The Kerala Legislative Assembly, popularly known as the NiyamaSabha is the State Assembly of Kerala. The State takes a lot of pride in giving equal rights and opportunities for women and men. The sex ratio of 1084 females to 1000 males are higher than in the rest of India (which is at 943). The female literacy in the state is 95.2 percent compared to the male literacy of 97.4 in the state. This is when the overall female literacy in the country is at 53.7%. Women’s participation in economic activities is above 20%, higher than the participation of all India average in all age groups except the group of 15-29 (a major part in this group could be pursuing education in Kerala). Kerala also has very good representation of women in local panchayat and corporation elections. This year, the city corporation of Trivandrum has a new mayor (Arya Rajendran), who is the youngest mayor in India.
It is in this context that we need to look at the representation of women in our legislative assembly. The percentage of female members of the legislative assembly fell from 10.23% in 1996 to 6.06% in 2016, even as the number of women candidates doubled over these five elections. Of a total of 109 women candidates who tried their luck in the May 2016 polls, only Aisha Potti, K K Shylaja, Mercykutty Amma, Veena George and U Prathibha Hari of CPI(M), and E S Bijimol, Geetha Gopi and C K Asha of CPI succeeded. The UDF, on the other hand,had no woman representative.
The 2021 Kerala Legislative Assembly election was held on 6 April 2021 to elect to the 15th Kerala Legislative Assembly. The results for the same will be declared on 2 May.
For the 2021 elections, altogether 104 women candidates are in the contest after 125 candidates submitted the application. The 3 major coalitions, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by BJP, Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by CPI (M), and United Democratic Front (UDF) led by INC have fielded women candidates less than 16% of their total candidates. NDA has the highest with 21 women out of 139 candidates, LDF 15 women out of 140 candidates and UDF 12 women out of 140 candidates. While there were positive trends in terms of the coalition leaders in having more women candidates in the contest, the smaller parties in these coalitions have deployed only a minimal number of women candidates. One interesting development is that one of the prominent parties in UDF (Indian Union Muslim League – IUML) have nominated their first ever female candidate. Also, smaller parties contesting as a single party have fielded higher percentages of women candidates.
There are 3 constituencies where there is direct competition between women candidates of the leading coalitions (UDF and LDF) - Aroor, Kayamkulam and Vaikom. Considering the contests in other constituencies where women candidates are there, it is anybody’s guess to see if we will have the same or a greater number of MLAs compared to the previous term in the new assembly term.
There have been a lot of discussions about the under representation of women among the candidates. There are cases where prominent women leaders have expressed their anguish openly for not being considered at par with male options when it comes to the candidature. The approach of all the political parties once again shows that they are only doing lip service to gender equality. When we look at the local panchayat and corporation elections, political parties are finding adequate candidates to meet the requirements of 50% reservation for women candidates. The women candidates have done exceptionally well by taking very responsible positions and also winning the re-elections even by contesting in non-reservation wards. The local bodies in the state have played a key role in the progress of the state, especially the progress of women across the different strata of the society. Even when it comes to performance in the assembly or ministry, women representatives have shown exceptional talent and drive. Arguably the most popular and most famous minister in the outgoing ministry is a woman – K K Shylaja led the state health department very ably by managing the state through the pandemic and thus earning even international acclaims.
With this background, perhaps, reservation is the key to unlocking more positions of legislative and executive power to women. All the political parties need to show the will to get the Women’s reservation bill passed in the Parliament. The long wait that the parties will correct themselves is not yielding the results and hence legislation through law is the only solution to have this problem fixed.
(Damini Nair is a volunteer with Femme First Foundation)