Mind The Gap | Wooing the Indian woman voter
THE BIG STORY:
Everybody loves the woman voter
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s announcement of a ₹1,000 monthly stipend to women above 18 in poll-bound Punjab if his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is elected to power signals the rise and rise of the woman voter. Calling his promise the world’s ‘largest empowerment programme for women’, Kejriwal was speaking to an audience of AAP women volunteers in Moga on November 22.
This is not the first time that Kejriwal has tried to reach out directly to an increasingly important constituency. In June 2019, he promised free public transport to women, deployed bus marshals and added additional CCTV cameras and street lights.
The effort paid off. In the Delhi 2020 election, a pre-poll analysis by Lokniti-CSDS found, 60% of women (and 49% of men) were voting for AAP. The BJP managed just 35% of the women’s vote.
Not AAP alone
We’ve come a long way from the days when parties promised free pressure cookers, mixer-grinders and gold for mangalsutras — though few have matched the imagination of an independent candidate in the 2011 Tamil Nadu polls who reportedly offered a free trip to the moon.
The increasing ability of women voters to swing votes is apparent in the range of promises made to them. The Congress’s Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s commitment to field 40% of women candidates in next year’s Uttar Pradesh election is certainly unprecedented for an assembly election. In addition, she has promised a 40% quota in jobs, two-wheeler scooters and smartphones, vocational training centres and ₹1,000 per month as a widow’s pension.
In Punjab, the Akalis have promised women ₹2,000 each.
That women voters are turning out in as large, if not larger, numbers than men is well documented. Increasingly, these women are determining electoral outcomes. In the 2021 West Bengal election, Mamata Banerjee’s TMC got 50% of the woman vote, compared to 37% for the BJP, according to a post-poll survey by Lokniti-CSDS. In Bihar, a year earlier, the women vote share was 41% for the NDA, just 31% for the coalition Mahagathbandhan–a decisive 10 percentage point difference that brought Nitish Kumar back to power.
In the same election in Bihar, there was a higher turnout of women in 79% of seats won by the NDA, 74% won by the BJP and 86% won by the JDU. In other words, when women turn up in large numbers to vote, their vote matters in deciding election results.
What do women want?
When it comes to fielding women candidates, political parties turn coy — with the exception of Naveen Patnaik’s 33% and TMC’s 42% in the 2019 Parliamentary elections.
For all its talk about women’s empowerment, the BJP that has a majority in Parliament has allowed the Women’s Reservation Bill that will earmark 33% seats to women in Parliament and the state assemblies, to languish.
Nitish Kumar’s record of fielding women candidates is abysmal while Kejriwal’s Delhi cabinet does not have a single woman minister. Yet, both politicians remain popular with women voters. Nitish has kept his constituency faithful by sticking to such promises as a prohibition on alcohol, a policy measure that few states can afford given the loss in state revenue.
In Punjab, women have been turning out to vote in impressive numbers. In the 2007 polls, voter turnout for women and men was more or less the same with 75.3% men and 75.5% women voting. In 2012, women voters beat men 78.9% to 77.6%. In the last election in 2017, it was 77.9% women to 75.9% men.
Women are a constituency that matters; not queens yet but most definitely king-makers.
She’s probably the best recognised Afghan woman ever; the girl with the startling green eyes on National Geographic’s cover in 1984. Then, Sharbat Gula was still a schoolgirl at a refugee camp and her picture shot by Steve McCurry became ‘the most recognised photo’ in the magazine’s history. This year, on November 25, the Italian government confirmed that Gula has been evacuated to their country after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.
38% of murders of women globally are committed by a male partner.
(Source: United Nations Office on Drug and Crime)
Norway’s state-owned postal service is marking 50 years since the country decriminalised same-sex relationships with a Christmas ad in which Santa Claus strikes up a romance with a man called Harry.
Watch the ad here.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR:
November 25 saw the start of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, an annual international campaign which will run until December 10, Human Rights Day. The campaign was started in 1991 and is used as an organising strategy by individuals and organisations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.
