On April 11, the world’s largest democratic general election commenced in India. During the 42-day process, polling indicates that the number of female voters is expected to exceed the number of male voters. And yet, while women make up 48 per cent of India’s population and their political participation has increased across the board since the first election in 1952, female representation in India’s Parliament and other governing bodies remains at rates below the global average.
Although polls predict the number of women voters surpassing men in the 2019 Lok Sabha (lower house) elections, inside the lower house only 13 per cent of India’s 543 Lok Sabha members are women – lower than the world average of 24 per cent. The Indian Parliament’s overall female representation of 11 per cent also falls behind the rest of Asia’s average of 19 per cent.
Two regional parties in India, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) of Odisha and Trinamool Congress (TMC) of West Bengal, have announced they will attempt to overturn this trend by reserving over one-third of Lok Sabha seats for women. The BJD announced a 33 per cent reservation, and TMC 41 per cent. The promise of a quota has implications for voting behaviour in this general election, as women politicians tend to boost economic growth within India. According to a UN report, night luminosity – an indicator of economic development – increases in states legislations won by women.
The incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) currently has 23 women candidates out of 184 members, and the opposition Indian National Congress (INC) has 17 women candidates out of 143 members. The INC declares in its manifesto that it will revive a historic Women’s Reservation Bill, which would promise one-third of Parliament and State Assemblies seats to women. Since its inception in 2008, the Bill passed through the Rajya Sabha (upper house), but was not ratified by the lower house. The BJP’s 2014 manifesto, meanwhile, declares support for the Women’s Reservation Bill, but it was pushed aside in favour of other quota programs, such as the Poor Upper Caste government job quota.