The poor record of assemblies in nominating and electing women
While women's representation across the five states has increased inchmeal — from an average of 4.6% in 2002 to 10% in 2022 — in real terms, the difference between the two is only 36 legislators.
Exactly 76 of the 760 women who contested the 2022 state elections have been elected, a small rise compared to 2017, when only 57 women won out of a total of 690 female candidates. This year, the overall number of women contestants went up significantly, from 655 in 2017. But as explained in a previous article, most of this increase was induced by the nomination of 155 women candidates by the Congress. The collapse or erosion of the Congress across the five states, the near-nil score of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh, the poor inclusion of women candidates in the Aam Admi Party (AAP) and in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) account for the meagre increase in women’s representation.
State-wise, women’s representation has increased more noticeably in Uttar Pradesh (12.6% against 9.9% in 2017) and Manipur (6.4% against 4.1%), less so in Goa (8.6% against 7.6%), and remains at similar levels in Uttarakhand (9.9% against 9.7%) and Punjab (7.1% in both elections).
A sluggish change
If we take a longer perspective, women's representation across these five states has increased inchmeal, from an average of 4.6% in 2002 to 10% in 2022 – a modest progression when one considers that in real terms, the difference between the two is only 36 legislators.
Nomination figures tell us a similar story. Percentages are useful for comparison but can be misleading when the base numbers are small.
A few parties stand out
A state-by-state party-wise account of women's nomination and election reveals that women’s representation within most parties remains nominal. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP and the Samajwadi Party (SP) alliances nominated 48 and 45 women candidates respectively. This is an improvement for the SP, which nominated 43 women on its own, against 34 five years earlier. In 2017, the BJP had nominated 46 women candidates.
In Punjab, the AAP barely appointed 10% of women candidates, a higher percentage than its main opponents. Some of the state’s stalwarts were defeated by women candidates. In Amritsar East, first-time contestant Jeevan Jyot Kaur (AAP) defeated Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu. In Nakodar, first-time contestant Inderjit Kaur Mann (AAP) defeated two-time Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Gurpartap Singh Wadala (Shiromani Akali Dal, or SAD). In Talwandi Sabo, two-time MLA Prof. Baljinder Kaur (AAP) defeated three-time MLA Jeetmohinder Singh Sidhu (SAD).
In Goa, women nominations are extremely low, a longstanding practice in the state. A scant 26 women contested the election and only three of them won. Astoundingly, this is the first time in 28 years that more than two women have been elected to the Goa assembly. Incidentally, the three women MLAs elected in 2022 are all married to politicians. Delilah Michael Lobo is the wife of Michael Lobo, former MLA from Calangute who defected from the BJP and joined the Congress this year. Jennifer Monserrate, re-elected from Taleigao, is the wife of Atanasio Monseratte, a three-term MLA from Panaji. Deviya Vishwajit Rane is the wife of Vishwajit Rane, BJP MLA from Valpoi and the daughter-in-law of Pratapsingh Raoji Rane, six-time chief minister of Goa.
On the other hand, four of the five women elected in the Manipur assembly do not belong to political families. Irengbam Nalini Devi, the National People's Party (NPP) representative from Oinam is the lone exception. She is the widow of Irengbam Ibo Halbi Singh, a former MLA from the same constituency. Two of the five elected women belong to tribal communities and are both first-time winners.
It is extremely rare for more than a couple of women to get elected in the Northeast assemblies. In this case, no party is especially responsible for it, as all of them nominated one or two more women candidates, compared to 2017.
In Uttarakhand, major parties scarcely include women. The assembly only counts eight women legislators, including Anupama Rawat, daughter of Harish Rawat, Savita Kapoor, widow of Harbans Kapoor, an eight-time MLA from Dehra Dun Cantonment, and Mamta Rakesh, widow of Surendra Rakesh, former MLA. Pathways to politics for women are often more restricted by dynasticism in small states than in larger states.
What insights can we draw from the performance of women in this election cycle?
First, it will be remembered that the Congress’ “ladki hu, lad sakti hu (I am a girl, I can fight)” campaign not only failed to get any woman elected (Aradhana Mishra, the lone woman Congress legislator in Uttar Pradesh would have won in Rampur Khas anyhow) but also failed to inspire other parties. Women's representation has barely increased, and parties bear collective responsibility for it.
Second, the reluctance of parties to provide space for women within their ranks means that more women contest as first-time candidates than men. In 2022, 52% of women contestants ran for the first time, against 42.5% of the male contestants. Consequently, 64.5% of women MLAs are first-time legislators, against 53% of all male MLAs.
Lastly, women’s increasingly higher turnout in elections as voters still has not translated into greater inclusion as political actors. Parties maintain an instrumental approach to women's inclusion, which continues to hurt the cause of gender equity.
Gilles Verniers is assistant professor of Political Science and co-director, Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University.
Ishika Sharan and Maleeha Fatima are research fellows, Trivedi Centre for Political Data
The views expressed are personal