Five things to know as Congress pledges 40 percent tickets for women in UP polls, and other stories
#WomenLead (Issue 72): Your weekly round-up on women in politics
Hello, and welcome to Issue 72!
It’s been a super active week here in India, where a decision by a political party has generated a buzz on women’s representation in politics. In the meantime, Angela Merkel is just wrapping up her tenure as Germany figures out its next Chancellor. She received a standing ovation at an EU summit, with praise that she was a “monument”, and that the EU without her would feel like “Rome without the Vatican” or “Paris without the Eiffel Tower”.🙃
In a separate incident, Merkel gave an interview to German publication Süddeutsche Zeitung, where she urged women to get more involved in politics, because “only having men... just doesn't fit with the times anymore”. Well said, Chancellor! 💯
Let’s dive into this week’s edition quickly - we bring you updates from Barbados, Japan, Sierra Leone and the spotlight is on India. Read on! And just in case you missed last week’s [disturbing] edition, please read it here.
❌ NOT ENOUGH: Japan goes to polls next weekend (Oct 31) to elect members of Parliament. 1,051 candidates will contest for 465 seats. Only 186 (i.e. less than 18 percent) are women, similar to the share in previous elections. Women comprised less than 10 percent of the members of the outgoing House Of Representatives.
Also read: Japan’s election unlikely to bring more representation for women, Bloomberg
✂️ NEW BEGINNINGS: Barbados is set to become a republic and will formally put an end to an obnoxious colonial legacy. The British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, will no longer be its head of state once Sandra Mason is sworn in as President on November 30, the country's 55th anniversary of independence from Britain. Mason had been serving as the country’s Governor-General since 2018.
👍 A MOVE TO IMPROVE: Sierra Leone may soon reserve 30 percent seats for women in its Parliament and cabinet. Its ruling government introduced a bill for the same in the Parliament last week. Women currently make up just 12 percent of the Parliament, and there are only four women in the 32-member cabinet.
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Spotlight: INDIA 🇮🇳🇮🇳🇮🇳
Tremors (of the pleasant kind) were felt in the world of Indian politics last week when the Indian National Congress, the country’s oldest party, announced that women would make up 40 percent of its candidates in the state-level elections in Uttar Pradesh early next year. Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state and wields great influence in Indian politics.
Priyanka Gandhi, a party general secretary, made the announcement on Tuesday, saying: “It is our pledge that women will be fully involved in the politics of UP.”
Just the announcement seems to have shaken things up. From praise and applause to criticism of this being “mere drama”, and welcome reflections on women’s representation - we are seeing the Indian media say more these days than it usually does in an entire year. The spotlight is suddenly on “the political woman” - from how women vote, to how they lead. [A sight to behold for our eyes at #WomenLead!]
So today, we bring you our reading of this development through five key points:
💥 What happens in Uttar Pradesh has a huge impact
Uttar Pradesh is a BIG state. Its 235-million-odd population is the stuff of myths and legends. The kind we are so used to in India: this state has more people than Brazil, and if it were a country, it would be the fifth most populous. By sheer force of numbers, whatever happens in UP holds immense significance not only for Indian politics, but a pretty good chunk of humanity.
And yet, like other Indian states, UP’s politics has remained heavily skewed in favour of men. Only 10 percent members of the current assembly are women, and the share has remained between 5-10 percent since the turn of the millennium.
More election tickets to women by one of the largest political parties in the world has the potential to alter the discourse for a massive-sized state: and it’s something to cheer us indeed.
🚩 Congress has its hands as dirty as any other Indian party.
To understand the horrible numbers from past UP elections, let’s take a look at the number of women candidates put forth by some of the major parties in the last four elections. The Congress has its hands as dirty as everyone else when it comes to its shameful track record of fielding women candidates.
A commitment for not 20, not 30, but 40 percent seats for women candidates is a massive shift from the Congress and definitely shows intent. But wait...
🌱 UP isn’t the most fertile ground for the Congress’ grass to bloom
The Congress, once India’s most influential party, now turns heads only for its inefficiencies and election losses. In UP too, it is in the opposition and does not appear to have much chance of winning. So the 40 percent women candidates are not very likely to translate into too many women in the assembly.
Senior party official Rahul Gandhi says UP is “just the beginning”. While that is music to our ears, a good test would be for the Congress to put forth a similar share of women candidates in the four other states that will go to polls along with UP - especially those where it does have a serious chance of winning. (Punjab is one such case. And like UP, it is also a state with a great gender skew in its assembly.)
⚡Yet, this decision can still prove to be a disruptive one
There are at least two reasons why despite the shortcomings pointed above, this decision is still laudable and welcome. First, even if the party does not have a strong chance of winning, there will still be at least 161 women candidates fighting on a Congress ticket in the state (assuming the party contests all 403 assembly seats). That is, 161 seats will definitely not have a manel of candidate lists.
Even if they don’t all win, so many women will get the experience of fighting an election.
"We will get candidates, we will support them. They will win next time, if not this time."
- Priyanka Gandhi
Second, while the Congress’ political influence is on the decline, it continues to be the second largest party in India, and a rare one that contests elections in nearly all states. As such, if the party decides to take a firm, consistent and sincere stand in election after election, state after state, it can definitely create disruptions in the [near] male-capture of Indian politics.
Currently, all parties get away with the status quo because they are all complicit in this politics of exclusion. But the moment one or a few parties start doing things better, it can create the opportunity for the media and for voters to hold other parties to account more stringently.
🙌 This is a refreshing change in the discourse around women’s representation in Indian politics
There is no dearth of research, writings and recorded evidence that India performs dismally in ensuring equal representation for women in politics, especially at the state and national levels.
To address this, India introduced legislation over two decades ago to reserve one-third seats for women in the national and state legislatures. But the bill has not seen the light of the day till date even as nearly all parties say they are committed to it.
The current government led by the BJP came to power (first in 2014, then in 2019) promising to get the bill passed. However, as our research has shown, despite repeated questions, the government has dodged all questions on the subject, and made no progress.
Nearly all political parties like to get a moral high by committing to women’s representation and gender equality from time to time. The bill stuck in limbo provides them the perfect excuse to keep paying lip service without having to do anything about it1. So the Congress’ decision seems like a disruption. For once, instead of showing helplessness because there are no mandated quotas, a party is doing something it can (and should) anyway do - giving more tickets to women.
Here’s hoping this is the beginning of change, and that more parties follow!
Reflections and Reads
Rabin, Peres, #MeToo and the battle among sacred cows, Jewish News Syndicate
Women and politics in Kosovo: were the local elections a missed opportunity? Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa
Affairs of the heart spell double trouble for female leaders, Financial Times
That’s a wrap for this week! If you liked reading this issue, please do press the like ❤️ button, and forward this to a friend/colleague or share it on your social media - reader endorsement is the only way newsletters grow! Please share widely. Thank you! We’ll see you next weekend with Issue 73!
Note: This is not the first time a party has vowed to give more tickets to women candidates. In the 2019 Parliamentary elections, a regional party BJD had given one third of its election tickets to women, while the Trinamool Congress had given 40 percent. Trinamool did not sustain that commitment: in a state election held earlier this year, the party put forth just 17 percent women candidates.