In India, the Lok Sabha elections are fast approaching and the political parties are scurrying around to associate and dissociate with people and institutions to meet each one’s political agenda.
In the world’s largest democracy, women represent in mere 66 seats in the current 16th Lok Sabha which is just 12.15%. The country can count its women politicians who are in decision making roles in single digits. The critical question is also around how many of these women are not any string puppets of some power houses that are controlling them from outside.
India is not in isolation when it comes to this situation of lack of women empowerment in politics. The situation is grave the world over. A study titled ‘The Global Gender Gap Report’ by The World Economic Forum (WEF), has not given in many good news in the case of closing the gender gap in ‘political empowerment’ this year either.
WEF has started to publish this report since 2006 and the study is done on four major parameters – Educational Attainment, Health & Survival, Economic Participation& Opportunity as well as Political Empowerment.
According to this study, the largest gender disparity is on the factor ‘Political Empowerment’ and the gap is a big 77.1%. The second highest factor with large gender gap is Economic Participation & Opportunity which is 41.9%. The country that tops with the lowest gender gap in all four parameters is Iceland. Its average Gender Gap score is an appealing 0.858 (in a 0 -1 scale). Other North European countries had been on the top slots for the last many years and the trend continues in the latest report as well.
The countries with worst gender gaps are Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Chad. Yemen is the last in the list with an overall gender gap of 0.499. This country has scored the lowest (149th position in the list) in Political Empowerment, with a distressful score of 0.014.
There are a few surprises in the findings. For example, United States’ overall position is 51, with an average score of 0.720. Countries such as Uganda, Zimbabwe and Poland have scored better than the US in overall score. Rwanda is on the 6th place in the list with a whopping 0.804 score with only Nicaragua, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Island above it. The two African countries in the top 10 list are Rwanda at 6th position and Namibia at 10th. The only Asian country that made to the top 10 list is Philippines at 8th position with a score of 0.799.
In the overall ranking, India is on the 108th place from the best to worst list. India apparently is figured out below the global average score.
The number of women in politics across the world is pretty alarming. Of the 149 countries studied by WEF, only 17 countries have their state head or government head as woman. The average tenure of these women is a low 2.2 years. Similarly, of the total ministers of the world, only 18% are women.
While Iland has a very impressive individual score of 0.999 for Education Attainment and 0.968 for Health and Survival, its score for Political Empowerment is a not so impressive 0.674. However, this indeed is the global best in this sub index and it explains the gravity of the issue.
As we are getting ready to form the 17th Lok Sabha this year, it’s crucial to ensure that women partner along with men in the country’s governance. We have not progressed much in ensuring that the 600 million plus population of this country that is women are represented adequately in the country’s policy making process.
The first Lok Sabha of free India formed in 1951 had only 22 women representation which was about 4.5% of the total number. The current 16th Lok Sabha has 66 women representing which is around 12%. During the last 63years this is the poor progress we made. During 1991, 1996 and 1998, hardly there were any progress in the number of women who were members of the Parliament.
If we take this pace, it would take a century or so for India to have 50% women in Parliament. In the 2017 UN report on women parliamentarians around the world, India’s place was 148th among the 193 countries.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women has then called for quotas system to bridge the gap and to speed up gender parity. The countries that adopted the quota system, progress faster on the political empowerment of women.
According to research, if there is 33% women in any decision making framework, the achievement of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) would be very high. In a country that has a few hundred million women, a 33% representation is the bare minimum desired today. The Women Reservation Bill proposed in 1996 seeking a 33% reservation for women failed to make any headway until today. It is important to understand that women empowerment would be possible, when they are represented in governance and policy making.
The hypocrisy is that on the one hand we take pride in talking about the empowerment of women to include them in nation building and on the other hand we turn a deaf ear into the true emancipator which is inclusion in governance and entrust them with meaty and substantial roles.