Low representation doesn’t deter Indian women from voting

New Delhi: They might not be getting their due when it comes to representation in parliament, but women have increased their participation in the voting process by nearly 10 percent in this general election, even surpassing men in eight states.

Comparatively, the male voter turnout increased to 67.17 percent from 60.24 percent last time.

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A total of 65.31 percent of women voted in these polls as compared to 55.82 percent in 2009, the Election Commission said. “Women surpassed men voters for the first time in eight states and union territories in the 2014 general elections. We see this as a result of our increased awareness drive for exercising one’s franchise,” Akshay Rout, Director General at the Election Commission, told IANS.

The states and union territories where women voted in more numbers as compared to men are Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Chandigarh, Odisha, Puducherry, Punjab, Sikkim and Uttarakhand.

The gender gap has reduced to 2.14 percentage points in 2014 from 4.42 in 2009. This comes despite the fact that women in india remain under-represented in parliament.

Women have a poor 11 percent representation in the Lok Sabha and 10.6 percent in the Rajya Sabha, making India 108th among 188 countries covered in the annual analysis of statistics on women members of parliament (MPs) conducted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in November 2013.

“Women’s participation has increased in voting majorly because of their presence in panchayats and local level politics,” CPI-M politburo member Brinda Karat told IANS.

According to Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research, the increase in voting percentage shows that “women’s political aspirations are growing. They have also been mobilized by panchayat elections”.

“The fact that they have 50 percent reservation in panchayats has helped mobilize them,” Ranjana Kumari said. However, she added: “The political parties are putting road blocks in the way of increasing women’s representation”.

She also said that women have started being affected by issues like increase in gas prices which has made managing kitchen budgets difficult. That might be one of the reasons why they have come out to vote in large number in these polls.

The Election Commission credits women’s higher participation to the targeted approach it adopted towards meeting the various gaps in registration and voting.

Besides enhancing electoral participation, a special programme of the EC worked to promote informed, un-intimidated and inducement free voting.

In fact, states like Jammu and Kashmir set up women facilitation counters in villages and postcards were sent to all electors in a district.

“The gender gap has reduced from more than 11 to 3 percentage point in the state,” Election Commission Director Dhirendra Ojha told IANS.

Independent journalism educator and data analyst Ravi Chandran said: “I see this as a general trend, originating from politicization of women…there has been an increase in the role of women as active citizens, rather than them remaining confined to the household.”

“Also, they have increased political concerns, in particular increased security concerns. Overall, this is an absolutely positive trend, which would eventually lead to better role for women in politics,” he added.

Asked how does an increased voting percentage of women augur for the results, he said: “It is difficult to relate the increased turnout to any fixed pattern as the states where women voters surpassed men widely differ in terms of their social and economic structure. So we cannot say, it is necessarily the outcome of urbanization or better education”.