New Delhi, Feb 2: Only seven per cent of the 1,145 candidates in the fray in the Punjab assembly elections are females -- a figure pointing to the patriarchal predominance of all political parties -- and making a mockery of their promise of 33 per cent quota for women in legislative bodies.
The Congress has fielded candidates from all 117 assembly constituencies in Punjab where polling is scheduled to be held on Saturday. Only 11 of the Congress contestants are women.
The story for the Bharatiya Janata Party is no different. The BJP, which is fighting the polls in alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal, is contesting for 23 seats and only two of its nominees are women. The SAD, which will contest 94 seats, has fielded only five women among its candidates. The Aam Aadmi Party, a new entrant in the political landscape of Punjab, hardly fares better -- it has just nine females among the 112 candidates it has fielded across the state.
This means that, together, the four main political parties have chosen just about eight per cent women as contestants. In all, 1,145 candidates are testing their electoral luck. And only 81 among them are women. There is one transgender as well in the fray. Among the 304 Independents in the fray, 32 are women.
The women candidates in Punjab with whom IANS spoke agreed that the state, where women constitute around 47 per cent of the 1.98 crore voters, has not been able to overcome its patriarchal mind-set yet. Varinder Kaur Loomba, a sitting legislator from Shutrana, said: "Patriarchy and male dominance still exist in our state. Despite that, many women are coming forward but there is very little appreciation."
"It will need a lot of work in Punjab to bring women to the forefront," Loomba, seeking re-election from her constituency for the ruling SAD-BJP combine, told IANS.
Loomba, 38, hoped that "in the coming years, many more women will be in mainstream politics". An Aam Aadmi Party candidate, Sarbjit Kaur, said women barely get space in the mainstream. "Major political parties in Punjab do not offer space to women, but women also prefer to remain on the back-foot."
She said she and other women candidates, across party lines, could inspire Punjabi women to come out of their "shackles and fight for their rights", including their democratic and political aspirations. "Many workers of political parties are women. Those women, who are mostly housewives, shy away from joining active politics," she said, adding that the situation is changing at the "ground level".
BJP's Seema Kumari, 28, said the border state was yet to focus on the condition of women in rural areas of Punjab. "Women in (border) areas are mostly not very literate. They are not aware of their rights and don't speak about them publicly. Even though many women are now participating in Panchayat elections, we need to work a lot for the empowerment of women," Kumari told IANS.
On the national scene, the fight for women's representation in lawmaking has been raging since 1996 when the Deve Gowda government introduced the Women's Reservation Bill proposing to set aside 33 per cent of all seats in the Lok Sabha and in all state legislative assemblies for women.
The bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010. It couldn't sail through the Lok Sabha because there was no consensus among major political parties over the issue. The proposed legislation, according to CPI-M's Brinda Karat, needs to be brought to the Lok Sabha "since half of the job is already done". But that would be possible only when there is a political will among all the parties, which Karat said was "highly unlikely".
"Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has the numbers in the Lok Sabha. But not the will. And you see election after election in India, women representation has been minimal," she noted. "This is the patriarchal mindset. This is not going to change unless there is constitutional intervention," the Marxist MP told IANS, adding the bill has to be passed to help women assert their democratic and political rights.