New Delhi: Despite discussions on sufficient representation for women while nominating candidates for the Lok Sabha elections, data shows there has not been much improvement from the past. While there has been an increase in voters’ turnout and election campaigns, women are still under-represented in politics, both at the national and state levels. However, female candidates from both the major political parties, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress, have stated that there is an increase in participation of female candidates in the poll process.

Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Shamina Shafiq, All India Mahila Congress (AIMC) General Secretary, said, “As far as Congress is concerned, women’s participation has increased. It is not just confined to the Mahila Congress, but goes beyond, be it the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), Seva Dal and Youth Congress.” She also added that the reason for growing participation is due to Congress’ democratic approach. Congress, which has released its 11th list for the 2019 elections, has about 33 female candidates, while at least 58 women were contesting in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Shafiq mentioned various reasons to why a woman faces obstructions while entering into political fray. “It is the notion of bad environment that lingers around the whole idea of women getting involved in politics,” she said. Shamina further said that women in politics are going through a double-edged sword because even if “you’re getting into the right stream, doing the right thing, there are people who will try to pull you down. They always engage in some character defamation on a personal note as far as a woman is concerned.” One of the foremost issues that the Congress is focusing on in its manifesto is the Women’s Reservation Bill that has been hanging in Parliament for the past 22 years.

Touching upon the Bill, BJP Mahila Morcha president Poonam Parashar Jha said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s full focus at the moment is on the Triple Talaq Bill. Triple Talaq is an abuse to the society. No matter how important, the Reservation Bill gives a woman equal opportunity, while she has a choice to do something with her life. But it is necessary to end Triple Talaq first.”

She also said that when the Opposition is not letting an important Bill like Triple Talaq pass, think about the Reservation Bill.

About 35 women have been given tickets to fight elections, so far. The party will release its Delhi list on 5April. In the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, the party had 37 female candidates, out of which 29 contestants won their seats.

Shamina Shafiq, however, justified the need for the Women’s Reservation Bill, “It was Sonia Gandhi who floated the idea of 33% reservation in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. From the beginning, women were a part of the drafting committee of the Constitution. Women then were ahead of their times and refused to accept reservation and believed in equal participation.”

She also asked that in the absence of reservation, how many women will actually be given tickets. “If you talk about winnability, there are hardly any questions asked when it comes to a man. But when it comes to women, questions keep circling around about the chances of her winning. Why do women have to justify whether they can win or not?”

“I hate to use the word empowerment; the more apt word would be streamlining the system,” Shafiq said.

On the contrary, Dr Shwetha Shetty, founder of India’s first all women’s party, the National Women’s Party (NWP), said that no one has the right to dictate the percentage of seats a woman deserves in Parliament.

Shetty told The Sunday Guardian, “Women contribute to 50% of the population in India, but their contribution in Parliament is less than 10%. We don’t need reservation category for women. There is no point in having it. Our right is 50% and who are they to give us 33% reservation?” The NWP, that was launched last year, will be contesting for half of the Lok Sabha seats. Shetty said: “There are about 10 lakh members in the party.” The all women’s party will focus on various issues like equal pay, agricultural issues, One Rank One Pension (OROP), among others.

Affirmative action in the form of reservations and bringing more women into political mainstream will go a long way in addressing a lacuna in Indian politics, say experts. Women will be the deciding factor in the upcoming elections. They have been pressed for too long. And not all were lucky enough to have a platform to convey their grievances. Equal representation of women in decision-making will have an impact on the political, social and economic structure of India, say experts.