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Uncommon political interest in women

Uncommon political interest in women

By Ammu Joseph

“Mamata Banerjee has emerged as the first female Chief Minister of a major state to win a third successive term in office.”

“KK Shailaja or Shailaja Teacher, as she is popularly known, had the highest margin in Kerala of nearly 61,000 votes.”

But these well-known female political leaders were not the only women who were in the spotlight as the results of the recently held Assembly elections in four states and one union territory became clear at the end of counting day (2 May).  

The very next morning The Times of India (Bangalore edition) had a graphic feature titled “Neither standing room nor seats for women” at the top of the page devoted to election results in Kerala. 

Photo source: Times of India

The main editorial page article, which focused on “Mamata Banerjee’s overwhelming victory”, said one of the reasons why the BJP “fell way short of their dream of capturing Kolkata” was because “the women’s vote that Mamata has so painstakingly cultivated has stayed loyal to her in the face of the Hindutva surge”.  According to the writer, Asim Ali, among the “three rules of contemporary Indian politics” the second is that “women voters have emerged as one of the most critical voting blocs in electoral politics”.

The Thiruvananthapuram edition of the TOI had a report the same day on the number of women members in the new state legislative assembly:  11, from among the total of 103 women who contested elections in Kerala, but nevertheless up from eight in 2016.

Deccan Herald, too, carried a 3 May report headlined “Women voters played an instrumental role in TMC’s thumping victory”, which suggested that Prime Minister Nardendra Modi’s widely popularised ‘Didi… o Didi’ taunts did not go down well with the female electorate in West Bengal.  

The focus on women continued through the week after the election results were known.  These are just a few examples from a range of (English) media:


Women No Longer ‘Silent Voters’, in Driver’s Seat to Swing Results (The Quint)

Tamil Nadu Assembly Election: Only 5% Of Elected Representatives Are Women (thelogicalindian.com)

Kerala Assembly election result 2021: Meet 11 women MLAs, lone representative for UDF, who will join the Assembly – Oneindia News

Mamata Banerjee Women Voters: Sweeping “Silent” Majority of Women Voters (shethepeople.tv)

Decoding women’s representation in the 2021 state elections | Hindustan Times

West Bengal Assembly Elections 2021 | Women rally behind Trinamool, finds CSDS-Lokniti Survey – The Hindu

 

Media interest in women’s participation in elections – as leaders, candidates and voters – was more evident over the past several weeks than in the past.  Drama helped even if it was not always drama as implied.  Sexist and distasteful remarks drew attention, if not always the condemnation they deserved. 

It is worth remembering that even as recently as International Women’s Day 2021 (8 March), and despite a token discussion in Parliament on the occasion, there was hardly any media interest in the Women’s Reservation Bill 2008. Under the circumstances, this blog, which has been focusing on women’s participation in politics and media coverage thereof since 2014, published an obviously essential post reiterating why gender diversity in political representation is important.

So it was gratifying to note the attention this aspect of elections began to garner over the weeks since the just concluded election season began.  Here, again, are just a few examples from the (English) media:

More Kerala women voters than men, but only 9% of Assembly election candidates are female | Deccan Herald

Tamil Nadu’s political parties are wooing women voters, but where are the candidates? | The News Minute

74 women candidates in fray in Assam Assembly elections – The Week

West Bengal Assembly Election 2021: Women voters cross 49 percent, might play a key role in state polls | India News | Zee News

West Bengal Assembly Elections 2021: Trinamul banks on women voters – Telegraph India

West Bengal election: How Modi vs Mamata battle of jibes may influence women voters – Elections News (indiatoday.in)

Tamil Nadu Elections: More women voted this time than men- The New Indian Express

In Bengal, the X factor — women and welfare | Hindustan Times 

What the dismal number of women elected this time tells us

Still too few women: New assemblies continue to have skewed gender representation

This is a welcome development, especially if it is sustained – and not only during elections. The fact is that there is a long, long way to go before even the modest aim of the perpetually stalled Women’s Reservation Bill (pending since 1996) is fulfilled:  33 per cent (or one third) representation of women in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies, as this sobering Twitter thread on the results of the recent state elections reveals. 

And let us not forget, while Mamata Banerjee is rightly celebrated as Wonder Woman today, the not so thrilling fact is that she is currently the only female Chief Minister in this vast country with 28 states and eight union territories.  

It is also worth noting that, as some commentators have pointed out, exit polls may have failed to predict the TMC’s dramatically decisive victory at least partly because pollsters did not pay adequate attention to female voters.

 

NB:  Please do send links to other reports and analyses highlighting the gender factor in the recent elections, especially from Indian language media, to editors@nwmindia.org so that a more complete and representative list can be compiled.

 

 

 

 

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