In the study by Singh (2007), on women issues, he says that the political philosopher Aristotle claimed that the public and the private spheres were to be separated. He included political institutions, the law and rational and discussions of public affairs as the public sphere and on the other hand, the household comprised the private sphere. He was also of the opinion that men and women differ in terms of rationality and sensitivity respectively and so the public sphere was meant for men and the private sphere was meant for women.
In 2007, Singh’s study on gender issues argues that the Liberal theorists J.S.Mill also claims that women naturally locate themselves in the private sphere, which according to Mill was a sphere free form State interferences and a non-political domain. This as such leads to women being marginally placed m the public sphere. Mill argues that the subjugation of women led to the underestimation of the importance of women in history and has led to the overestimation of the significance of men. One of the Feminists Mary Wollstone Craft claims that the progressive political change requires the restructuring of the private sphere and this, in turn, requires the transforming of the governing institutions.
In the study by Tandon (2008), the Socialists feminists argue about the economic independence of women as they claim that the root cause of women’s oppression is the social and the economic structures. They also argue that equality of opportunity is not possible in a society where differences in wealth, privilege and power exists. The Socialists feminists claim that women are alienated from the realm of political control due to their economic dependence on men. On the other hand, the Radical feminists argue that women need not be seen only as housewives or child-bearing machines and so they critique the patriarchal system as a whole.
The origin of the Indian idea of appropriate female behavior can be traced to Manu in 200 B.C “by a young girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independent, even in her house”, such an understanding of women behavior is indicative of the restrictive mobility and confinement women have been facing.
It was since the 19th-century reform movement, itself that women began to make themselves visible in the political arena and some of the prominent women were Pandit Ramabai, Sarala Devi,l Manorama Majumdar, Swarna Kumari Debi.2
Other prominent women were Annie Besant, who in December 1917, along with few other women began demanding for voting rights for Indian women and it was during the same period that several all India women’s organisations were also formed.
With independence it was believed by the Constitution framers that social change could be brought about with law, which would then go further into bringing equality between both the genders yet the ground reality even after the independence reflected a different scenario all together. Inequality and discrimination maintained its firm ground in the Indian society and this is evident from the weak participation rate of women in politics even after independence.
In the study by Rathod (2014), the understanding of the participation of women in the political arena requires the analysis of the two categories: one as voters and one as the contestant. Analysing, the percentage of registered women voters in India, the trend does reflect that of an increasing one starting from the 1951 elections. Then it was 45% and the 2014 elections indicate that the percentage of women voters has increased 47.6%. Such a meager 2.7% improvement illuminates the reality of the ‘gendered politics’ in one of the biggest democracy of the world. In fact, the recent election of 2014 reflects that men form more
than 52% of the electorate, in other words, it meant that in the 2014 elections there were 38,740,183 more men than women electorate. Deshpande and Sethi (2010) states that the irony of the situation is that the voting rights were granted to women since 1937 yet in praxis the voting rights of women does not seem to have generated positive results for women even today.
In the study by Rathod (2014), the electoral data from 2014 shows that the percentage of new women voters in the 18-19 years age category is only 41.4%.515 states and Union Territories fall below the national average in this age group, with Haryana having the lowest percentage at 28.3%. In India, it is only Nagaland state which has more female electors than male among the new electorate, at 50.4%.
In 2007, Singh states that it was only after the eight Lok Sabha elections that women voters began to get some importance. Though it was believed that the increase in the percentage of women voters indicated rising political consciousness but some political analysts claimed that women voters were mere “passive voters.” So the mere increase in the rate of women voters does not provide for an equal political status to women because women issues were still being neglected by the political parties. In fact, women’s votes was termed as vote of a wife, sister and a daughter.
Desai and Thakkar (2001) states that the New Delhi Document on Women in Development (1985) stated that though there has been a rapid growth of informal political activity by women to fulfill their interests but their role in the formal political structures has remained unchanged.
It cannot be denied that the political scenario in India is conducive to male participation and women’s presence in the political field is that of a very weak one. Even if women are elected, it has been observed that they have often been given ‘soft portfolios’ like women education, health etc.
The next concerns would be to locate the reasons for such pattern of ‘progress’ when it comes to women both as voters and as contestants. The experts are of the opinion that one of the reasons behind such trend could be the lack of awareness among women, so in other words, this also meant that there was a need to create awareness among women regarding elections.
The Committee on the Status of Women in India though on one hand did unanimously recommended for women reservation at the local level but on the other hand, ironically it rejected the demand for reservation in the legislative level.
Factors Hindering Women’s Political Participation
Hindrance to the participation of women in the political field has been generated due to the admixture of several factors like illiteracy, patriarchal values, insensitive legal systems etc. These factors have been supplemented with the inadequate infrastructural facilities and any such support systems, which could have facilitated women’s participation.
