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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Women in Parliament

Missing International Women's Day by a few hours, the upper house of the Indian Parliament passed a historic bill today, providing for a guaranteed one-third representation of women in political power.

According to data published by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the world-wide proportion of women in parliaments is 18.8%. The EU Parliament has 35%, a proportion that had increased steadily from 16% in the 1979-84 term. Only five of the EU's twenty-seven current member states--Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium and Spain--have parliaments where the proportion of women reaches one-third. BTW, the highest result is Rwanda, with over half of the members of the lower house, and just below one-third of the members of the upper house, are women. (Hungary is at a miserable 98th place, with 11.1%). :-((((


  1. Is there a way to measure the qualitative difference that an increased presence of women makes in any parliament? Partly because politics is still viewed as a man’s game to be played in a manly way (H. Clinton) or by subterfuge that reinforces the rules of the game (as S. Palin’s strategy of seduction would indicate), it seems that women who make it in politics often end up buying into the masculinity that seems to come with the territory. Has the increased presence of women made a difference in corporate work culture or for that matter in the way that engineering and science departments work in academia?

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    I'm not aware of any such study. But it could be conceived, I'm sure: all you need is a set of issues in which you are interested, and see how the voting goes.

    Did women's participation in leadership positions make a difference in the workplace, in academia, for instance? I would say a resounding YES. Is this a perfect system? Of course not, and we may not even always feel the impact. There are male-identified women, there are structural constraints, bad historical precedents, etc. But, by and large, definitely yes.

    Finally, I think the broadest implication of your question is the main issue of any representative democracy: Is decision making power to be reserved for the minority (in this case, middle-aged, upper-class, upper-caste, elite-educated men, give or take a few), or institutional innovations should be introduced to ascertain that others be included somehow. Similar doubts have always arisen whenever newer and newer segments of the population have been introduced into the electorate. This is just another aspect of the same coin: wrenching political power from the exclusive grip of men. (In the Indian parliament, the proportion of women is around 10%, despite the fact that two of the coalition parties are headed by women).

  3. One footnote, to put things in perspective, so that we can see the issues that emerge regarding gender inequality in India. This is in many ways an over-discussed issue, but remains pertinent nevertheless.

    In the world's largest democracy, female infanticide and the neglect and abuse of girls and women is so prevalent that the female-male ratio stands at 933 for every 1000 males (contrast that to the "natural" rate, that is actually supposed to be greater than 1000). There is enormous state-by-state variation, from 861 (in Haryana) to over 1050 (in Kerala). In the map I link, the pink area (> 1001), Kerala, is closest to the "natural" rate.

    Of course this is by far not the only issue that goes to the heart of gender in politics, but one has to wonder whether more female presence in the legislature would speed up efforts to rout out this problem. But then again, maybe I am naive, and the female one-third of the Indian Parliament, once elected on this quota, will behave like their male counterparts, and nothing will be gained.


cover page of the book

cover page of the book
image used for the cover design by Anannya Dasgupta