Women have occupied important positions of power in India but they continue to remain under-represented in Parliament, making up just 12 per cent of the elected representatives, India has said at a UN forum as the 900 million-strong electorate in the country gears up for the upcoming general elections.
Deputy Permanent Representative of India to the UN Ambassador Nagaraj Naidu said Thursday that the landmark 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution (1992) led to reserving 33 per cent of the seats for women at all grassroots level – village, block and district level institutions.
Today India has 1.4 million elected women representatives. Women constitute around 44 per cent of the total grassroots elected representatives and 43 per cent of the elected heads of villages in India are women, he said.
“At the national level, while women have occupied important positions of power, they continue to remain under-represented in the national Parliament. In the last general election, women made up just 12 per cent of the elected representatives,” Naidu said at a side event organised by the UN Democracy Fund on the sidelines of the 63rd Commission on Status of Women Empowerment.
Naidu however added that the process of decentralisation has provided representation but representation does not necessarily lead to participation.
“Women still face a number of challenges for their engagement in political spaces such as inadequate education, lack of financial independence, burden of productive and reproductive roles and opposition stemming from entrenched patriarchal views,” he said.
He told the gathering that 2,300 political parties will be vying for votes in the Indian general elections that kick off on April 11. The country’s 900 million electorate will cast its ballot using over two million electronic voting machines.
“India’s eligible voting population is almost three times entire population of the United States,” he said.
Naidu also stressed that while democracies are not perfect, “they are not imperfect either. “It is this co-existence of the perfect and imperfect that make democracies relatable and, in some sense, glorious. Democracy is central to the idea of India. Managing the ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural diversity and complexity of disorder in India is only possible through a democratic system, where everyone – woman or man, has a say,” he said.
Naidu said that democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed.
India is a founding partner of the UN Democracy Fund and during the last decade, it has contributed USD 32 million to the fund, remaining its second largest contributor.
Naidu noted that India has moved from women development to women-led development. India’s women population is more than 640 million, and more than 400 million of them live in rural areas, nearly 62 per cent of the total women population in India.
He informed the UN forum that the Government of India has initiated a capacity building programme for elected women representatives at the grassroots level with an objective of empowering them and participate effectively in the governance processes.
In the first phase of the programme (2017-18), a total 18,578 Elected Women Representatives in 14 States were trained and in the second phase, 15,030 elected women representatives in 18 states will be trained.
“While the discourse on women’s empowerment is progressing from viewing women as recipients of welfare benefits to mainstreaming their concerns and creating space for them to assume leadership roles, challenges remain,” he said adding that in such situations, the role of civil society becomes critical in socialising innovative solutions on method, means, and substance.