Delhi elects only three women to its assembly
NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Only three women won seats in Delhi's 70-member assembly in recent elections, showing women continue to face huge obstacles to political empowerment in the world's largest democracy, activists said on Monday.
New Delhi went to the polls on December 4, but results announced by the Election Commission on Sunday showed that almost all the seats went to male candidates, despite a record number of female voters - over 3.4 million - casting ballots.
Women's rights activists blamed the poor showing on the three main political parties - the Congress party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the newly formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) - who fielded few women candidates. Only nine percent of the 796 candidates in Delhi were women.
The three women elected were all from AAP.
"The political parties in India are all male-dominated and they don't want to give women the opportunity to empower themselves. If they really care about women, they should have better representation," said Ranjana Kumari, director for the Centre for Social Research (CSR).
Kumari said that many women who were selected as candidates were given "unwinnable" constituencies where they were pitted against powerful opposition candidates, adding this was often because the parties did not take female politicians seriously.
While there are a plethora of issues related to women that need to be addressed in India, gender experts say one of the most important is to ensure women have a political voice in state and national assemblies.
Gender equality in parliament, they say, would result in the empowerment of women in general. A stronger voice at the top would have a trickle-down effect, helping women at the grassroots level fight abuse, discrimination and inequality.
Some of the most powerful figures in India's political history are women, such as former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi, who heads the ruling Congress-led coalition government and there are over one million female politicians represented in village councils.
Yet Indian women continue to face a barrage of threats - from female foeticide, child marriage, dowry and honour killings to discrimination in health and education and crimes such as rape, domestic violence and human trafficking.
Only 11 percent of seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house) and Rajya Sabha (upper house) of parliament are held by women, says the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).
The IPU ranks India 108th in the world in terms of women's representation in national legislatures, below less developed countries such as Pakistan which has 21 percent representation and Afghanistan with 28 percent.
Despite 17 years of protests, rallies, demonstrations and hunger strikes by the women's rights movement in India, activists say male lawmakers have blatantly blocked a bill aimed at giving women a more powerful voice.
The Women's Reservation Bill, which would reserve one-third of seats at national and state assemblies for women, has been passed by the upper house, but blocked in the lower house.
The bill is likely to be tabled again in parliament in coming months and women's groups have launched a campaign called the "#33 Percent" to put public pressure on the government to approve the bill.
But they face stiff resistance from some prominent conservative patriarchal MPs as well as from certain minority groups who fear more seats for women will mean they will lose the quota of seats currently provided to them.
"On the one hand, these politicians promise all these things for women such as jobs and protecting our security, but we don't want that," said Kumari.
"We want to be able to get our own jobs and protect ourselves. We are telling them, please don't do anything for us, just give us the voice so we can empower ourselves."
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