At a time when the UPA government is determined to push through the Women Reservation Bill during the ongoing winter session of Parliament, comes the shocking news of abysmally low participation of women candidates in the electoral process.
A Zee Research Group (ZRG) study of women candidates in assembly polls from 2009-2013 has thrown up startling results putting a strong question mark over women empowerment through the electoral process.
Of all the assembly polls held during the last five years, as many as 22 states registered less than ten% participation of women candidates in these elections. Worse, three states also observed less than five% women participation during assembly elections.
The less than ten% women candidates in majority of states that went to polls comes in the backdrop of an overall increase in female voter turnout observed during the period. Uttar Pradesh (UP) observed a 18.36% increase in female voter turnout in 2012 assembly polls, while in Gujarat it grew by about 12.48%.
Barring Meghalaya and Manipur, which recorded negative growth, all states that went to polls in last five years, witnessed a higher female turnout. Interestingly, both these states, despite the dip, achieved 80% plus female voting in polls held there in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
The best women candidate participation level achieved during last five years is ten% in Odisha (2009) and the worst performing state was Nagaland with 1.1% (2013).
The ZRG study further demonstrated the skew against women candidates. The average number of women candidates during assembly elections recorded a decline over the years, except an increase in 2012. While on an average 90 women candidates participated in state assembly elections held during 2009, the figure dropped to 84.77 in 2013 respectively.
The only rise was seen in the year 2012, when the figure reached to 169.2 respectively. During the year, UP, Gujarat, Punjab and Uttarakhand respectively went to polls.
The research further revealed that Uttar Pradesh had maximum number of women candidates (583) contesting Assembly Elections in 2012. However, the percentage share of women candidates was merely 8.5 percent of the total number of candidates.
In a detailed state wise analysis since 2009, Odisha (ten%) followed by West Bengal (9.7%) and Sikkim (nine%) have registered highest percentage of women candidates during assembly elections. While maximum (32) women candidates in Odisha were independent (not from any party), highest women candidates in West Bengal and Sikkim were from Communist Party of India (CPM) and Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) respectively.
On the other hand, Nagaland (1.1%), Puducherry (3.2%) and Goa (4.7%) registered lowest participation of women candidates. In Nagaland assembly election, out of two women candidates, one was independent and the other one was from BJP.
Also in Puducherry assembly elections out of six candidates, two were from BJP and two were from BSP.
Is the lackluster participation due to lack of winning capability? The study of winning capability during the period under review seemed to endorse the trend.
Sikkim (26.67%) and Arunachal Pradesh (22.2%) have registered maximum percentage of successful women candidates. During assembly elections, Nagaland and Puducherry have registered no successful women candidates.
(With input from Pankaj Sharma, Zee Research Group, Delhi)