Why it matters: One in three women across the world experience violence, according to the United Nations. In India, more than 25% of women surveyed in seven states in the first round of the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) face domestic violence. In Karnataka, the survey found, the percentage of married women who said they had faced physical or sexual violence from a spouse more than doubled from 20.6% five years ago to 44.4% in 2019-20.
STORIES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
More women, fewer kids: For the first time since India began counting, the sex ratio has tipped in favour of women. The latest round of NFHS-5 finds 1,020 females for every 1,000 men. Women are also having fewer children, and the total fertility rate is just two children per woman, down from 2.2 earlier.
The third significant takeaway, reports Roshan Kishore in his excellent analysis, is the decline in under 15-year-olds in the share of the population. India still retains its demographic advantage of a youthful population, but under-15s now comprise 26.5% of the population, down from 34.9% in 2005-6.
NFHS-5 covers 650,000 households, a significantly large sample size but tiny when compared to the 300 million households in India. Only a national census will establish whether these trends can be applied to the rest of the population. The last census in 2011 counted 940 women for every 1,000 men; the child sex ratio (for children from birth to six years old) is even lower at 918 girls.
There’s bad news as well, almost half the women and children surveyed are anaemic. And stunting, an indicator of malnutrition, has seen a reduction of only three percentage points in five years with Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand continuing to be high fertility-undernutrition states
Read more on the NFHS-5 finding here, here, and here.
Reunited: A long legal battle has ended with the reunification of the one-year-old son of former Left student leader Anupama S Chandran with his parents, reports Ramesh Babu from Thiruvananthapuram. The child had been given away in adoption by Chandran’s parents who are influential CPI M leaders, and without her consent. Chandran said her parents disapproved of her relationship with Ajith Kumar, a Dalit Christian man.
Rape and the death sentence: The Bombay High Court has reduced the death sentence awarded by a trial court to three men convicted of gang-raping a journalist at Mumbai’s defunct Shakti Mills, reports K A Y Dodhiya. The men are repeat offenders but the two-judge bench said they deserved to repent their offence whereas a death sentence would put an end to the process of repentance.
In a separate judgment, the same two-judge Bombay High Court bench confirmed the death sentence of a Thane man for raping and murdering a three-year-old.
Uniformly same: A primary school in Ernakulum district, Kerala, has become the first government school in the country to introduce gender-neutral uniforms for its 754 students. Students of all genders will now wear long shorts and a shirt. “We wanted all the students to have the same uniform so that they could enjoy the freedom of movement,” said Vivek V, the president of the Parent-Teacher Association that took the decision to adopt a gender-neutral uniform. Read more here.
The Play’s The Thing:
A field study involving 92 villages in West Bengal found that community-based participatory theatre around the theme of domestic violence actually reduced spousal violence by a quarter. Conducted by Karla Hoff of the World Bank and Jyotsna Jalan and Sattwik Santra of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, the study found evidence of prolonged positive impacts.
“To change an individual’s core values and beliefs about the morality of violence against women requires that they begin to view women as individuals with the right to make decisions about their lives,” states the study published in Ideas for India. “To change a social norm, one can start with the individual or the community, but it is crucial to influence both.”
Participatory theatre, also called forum theatre, begins with the enactment of a play based on “facts”. After the performance, a facilitator from the theatre group (also called a joker) asks the audience if it agrees with the actions in the play. The play is then performed again, and this time audience members are free to shout ‘stop’ if they disagree with the actions and take on the role of the actor and play the scene with outcomes they want.
Watching the play reduced spousal abuse from 32% to 24%. The proportion of husbands who viewed wife-beating as legitimate fell by half.
Read the study here.
WOMEN OF THE WORLD
Calling it “one of the most transformative trends of our time”, the New York Times reports a rising gender gap in college education – in favour of women. With three women students for every two, women have not only closed the gender gap in educational attainment, but surpassed it. Men are also more likely to drop out of undergraduate studies than women. The trend is perplexing, given that a college degree has clear career and financial advantages.
That’s it for this week. If you have a tip or information on gender-related developments that you would like to share, write to me at: [email protected]
Namita Bhandare writes and reports on gender
The views expressed are personal
Marika Gabriel contributed to the making of this page.
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