According to the Election Commission of India, the gap between male and female voter turnout has been gradually decreasing since 1962. Female participation in state elections has risen since 2009. The gap could well be set to narrow even further this time around.
Although the official breakdown of voter numbers is yet to be released, the EC disclosed that in Chandigarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Sikkim and Lakshadweep there were more votes cast by women than by men.
Of the 20 states that have held elections since the last Lok Sabha polls, 16 recorded a higher voting percentage among women than men.
The EC is also hoping that a programme, which includes the deployment of election officials to voters’ homes to encourage women to vote, will help narrow the gap further, after a national survey found that women were often reluctant to visit a polling station unless accompanied by a man.
These official measures have been accompanied by social media campaigns, such as ‘Power of 49’, that have been active in encouraging women to vote.
The ‘Power of 49’ manifesto cites the underrepresentation of women in Parliament as one of the key concerns of their campaign.
Gender Balance in the Lok Sabha
After the 2009 election, female members of the lower house rose above 10% for the first time.
In that election, women were actually more electorally successful than men. Women made up 7% of candidates fielded, with 11% of those candidates taking a seat in the Lok Sabha. This compares to a 6% success rate for male candidates.
In every general election since 1980 female hopefuls have recorded a higher success rate than their male counterparts.
Of the 7,562 candidates who submitted themselves to the electorate so far, just 592 (8%) are women. This 1% increase on last year’s figure suggests that change in this area will be gradual rather than sudden.
Even with the tendency for women candidates to be more successful than their male opponents, anything other than a modest rise in female representation looks unlikely.
Whatever the new Parliament looks like, India’s attitude towards women’s rights and violence against women is set to remain a contentious issue.
The conservative BJP, which is poised to do well in the current poll, point to increase in girls’ education and decreases in female infanticide in BJP-governed Madhya Pradesh as evidence of its commitment to women’s rights.
This commitment, however, has been called into question by critics of the BJP who accuse its leader, Narendra Modi, of paying lip service to the issue of women’s rights. Journalist Ankit Panda, who covers Indian politics for the Diplomat magazine, stated, “It seems to me that a majority of BJP members espouse views that are hostile to the liberal notion of gender equality.”
An open letter in The Guardian newspaper signed by Salman Rushdie, among others, has also drawn attention to the BJP’s record in this regard. Urging electors to “remember the role played by the Modi government in the horrifying events that took place in Gujarat in 2002,” the letter states “Women, in particular, were subjected to brutal acts of violence and were left largely unprotected by the security forces.”