India ranks behind Pakistan when it comes to number of women MPs; UN calls for quota

Placing India at 148, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the head of United Nations Women, has called for reservations for women in parliament.

Women remain heavily underrepresented in legislatures across the world. Asia particularly falls behind with a 19.3% representation rate, a new report from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) shows. The report has released a world ranking based on the number of women parliamentarians in each nation. These rankings place India at 88th place with 18.5 per cent representation by women.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Executive Director of UN Women, has called for reservations for women after the release of the report. “The dearth of female voices among public representatives calls to question the whole notion of democracy,” Ngcuka said.

“Most progress in increasing their ranks in parliament was achieved in countries with quotas,” she added. Agreeing with the UN Women Chief, Martin Chungong, Secretary-General of the IPU, said, “Progress in achieving gender balance has been excruciatingly slow. Reaching gender parity in parliaments would take 50 years at the current rate and the previously set goal of 30% representation was too modest.”

Ngcuka iterated that women politicians were held back due to a number of reasons, including the lack of finance for campaigns and stereotyping. They also face cyber-bullying, physical harassment and hostile treatment by the media.

Notably, Rwanda ranked first in the number of women parliamentarians with 61.3 per cent in the lower house, followed by Bolivia with 53.1 per cent and Cuba 48.9 per cent.

In South Asia, Nepal ranked 48 with 29.6 per cent of the lower house seats held by women; Pakistan ranked 89 with 20.6 per cent; Bangladesh at 91 with 20.3 per cent, and Sri Lanka lagged at 179 with 5.8 per cent.

The percentage of women in parliaments worldwide barely ticked up from 22.6 per cent in 2015 to 23.3 per cent in 2016. India’s percentage is about half the world tally.  A constitutional amendment bill to reserve 33 per cent of Lok Sabha and State Assembly seats for women was first proposed in 1996 but failed to make headway in the last 20 years. In the latest attempt, it passed the Rajya Sabha in 2010 but lapsed when the last Lok Sabha ended its term in 2014 without taking it up.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Janata Dal (United) and Samajwadi Party have been leading the opposition to the constitutional amendment.