In a surprise announcement, Congress general secretary in-charge for Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Tuesday, 19 October, said that her party would reserve 40 percent of its tickets for women in the upcoming state Assembly elections. The move, she said, was to 'give voice' to every woman in the state.
Historically, women’s engagement in electoral politics has remained less than that of men but the visible transformations can be observed by looking at election data from Uttar Pradesh. The role of female voters is yet to be recognised in the state.
But the Assembly elections in early 2022 could change that.
Women are emerging as one of the decisive voices in tilting election results as their turnout as voters is increasing – slowly but steadily – in a society which remains to be largely patriarchal.
Participation of women as voters in Uttar Pradesh has increased noticeably – from 44.2 percent in 1991 to 59.56 percent in 2019. A 15 percentage point rise in the last three decades is an indication of rising political consciousness as well as growing interest in elections.
It also means that women are getting politically mobilised and are emerging as a decisive vote bloc. They are gearing to play a much more important role in Uttar Pradesh elections, and their influence is on rise since 1991.
The first time women outvoted men in exercising their voting rights in the elections was in 2012, which continued in 2017 and 2019. In 2014, women turnout was less than that of men by being two percentage point lower, but saw upward surge in comparison to 2009.
Do Women Consistently Vote For One Political Party?
What is interesting to note is that more women partaking as voters is not necessarily correlated to winning of any one political party – and they haven’t consistently favoured any one.
The data indicate that in the last six years, women seem to be coming out in large numbers to vote for the BJP, and as a consequence, it scored the biggest victories in 2014, 2017, and 2019.
However, the Samajwadi Party’s best performance ever was in 2012 when, for the first time, woman electorate outvoted men and breached the 60 percent mark.
With a larger turnout of women, both the SP and the BJP have won majority and scored their respective biggest victories in Uttar Pradesh.
Women Voters in National, State Elections
Interestingly, women in Uttar Pradesh are more inclined to vote in state Assembly than in national elections. Only in state elections has their voting percentage crossed the 60 percent mark, and that too twice.
Since 1993, their vote percentage has remained above 50 percent in state Assembly elections, with the exception in 2007, and the highest was in the 2017 Vidhan Sabha.
Moreover, in each successive state Assembly elections, women's vote percentage has been higher than in the next Lok Sabha elections from 1993.
Larger participation in state elections is due to the reason that they are fought and won on issues closer to female voters.
Issues like water, healthcare, law and order, sanitation, primary education and other welfare schemes, closer to everyday life, are more prominent in state election campaigns. As in Indian society, the burden of household tasks like fetching water and taking care of child education falls more on women than on men, these issues find better resonance among female voters.
Does a Larger Turnout Mean Better Resonance With Women Issues?
The answer is both yes and no.
Steady rise in women turnout has led to general though limited change in the conduct and party programme of political parties in Uttar Pradesh.
On the positive side, for the last last ten years or so, many will argue that politicians have shown greater sensitivity towards gender issues.
To attract women voters, they tend to project them as champion of women rights during election campaigns and target opponents for gender insensitive comments.
Offensive remarks are also lamented by media. Incumbent governments face the ire when horrific crimes against women are reported in the state.
However, political parties have yet to address women as separate electorate by offering meaningful and substantial policies addressing gender issues. Electoral promises remain to be general, offering improvement in law and order situation, few scholarship and pension schemes for sections of women.
Also, there is not much difference in manifestos of political parties when it comes to addressing gender disparity. It might be also because women themselves have remained divided on caste, class and religious identities than being mobilised only on the basis of gender.
Thus, though the women have emerged as significant voice in deciding UP elections, political parties are yet to address them as a separate electorate, paying close attention to gender issues.
With state elections round the corner, the next few months will only give us more clarity on openness of political parties to address concerns of women. Their election promises and number of female candidates will reveal to what extent they are ready to accept women as a substantial electorate.
What is evident is that the state is witnessing silent transformation when it comes to rising participation of female voters and they cannot be ignored by those seeking power.
But the outcome will depend upon a political party's ability to mobilise female voters. Thus to win, political parties have to make concentrated efforts to address women rather than just paying lip service.
(Dr Vijendra Singh teaches at School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, RV University, Bengaluru. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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