No city for women politicians? Seems like it, going by the sad statistics. In the last 16 parliamentary elections held since Independence, Delhi has sent only seven women legislators to the Lok Sabha, compared to the 60 men the city elected as MPs.
Over the years, despite claims and promises of reserving 33 per cent seats in Parliament for women, all political parties have overlooked women when it came to giving tickets, party positions or cabinet posts. This election, the 17th, looks no different, with just one woman candidate getting a party ticket till now.
Also, grasp this: In eight Lok Sabhas since Independence, there was not a single woman representative from Delhi.
Mail Today and India Today TV spoke to several women politicians and all of them concurred that women aren’t fairly represented
Kiran Walia, former Congress minister in the Delhi government, said that woman politicians have occupied some of the highest offices in the country, but there are many whose rise was facilitated by their lineage and family connections.
“Women have been making their presence felt in politics, but there are others who make a mark through patronage. It’s important that women who’ve worked their way up through hard work be given a chance,” she said.
Sharmistha Mukherjee, president, Delhi Mahila Congress, concedes family connections are important. “If I were not from a political family, I wouldn’t have been campaigning in Assam today. We know politics is a 24X7 job, which is not always rewarding. In these situations, it becomes difficult for a woman to go up the ladder,” said Mukherjee, daughter of former President Pranab Mukherjee.
She contested the 2015 assembly elections from Greater Kailash, but lost.
In the first Lok Sabha (1952), Delhi had the sent Sucheta Kriplani, the renowned freedom fighter. In the years that followed, Sushma Swaraj and Meira Kumar represented the national Capital.
Swaraj went on to become the External Affairs Minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet and Kumar created history in 2009 by becoming the first woman Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
For the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has nominated Atishi to contest from East Delhi. Her campaign is being handled by an all-woman team.
The other two leading parties – BJP and the Congress – are likely to field one woman candidate each. Voting in Delhi will take place on May 12.
“Women’s reservation is extremely essential to come into politics because politics is difficult for anyone from a marginalised community,” Atishi, a member of the Political Affairs Committee of the AAP, said in a recent interview to a news site.
While Kriplani was re-elected in 1957 on a Congress ticket, it took another 15 years for Delhi to get a woman representative in the Lok Sabha. Subhadra Joshi of the Congress, also the first woman MP from Punjab, was elected from Chandni Chowk in 1972.
AAP MLA Alka Lamba says women in politics face immense prejudice. “Even today, women in politics are harassed, oppressed and their characters assassinated. It’s never easy for us in this field, but it isn’t easy for women anywhere. We must keep fighting,” she said.
Despite being one of the six woman leaders to secure a place in the 70-member Delhi Assembly in 2015, Lamba was allegedly at the receiving end of derogatory remarks from a fellow legislator, and that too on the floor of the Delhi Assembly.
The math for six women MLAs in the Delhi Assembly works out to just eight per cent representation even as 45 per cent of the Capital’s population is women.
While 66 woman candidates were in the fray for the 2015 Delhi assembly elections, all the six women winners were from AAP. In the 2013 polls, three woman candidates elected to the Delhi Assembly won on AAP tickets.
Former Municipal Corporation of Delhi Mayor Arrti Mehra replied in the negative when asked if women were fairly represented in Parliament. “Even in the 21st century, we live in a patriarchal society. Women aren’t given ample opportunities but they must take a stand and make sure that their voices are heard,” she said.
After Sushma Swaraj (1996 and 1998) and Meira Kumar (1996 and 1998), Anita Arya of the BJP was elected from Karol Bagh in 1999. In 2004 and 2009, Krishna Tirath of the Congress was the only woman candidate to win in Delhi.
In 2014, BJP’s Meenakshi Lekhi won from the New Delhi seat and became Delhi’s seventh woman MP. Former chief minister of Delhi Sheila Dikshit, Union minister Smriti Irani and AAP leader Rakhi Birla have all contested from Delhi, but have failed to win.
The situation at the national level is no better. Less than 8 per cent of the 1,271 candidates who contested in the first phase of India’s 17th general election held on April 11 were women.
It isn’t that women do not aspire to enter politics. As many as 668 women contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as against 45 in the elections held in 1957.
But, only 66 woman candidates could make it to the 543-member Lok Sabha elected in 2014 as against 22 in 1957, according to election reforms website myneta.com.
With women making 49 per cent of the country’s population, their political participation is abysmally low. The Women’s Reservation Bill that proposed reserving 33 per cent seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies is yet to get the Lok Sabha’s nod.
In January this year, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said that the Bill will be passed on priority if his party comes to power in 2019. Even seasoned politicians acknowledge the all-pervasive biases and obstacles that women politicians face.
“Whenever women have participated in politics, they have been successful. But, unfortunately, they have to face hurdles to rise up the ladder in a man’s world. The patriarchy is so deep that women are not allowed to be [themselves], may be because they (men) are scared of their success,” said former Union Minister Krishna Tirath, who rejoined the Congress this week after being with the BJP for the last four years.