The culture of the Indian society also affects women’s participation since the Indian culture has a very restrictive approach towards women. The Indian culture demands the confinement of women within the domestic sphere which then hinders the participation of women in the public sphere. It is also known that usually the polling booths are located a little away from the homes and this further worsens the already bad and restrictive condition of women. Women as such are held back from even exercising their basic right to vote and even the right to participate, since participation requires the fulfilling of several formalities like filling nomination for elections but the restrictive mobility of women hinders such activity. Moreover, when situation arises for an emergency meeting at inconvenient timings, women do face problem in attending such meetings, such a scenario makes it evident that women are often excluded from the decision- making process which then also means that women issues are not reflected in the agenda and the policies.
The patriarchal system is a reflection of the discrimination women face on gender issues. Such a system controls the life of women and women with young children’s are bound with their responsibility towards their children’s. On the other hand, younger women and unmarried women are also imposed with restrictions because of the control exercised on their sexuality. Women as such are bound with domestic responsibilities, job and political responsibilities. Balancing out all the three responsibilities leads to compromising with her political responsibilities since there is lack of any support system a that would facilitate the political participation of women. As mentioned earlier, since women are restricted to domestic sphere, so any women who behave audaciously and participate in politics, often face ‘character assassination’.
Furthermore, women, unlike men, tend to face problem in accessing information since most information is written in a language which is inaccessible to women due to illiteracy and low level of women education. Besides, women even do not have an access to the oral transactions which takes place in the public sphere and women on the other hand, are restricted and confined to their household sphere. This inaccessibility of information ‘handicaps’ women from enjoying their rights.
Moreover, it has often been observed that women’s agenda usually comprises of issues related to health, women education etc whereas men’s agenda tends to focus on issues related to infrastructure. Such difference in approach tends to make women invisible in the political arena in India.
Besides these, women also do not have access to economic resources since women even in the economic sector face gender issues. It has often been observed that women are engaged in low-wage or unpaid, low skilled or unskilled labour.
This as such leads to women earning lesser than men and this goes further into deciding the fate of women even in the political arena, as women are then not able to tackle the expense required for political participation.
Since the low visibility of women in the political sphere is evident, this in other words also meant that women do not have access to the decision- making positions.
Most of the leaders in India have had past experience in trade unions, co- operatives and societies etc and it is these experiences which lay down the foundation for preparing men for the political arena but on the other hand, women have been deprived of such experiences since their participation in such field has been negligible. This then makes the status of women in the political sphere even weaker.
Problems faced by women just seem to never end as women are often the victims of sexual harassment at workplace and the preconceived prejudices about women tends to aggravate further the discrimination faced by women in the form of low wages compared to men, low skilled jobs etc. Such discrimination and restriction imposed on women does in the long run lead to the lack of self- confidence in women thereby leading to the internalization of values which has been continuously imposed on women.
In the study by Kishwar, it has been argued that it is important to mention that the removal of such hindrances requires certain conditions like: a supportive family, someone from within the extended family willing to take over a large part of the family responsibility (especially the care of her kids), surplus money in the family.
Conclusion about gender Issues in Indian politic
The efforts need to be made to include more women in the political arena of India since the presence of women would actually pave way for several positive changes in the society to some extent. Like for instance it has been observed that the presence of women leaders tends to affect the rate of crimes against women being reported. In other words, this meant the presence of women leaders could make the police more responsive to crimes against women. This seems to stand true to some extent, as after the implementation of the reservation policy, the responsiveness of the police force actually improved accompanied with increasing arrests in cases concerning crimes against women. Such a scenario then goes into encouraging the women victims to report to the police in case of any crime committed against them. This indeed, is a huge achievement as crimes against women and the under-reporting of such crimes is a problem faced by both the developing and developed countries. Such changes could better the status of women and in the long run, bring about a huge change.
The Government as such needs to make efforts to create awareness among women about their voting rights and must also ensure a violence free conduct of elections, thereby ensuring the safety of women. Since economic independence is very essential for women empowerment, the States are to provide financial aids and loans to women in order to make then financially sound for participating in politics. With United Nations declaring 1975 as the ‘International Women’s Year’ and the next ten years (1976- 1985) as the ‘International Women’s Decade’, this has marked a shift from women’s welfare to women’s development (Women Empowerment: The Debate on Political Representation). Iyer et al. (2011), stated that it can thus be understood that the political voice is an essential determinant of having an access to justice for socially disadvantaged groups. Moreover it needs to be realized and accepted that the success of any democracy requires full participation by the citizens irrespective of gender, caste, religion etc. as the essence of Democracy is “rule by the people, of the people and for the people.