This Republic Day, we bring to you an exclusive report on women's political participation in our state legislative assemblies. While we often talk about India being ranked 142 out of 193 countries when it comes to women's representation in our parliament, we tend to not discuss much about women's participation in our state legislatures. This report is aimed towards drawing one's attention to the dismal representation of women at the state level.
Our Lok Sabha currently has 14.3% women MPs. This is well below the global average of 25.1% female elected representatives in the parliaments. Reservation for women in local governments in India has resulted in scaling up women's participation from less than 5% to 46% today. While the Women’s Reservation Bill remains in a limbo, some state governments and political parties have done better than others for women’s political representation. Through the course of this report, we present gender disaggregated data of MLAs in all Indian states.
We considered 30 States and Union Territories for this analysis. The total number of MLAs in each Vidhan Sabha or Legislative Assembly ranges anywhere between 30 to 398. Unsurprisingly, male MLAs form an overwhelming majority across all states, constituting anywhere between 86% to a full 100% in some states. Across India, an average of 8% MLAs are women. With increasing evidence of how successful and compassionate women leaders have been in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need to address the lack of women’s representation in Indian politics.
Let’s consider women’s political representation region-wise. Beginning where the picture is rosiest, in the eastern and central states of India that have an above average representation of women MLAs. Chhattisgarh and West Bengal have about 14% women MLAs, the highest in the country. The state of Jharkhand is a close second with12% women MLAs.
Recent elections in Bihar saw a drop in women elected to their assembly from 28 in 2015 to 26 in 2020 despite a relative increase in the number of women contesting. An analysis on the Bihar elections pointed to the perpetuation of dynastic politics and the continued marginalisation of women. In the state of Odisha that appears to be tackling the women’s representation in the Lok Sabha head-on, about 9% of MLAs are women. West Bengal , with a woman chief minister for the consecutive second term, has 13.6% women MLAs. Madhya Pradesh with only 8% female MLAs in a state legislature of 230 elected representatives is trailing behind other states in the central and eastern belt. As cited earlier, among all the state assemblies, Chhattisgarh has the highest percentage of women MLAs - 14%. Additionally, Chhattisgarh also stands at second position among top five states with the ‘highest percentage of women candidates’ for state assembly elections.
Among the northern states, an average of 9% MLAs are women. Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are at the lower end of this spectrum with 5%, 6% and 7% women MLAs respectively. Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are among the better performing states in this region with 11% and 12% respectively. This is a significant achievement as both Rajasthan and UP have large Assemblies with 200 and 398 elected representatives respectively. Both, Delhi and Haryana, elected less than 10% women in their legislatures.
The eight north-eastern states have relatively smaller assemblies and equally small representation of women MLAs averaging at 5% for the region. Additionally, Mizoram and Nagaland are the only two states in the country with no women in their legislative assemblies. Manipur dropped from three women MLAs to two in their state legislature between 2012 and 2017. The remaining states in this region have anywhere between 5% to 9% women MLAs which translates to less than 10 women in their assemblies. In Arunachal Pradesh, women outnumber male voters, but only three women could make it to the 60-member Assembly this time.
The western region comprising three states shows an average of 7% female MLAs. Maharashtra, the largest state in this region has 8% women MLAs. 10 of the 24 women candidates were first time MLAs In Maharashtra. The states, Goa and Gujarat respectively have 5% and 7% female MLAs. While these numbers seem close, in absolute numbers this means that Goa has 2 women among 40 MLAs and Gujarat 13/182 women elected representatives.
The states down south have state legislatures with 100+ elected representatives (except the Union Territory of Puducherry with 30). Karnataka with 224 elected representatives (the largest in this region) has a meagre 3% women MLAs. The states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are among the better performing states with 8% and 9.3% women MLAs respectively. Puducherry has had only 7 women MLAs since 1962. The majority of southern states have less than ten women MLAs in absolute numbers despite their generally large size - a disheartening trend indeed.
To summarise: 70% of Indian states have less than 10% women elected in their Assemblies. The abysmal number of women representation in politics is a clear example of sexism women politicians face, from the voters or their own political parties. Unfortunately, the inherent sexism that women have to go through in any place exacerbates even more when they’re in decision-making positions. The Women’s Reservation Bill, mandating 33% seats for women in the parliament and Assemblies, is an important step to amend the disproportionate representation of women and normalise women leaders. The lack of women in leadership positions affects us on a day to day basis - our safety, our autonomy, and our progress in the society. Let us ask our political parties to field more women candidates, pass the Women’s Reservation Bill, and create an ecosystem that is free from sexism. Let us also not shy away from contesting elections or voting for women!