Vice-President Hamid Ansari today asked parties to voluntarily increase the nomination of women candidates in elections till the Womens’ Reservation Bill is enacted. While addressing a two-day maiden National Conference of Women Legislators in Delhi, he noted that only 146 women were fielded in 2014 general elections by national parties, which was 9.17 per cent of the total 1,591 candidates and this is very discouraging.
Mr. Ansari regretted that the gender profile in legislatures and Parliamentary panels on important issues remained highly unbalanced. “Giving women constitutional rights to suffrage is one thing but its tangible impact in raising women’s power and influence in polity and society is an altogether different matter,” he said.
The Vice-President has blamed patriarchy and social norms for hindering the full reflection of women’s power in positions, despite 47 per cent of the total voters being women during the last Lok Sabha elections.
He said increase of women representation at panchayat and local bodies level to 43 per cent has not led to their commensurate increase in legislatures both at the Centre and in states as gender profile in the Parliament remains “woefully unbalanced” with 12 per cent of the total members being women.
“…all political parties need to extend their support to ensure that the Constitutional Amendment Bill to provide for 33 per cent reservation to women in the Lok Sabha and state Legislative Assemblies is not delayed further. Until then, at least they need to expand their pool of women candidates,” Mr Ansari said.
The Vice-President also felt that most women legislators are usually nominated only in parliamentary committees dealing with issues related to women and stressed both the lawmakers and the party leaderships need to work so that they can have a greater say in all matters.
“This also seems to be sustained by data on their membership of parliamentary committees though the responsibility for this state of affairs is to be shared by party leaderships who, in the final analysis, do the nominations,” he said as he gave data on women members on various committees of the Parliament.
The Vice-President said committees on Finance, Estimates, Defence and Home Affairs have only seven women members which is six per cent of their total strength of 124 while in contrast, the Joint Committee on Empowerment of Women has 28 women members out of the total strength of 30 members, constituting a whopping 93 per cent.
“These facts call for some correction,” he said, adding that the respective political parties must broad base their nomination while nominating their women members to the committees, statutory bodies as also while selecting speakers to participate in debates in the House on other areas of public concern.
Mr Ansari said leaders and whips of parties in the House need to overcome their own gender bias in engaging the women in different parliamentary roles while adding that women members themselves need to show interest and contribute meaningfully to the debates.
“Several studies show that women’s political participation results in tangible gains for democratic governance, including greater responsiveness to citizens’ needs…Thus, women’s contribution is crucial to building a strong and vibrant nation. We can ignore it at our own peril,” he said.