a good step. Symbolism is important, especially at the highest seat of India’s democracy. Current and future generations will have role models to look up to, and it will send a strong signal about the importance of women leaders in the country’s progress and independence.
And yet, the presence of these portraits will also underline the gaps in representation of women in Parliament, and state assemblies. The number of women Members of Parliament (MPs) was the highest in 2019, but at 14.4%, it is still far lower than their share of the population and electorate. This number has been rising but sluggishly, and is not commensurate with the growing role of women in deciding electoral outcomes. The last few election cycles, both at the Centre and in the states, have seen women voters outpace their male counterparts in turnout and female voters have changed the arc of electoral politics by making politicians – from Narendra Modi and Naveen Patnaik to Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee – focus on nurturing this unique vote bank. Women leaders aid the cause of not only representation but, as substantial political literature shows, better and more responsive policymaking.