Female representation in politics a story of missed opportunities

Female representation in Lok Sabha
The 2024 Lok Sabha elections present a mixed picture for female representation, with rising candidate numbers but a declining success rate.

The 2019 Lok Sabha elections marked a significant milestone in Indian politics, with the highest ever female representation in Parliament. With 78 women elected, female participation stood at an impressive 14%. This achievement was followed by the 2023 announcement of a 33% reservation for women in legislatures, although its implementation is pending.

The trend of increasing female candidates continued in the 2024 elections, with their number rising from 726 in 2019 to 797 in 2024, a 10% increase. This is notable as the number of male candidates witnessed a much smaller increase of only 3.3%. Despite the rise in female candidates, the number of women winning seats saw a slight decline, from 78 in 2019 to 74 in 2024. This decrease led to a reduction in their success rate from 11% in 2019 to 9% in 2024, signaling a setback in the upward trend of women winning seats.

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Female representation: Party-wise trends

At the party level, the BJP continued to field the largest number of women candidates and winners. However, their success rate mirrored the party’s overall reduced performance, with the number of female winners dropping from 41 in 2019 to 31 in 2024. In contrast, the Congress increased its tally of female winners from 6 in 2019 to 13 in 2024, despite fielding fewer women candidates (down from 54 in 2019 to 41 in 2024).

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Smaller parties like Naam Tamilar Katchi, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) were able to increase the proportion of women candidates. However, national parties continue to trail the proposed figure of 33% for women’s reservation, indicating a lack of action on gender parity in political representation.

State-wise insights

While the Southern states saw an increase in both the number of women candidates and winners, the northern and northeastern states experienced a decline in both categories. Interestingly, in central India – Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – despite a decrease in the number of women candidates, the share of women winners increased.

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More alarming trends emerge in various states. In Uttar Pradesh, the number of female winners fell from 11 in 2019 to 7 in 2024. Additionally, states with relatively higher literacy and development levels exhibited disappointing figures in female representation. For instance, Kerala, which had one female winner in 2019, saw no female winners in 2024. Similarly, Tamil Nadu’s female representation remained stagnant and was comparable to Bihar, with states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Telangana lagging further behind.

Education paradox

The state-wise trend among higher literacy states is particularly puzzling given that women candidates with higher education levels (Graduate and above) have notably higher win rates. Graduates and postgraduates together constituted about 56% of the candidates and accounted for 78% of the winners. This suggests that while educated women have a higher likelihood of winning, systemic issues in certain states may be hindering their higher participation and success.

Despite commitments from several parties to increase the proportion of seats given to women, a significant number of seats continue to have no female candidates. While the number of such seats has almost halved over the last 20 years (296 in 2004 to 154 in 2024), still 28% of seats offered no choice for the electorate to choose a female candidate.

The 2019 Lok Sabha elections were a shining moment for female representation in Indian politics, yet the 2024 elections present a mixed picture. While the number of female candidates continues to rise, their success rate has declined. The performance of national and state parties, as well as state-wise disparities, indicate that significant challenges remain in achieving gender parity. Women continue to face barriers to entry in the form of lack of financial resources, poll violence, and insufficient grooming by political parties, among other challenges.

It is crucial for political parties and policymakers to address these issues and work towards ensuring greater representation of women in Indian politics, leveraging the clear advantage that higher education offers to female candidates. Empowering women to take active roles in political processes not only strengthens democracy but also ensures that the diverse perspectives of all citizens are represented in decision-making.

(Dr Jyoti Thakur is an Associate Fellow at National Council for Applied Economic Research, Delhi. Nikhil Kaushik is cofounder and CEO of Graviky Labs Inc, Boston, USA.)