Intro: At the time of elections, the one who can vote becomes the most valued partner of democracy. As parties compete and scurry to catch voter attention, Indian women must especially understand the power of their vote and use it wisely.
When the women of India comprise 49 per cent of the electoral base, their vote can change the country.
As Haryana and Maharashtra elect new Assemblies on October 15, let us take a look at the emerging trends. Till recently, women were not seen as politically important. They were not too keen to come out and cast their vote. Moreover, their vote was taken for granted as political parties assumed it would be mostly influenced by the males of the family or community. However, things are changing fast. The female voter turnout has steadily risen over the past 50 years.
The difference in voter turnout in general elections among men and women has narrowed drastically from 16.7per cent in 1962 to 4.4per cent in 2009. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, this gender gap was reduced to just 1.46 percentage points!
The last elections heralded a revolution of sorts when female voter turnout (in percentage) was recorded higher than male turnout in 16 States and Union Territories. This is despite the fact that the electorate itself has always comprised more men than women and continues to do so.
In effect, in 2014 the fairer sex had a greater share in the credit for the highest ever turnout ever recorded in a general election!
While this is not exactly a new phenomenon for North East states such as Manipur, Meghalaya and Sikkim, it is definitely happening for the first time in the states of Bihar, Rajasthan, Punjab, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand etc.
Analysts say this process has been unfolding since the post 2009 phase of Assembly elections, ‘pointing to a possibility of arrival of a women’s constituency’.
The rise in female voter turnout is a clear indicator of self-empowerment, because it’s not an outcome of a specific policy intervention, a research analyst has pointed out.
Interestingly, high female turnout is seen with some trepidation. Analysts have found that when women vote in large numbers, it can mean bad news for incumbents. This is because in many Indian households, it is the women – not the men – who are most acquainted with household expenditure and who interact with commodity markets. Also, women are beginning to realize that socio-cultural issues affecting their lives are different. Surveys have found that even rural women realize that it’s important to exercise the right to vote.
The political class has come to fear the power of women’s vote. What if women were to vote as a block? This concern has become the topic of discussion in many forums. The message has already been flashed to politicians – that women can make or break them. It was evident in the run-up to the 2014 polls, when party manifestos and rallies reflected women’s issues.
Why only specific issues? Each and every social, political and economic aspect affects women as much as men. Every voter must learn to think and make a considered decision on who to vote for. If each vote is a considered choice, each vote will count. Every single vote must take India forward, towards equality and justice.
A 19th century social reformer in the US had said: “There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.”
Being almost half the electorate, Indian women can easily turn the elections any which way they like. Today’s woman is connected at grassroots level with every facet of life – right from the kitchen to the ‘outside world’. Her decision will always be in the larger interest of the society. She just needs to stay clear about two things –
n Must vote – it’s not only just your right, it’s your duty.
n Think independently, choose wisely.
It's time that women remind the system that their existence in the democracy counts. Get together, go out there and vote!
Abha Khanna Gupta (The writer is a senior Journalist and social worker)