Women in Power: Celebrating Women's Progress and Prospects
This is the first Daughter's Day after the passing of the historic Women's Reservation Bill in Indian Parliament. It's also a significant milestone in the global movement for gender equality. It should not be seen only as the outcome of this special session of the Indian Parliament, but rather as a significant milestone in the 200-year-long history of the struggle for equality in the women’s movement. We should remember that it took almost 100 years for the women's movement to convince the patriarchal structure that women should also be given the right to vote, which is popularly known as the women’s suffrage movement. New Zealand became the first country to accord its women the right to vote in 1893, while the United States of America, one of the oldest and most powerful champions of democracy, granted voting rights to women as late as in 1920, despite gaining independence in 1776.
We can be grateful to our leaders who framed the constitution. They were big-hearted and had a grand vision. From day one, they ensured voting rights for India's women without any discrimination. After 75 years of independence, although women have participated in large numbers in politics, they have struggled to find their place in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. Their representation in Indian Legislative Assemblies is around 5%. Only in the 15th Lok Sabha election did their representation in the Indian Parliament cross 10%, and it currently stands at around 15%. This underscores the dire need to reserve seats for women in Parliament and state legislatures.
In the gender discourse, it is strongly argued that significant progress cannot be made as long as women are not in positions of power. The percentage of women judges in the Indian Judiciary at the High Court and Supreme Court levels is below 15%. Their presence in important positions in the private sector is dismal. According to a Deloitte study, in 2016, the share of women CEOs in India stood at 6.6%, but it declined to 3.4% in 2018, and in 2021, it stood at a disappointing 4.7%, well below previous levels. This is an interesting insight; the government, through its mechanisms, will have to ensure proper representation of women because leaving it to the market to decide shows a lack of concern for representation.
In this context, this is a massive step towards creating a more inclusive political space. Women's participation in legislative assemblies and Parliament may steer the nation in a new direction.
In urban areas, I often come across people who believe that there is already enough equality and that legislation works in favor of women, often being discriminatory towards men. They cite specific cases to support their arguments. I believe that most of them are influenced by the popular opinions that social media creates nowadays. In most cases, social media generates insulated opinions or fosters extreme views, shaping what people believe through sensationalism while ignoring what data suggests. How sensationalism influences the human brain is discussed beautifully by Daniel Kahneman in his book "Thinking, Fast and Slow." According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of India, the total number of crimes against women in India in 2021 was 4,28,278. It's important to note that NCRB data only includes crimes reported to the police, and the actual number of crimes against women in India is estimated to be much higher.
We can hope that with more women occupying legislative roles, there will be more stringent legislation, and even more importantly, they will create an environment where society strives to operate on the principles of equality. What we can wish for on a Daughter's Day is a society that strives for equality, values inclusion, and is free from violence.