News / Asia

Number of Indian Women in Top Posts Rises

Indian Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress party leader Mamata Banerjee gestures as she arrives at a function to inaugurate railway projects in Kolkata, India, May 17, 2011.
Indian Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress party leader Mamata Banerjee gestures as she arrives at a function to inaugurate railway projects in Kolkata, India, May 17, 2011.
Anjana Pasricha

In India, impressive victories scored by two women in regional elections have increased the number of women in the top rungs of politics.  But women's political empowerment is only making slow progress in a country where they occupy a tiny number of seats in parliament and state legislatures.

When results from regional elections were announced recently, the spotlight was on two women who routed their rivals.  Mamata Banerjee ended 34 years of rule by communist parties to take control of West Bengal.  In Tamil Nadu in the south, J. Jayalalitha, staged a comeback by ousting a regional rival.

Along with two women chief ministers who head Delhi and Uttar Pradesh states, women now govern more Indians than ever before, says independent political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan.

"At this moment, if you look at how many Indians live in states which have women chief ministers, it is a little less than one in three," noted Rangarajan.  "Something like 30 percent of the people in India are living in a state or territory where the head of government is a woman.  That is probably unusual."

The four chief ministers now in power are not the only women in the top rungs of government.  The head of the ruling Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, is India's most powerful politician.  The president, parliament speaker and the opposition leader are all women.

But analysts say the sprinkling of women at the top does not mean that women have gained significantly greater influence in politics.  Women account for a little more than 10 percent of parliament and even smaller ratios in state assemblies, lagging behind neighboring countries like Pakistan and Nepal.

Ranjana Kumari heads the Center for Social Research in New Delhi and has been at the forefront of a campaign to reserve one-third of seats in parliament and state legislatures for women.  Activists like Kumari hope that the Women's Reservation Bill will finally be passed this year, after facing a 14-year-deadlock because of stormy opposition from some regional parties.

"It is at the apex and the national level leadership that women are not getting any positions," Kumari noted.  "It is a huge contradiction also, because you do see five major parties being headed by women, major, major states in the country are now seeing women as chief ministers.  So, when it comes to top level leadership they are acceptable, but when it comes to really women sharing power, sitting with men in parliament and also state assemblies, men do not want to vacate more seats.  It is an important time now when we will see such a process is started."

Political analysts point to some positive features of women's political empowerment.  In the past, most women politicians belonged to powerful political families.  Some, like Sonia Gandhi, wife of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, still do.  But others are making it on their own accord.

For example, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal founded her own party, the Trinamool Congress, and made it a political force to reckon with.  In Uttar Pradesh state, Mayawati (one name only), has emerged as a powerful lower caste leader in her own right.  They are regarded as tough leaders who have carved out their own identities.

Political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan says a strong family connection is no longer necessary for women.

"It is not that it is somebody's wife, sister, daughter or even daughter-in-law.  Perhaps that is something one should sit up and take notice of.  It is not a clan network that has put these women in charge.  These are self-made women who have often overcome enormous adversity and managed to come to power," Rangarajan explained.

Activists hope that more political space for women will improve the position of women in a society where they face widespread discrimination and where sex selective abortions are blamed for declining ratio of girls to boys.

But observers say there is no evidence the women who have ruled states have made any impact on the social status of women.  They say that, even in their own governments, there has been no effort to increase the number of women.

Professor Zoya Hasan teaches politics at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

"Most of these women are anxious not be seen as representing women, or being friendly to women, or be doing things for women.  Most of these women chief ministers just want to be seen as chief ministers. Period," Hasan noted.

Like other politicians, many women leaders have also been touched by controversy.  Jayalalitha has faced allegations of corruption.  Delhi's chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, has been blamed for not preventing massive corruption in the organization of last year's Commonwealth Games.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs