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Women’s Political Participation and Leadership in India: Examining the Challenges

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Women's political participation regarded as an essential element in all forms of development; however, gender equality policies of India remain under scrutiny. After independence in 1947, there have been many initiatives to increase the political representation of women by decentralization of power in various local self-government institutions of India. The act of Panchayati Raj Institutions has increased the engagement of marginalized segments of society, including women, into the decision-making role in political institutions. Hence, this study is trying to explore the political leadership of women in Local Self Government institutions. Through the use of qualitative methods such as document analysis of the Panchayati Raj Institutions amendment act and the expert interviews with elected women representatives in one district of Kerala state, the paper seeks to identify the challenges of women in political leadership positions in India, the largest democratic nation. Findings from the study reveal that there is considerable progress in women’s equality in the leadership role; however, there are certain crucial obstacles still exist for women to be active in the political realm.
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ISSN 1648-2603 (print)
VIEŠOJI POLITIKA IR ADMINISTRAVIMAS
ISSN 2029-2872 (online)
PUBLIC POLICY AND ADMINISTRATION
2020, T 19, Nr. 1/2020, Vol. 19, Nr. 1, p. 111-125
International Conference “Gender Studies and Research in 2019: Centenary Achievements
and Perspectives”
November 2123, 2019, Vilnius, Lithuania
Women’s Political Participation and Leadership in India: Examining the
Challenges
Titty Varghese
Kaunas University of Technology
A. Mickevičiaus 37, LT-44244 Kaunas, Lithuania
http://dx.doi.org/10.5755/j01.ppaa.19.1.25228
Abstract. Women's political participation is regarded as an essential element in all forms of
development; however, the gender equality policies of India remain under scrutiny. After
independence in 1947, there have been many initiatives to increase the political representation of
women by the decentralization of power in various local self-government institutions of India. The
act of Panchayati Raj Institutions has increased the engagement of marginalized segments of society,
including women, into the decision-making role in political institutions. Therefore, this study attempts
to explore the political leadership of women in Local Self Government institutions, through the use
of qualitative methods, such as document analysis of the Panchayati Raj Institutions amendment act
and expert interviews with elected women representatives in one district of the Kerala state. The
paper seeks to identify the challenges of women in political leadership positions in India, the largest
democratic nation. Findings from the study reveal that there is considerable progress in women’s
equality in the leadership role; however, there are certain crucial obstacles that still exist for women
to be active in the political realm.
Keywords: women rights, political participation, democracy, empowerment, Kerala.
Raktažodžiai: moterų teisės, dalyvavimas sprendimų priėmime, demokratija, įgalinimas,
Kerala.
Introduction
The World Bank identifies women's empowerment as the main element for overall social
development. The Millennium Development Goal (2019), highlighted gender equality and women's
empowerment as a means of bringing significant improvements in emerging countries. Therefore,
every country requires different programs to balance its gender and empower the political lives of
women. Empowerment should be seen as an element of perceiving oneself as an active decision-
maker (King & Mason, 2001). Empowerment of females allows them to transfer their own life put
together their agenda, arrange and demand the assistance of the state and community for the transition.
Like in many cultures, it can be seen that a women's role is inseparable for growth, but it sometimes
does not highlight the same position that counts for males. Consequently, it is believed that females
require more assistance for their enormous position in decision-making and social development. The
term empowerment captures the feeling of acquiring power and involvement in decision-making
(Naz, 2006; Karl, 1995). The Beijing Declaration (1995) stressed that women's empowerment and
full involvement on the grounds of equality in all areas of culture, including involvement in decision-
making processes and authority, are essential to achieving inclusion, growth and harmony. Therefore,
the UN proclaimed women's empowerment as the fifth of its Millennium Development Goals
112 Titty Varghese. Women’s political participation and leadership in India
implemented during 2000-2015. According to Alexander et al. (2016), women's political
empowerment is understood as the improvement of women's resources, capacities and
accomplishments to obtain equality in influencing and practicing political power.
Political empowerment is a method that allows females to boost their mobility and crack their
isolation, create self-confidence and self-image, create their government presence by taking part in
decision-making in an increasing context of consciousness and critical assessment to monitor and
impact growth progress. Thus, in most instances, the national government arises as a significant
player in promoting women's involvement in the political sphere by attempting to modify the mindset
of society and establishing more platforms for women as part of political decision-making (World
Bank, 2001; Oxaal 1997). Therefore, it is essential to encourage the decentralization of authority and
power to provide support for the voiceless segment in the cultural fields. Consequently, it is essential
to promote the marginalized section's involvement in decision making for empowerment. Inequality
not only reduces women's capacity to enhance but also inhibits their personal growth and ability.
There is a definite absence of discussing women’s inequality as violating human rights and in
Scandinavian parliaments, women’s under-representation was very noticeable (Randall, 1987; UN,
2019). There are various studies on female empowerment. Scholars such as Kabeer (2001), Devika
& Thampi (2007), KB (2005), and Menon (2009) noted that there is always a structural inequality
between women and men in the political arena, particularly in the aspects of reduced organizational
and decision-making influence. The concepts of power and gender are central to understand the
empowerment of women in political leadership. Power explains how female oppression and
patriarchy perpetuate, and gender highlights the hierarchical social order that privileges men and
considers women as a disadvantageous section of the society. Sharma (2010) views women’s
empowerment on a cultural basis and criticizes that women’s empowerment cannot be interpreted as
the same in every part of the world, especially since the Western country's ethnographic condition is
much distinct from Asian subcontinents such as India. Nevertheless, there is a lack of sufficient
research on the decision-making capacity (mainly the challenges they face for policy implementation)
of elected women leaders in their institutional structure. Thus, this paper focus on analyzing the
research question, ‘are the women leaders successful in their political participation in a democratic
way at the panchayat level’.
The research object of this article is women's political participation.
The article aims to analyze women's political participation in Indian democracy.
This article sets the following tasks:
1. To address the importance of women’s political participation in democracy.
2. To identify the challenges for women’s political leadership.
To identify the specified aim, it is essential to conduct an empirical study based on the
participation and democracy theory. The article demonstrates that although the Panchayati Raj
Institutions (PRI) policy has increased women’s political participation in decision-making, there are
particular challenges to endure the leadership. The article extends the results of factual research based
on the primary data collected by interviews from 25 elected women panchayat presidents, who have
been in their positions from 2015 until present, from the Idukki district of the Kerala state in India.
Theory for the research Participation and Democracy
Pateman's (1970) theory of participatory democracy’s fundamental assumption is that people
and their organizations cannot separate from each other. The presence of democratic institutions only
at the national level is not sufficient for successful governance without the full inclusion of all
citizens. The socialization or institutional conditioning will occur in various domains for developing
human perceptions and cognitive attributes towards democracy. The whole advancement arises
through the active participation of its citizens into public policy mechanisms. Participation in
representative government is an intellectual aspect, including the improvement of political skills and
Public Policy and Administration. 2020, Vol. 19, Nr. 1, p. 111-125 113
techniques of leaders. Thereby, representational program's stabilization and sustainability through the
participatory system could actively work for social growth. Participation develops and promotes the
attributes it requires, especially, more individual’s interaction between citizens and governing bodies.
If all political institutions democratize and increase its social interaction in a culture, it could also be
a key area for the economic sector advancement. When people are having full control of their own
lives or environment, governance structures can increase the citizen's participation in decision-
making. Even though males and females come into consideration of the same preferences and equal
legal rights, the excessive focus of such privileges for men undermines women's political and civic
role, especially in leadership positions. This situation led the female community to be stigmatized as
a group, which therefore is still not equivalent in democracy. Such a result has direct consequences
between political philosophers about questioning the legitimacy of the government. They questioned
whether the careful consideration and justice principle is implemented, or they compromise the
hierarchical group member's opinions and segregate women empowerment.
A democratic theory describes participative governance as a philosophy that is explicitly
oriented to the principle of consideration. Whenever the objective was of increasing the standard of
society, it turned out to have been inconsistent with both the goal of enhancing minority
representation by upper-class involvement. Hence, at the core of the participative democratic
government, the concept of a common motive is essential. To eradicate such inequality among women
and men, the government of India implemented its Panchayati Raj Institutions Policy act in 1992.
This act provides 50% of seat reservation for women in its Local Self Government (LSG). Through
this policy, more women can gain power and control over government institutions by their decision-
making capacity. The equal social rights required by law to individuals enhance the sovereignty and
security of its citizens through power structures. Therefore, the elimination of the perpetual
differentiation around administrators and people will be possible. Modern participatory theories of
democracy are center to the participation of the citizens, focusing on the political significance of the
minority community rather than aiming at the elite class. Sartori et al. (2017) stated that ‘which
ordinary citizen's lack of activity is no one's responsibility and use the facts as provided for the
hypothesis forming reason’. The legitimate involvement framework would still not extend even
within a participatory society. Karpowitz et al. (2012) found a significant gender gap in the power
structure. However, as postulated, it disappears under the common rule, and very few females had
the opportunity to be the representative of the government. Participative development may eliminate
inequality by adapting institutional procedures to a social environment.
As Chant & Gutmann (2002) explains, the legal practice of political authority requires
justification for those people who are bound by it, and decision-making through deliberation by free
will. Whether the decisions made in the legislature, in the administration of the courts, they have to
bear the marks of our ways of caring and our ways of thinking. However, in order to fulfill this
legitimizing function, institutional involvement has to meet strict standards. In the opinion of Bryld's
(2001) in the early 1990s, most policy theorists and practitioners confronted the deprivation and
disempowerment that followed the emphasis on modernist development and turned away from
promoting macroeconomic growth as the only means of sustainable progress. This discussion turned
to more women-centered advancement, emphasizing a person's role in their very own growth and
implies more accountability. Increased power involves changing the contemporary society system of
governance, including through its role of civil society in development. Correspondingly, the way
people governed and the participation in governance of the internal society, consequently the world
has become the main focal focus of advancement. India is the second-largest most populated country,
with an estimated one billion people. Across all fronts, this is a diverse population of various religions
and many languages. Diversity highlights the incredible challenge of decentralizing democracy
development. Despite India's global progress after independence, the situation remains one of the
most deficient in the world, not just financially but culturally.
Palacios (2016) stated that perhaps the gender ratio of work and capacity throughout
organizations is an aspect that gets in the way of participation. The question is not the quota itself,
114 Titty Varghese. Women’s political participation and leadership in India
but whether reserving women is appropriate in a patriarchal society like rural India if women are to
have any power whatsoever. Participative governance, a most influential form in modern political
discourse, is based on the notion that political decisions will be of the right consistency if those
involved in the political discussion participate in true reason-giving. Ferguson (2011) stated that any
failure to acknowledge a feminist movement itself is vulnerable to attack those it should also include
unfairly. Relevantly, Urbinati & Warren (2008) stated that political representation could provide
politics an idealizing dimension that can resolve the boundaries of segregation and formal
participation in the political sphere. The theory of participation and democracy gives focus on the
development of leaders and thereby increasing the successful governance. In this article, the leaders
are elected women representatives in the panchayat. Hence, it is essential to identify the challenges
of women leaders for their successful leadership using the theory of democracy and participation.
Methods
In order to analyses women’s political participation as a leader in a democratic nation, this
paper analyses the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) policy of 1992 in India. It describes the various
challenges for women leaders in the Local Self Government (LSG). In order to address women’s
political participation in democracy, this paper analyzed the various existing literature on women’s
political empowerment, participation and leadership. The challenges of women leaders in the
decision-making process are identified by conducting an empirical study based on primary data from
25 women as Panchayat Presidents who were elected through a voting mechanism in one district in
Kerala, known as Idukki. A semi-structured interview with open-ended discussion was conducted in
the Malayalam language, which is the official language of Kerala state. The discussions with women
politicians led research to explore the specific barriers for participating in the democratically evolving
nation. The characteristics of the respondents are given in Table 1.
Table 1. Socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents
Socio-demographic
characteristics
Category
Total number of
the sample
Gender
Female
25
Age
Age Under 30 years
30-39 years old
40-49 years old
50-59 years old
60 years old or more
2
2
10
10
1
Education
Up to high school
Secondary school Diploma
University education
Professional training
7
10
5
3
Income (monthly)
Under € 250
From € 250 to € 500/
From € 500 to € 1000
Over € 1000
3
20
2
0
Family status
Married with children
Married without children
Unmarried
Widow
24
0
1
0
Employment
Employed
Un-Employee
Pensioners
Other
12
13
0
0
Public Policy and Administration. 2020, Vol. 19, Nr. 1, p. 111-125 115
Socio-demographic
characteristics
Category
Total number of
the sample
Any political party
affiliation
Yes
No
25
0
Religious group
affiliation
Yes
No
18
7
Other organizational
leadership
Yes
No
22
3
Source: author
Women in Indian Politics
Irrespective of the fact that women's political empowerment is perceived as the core for all
other advancements in any society, it experiences many obstacles, notably in developing nations,
including India. While in developed countries, females have more possibilities and liberty to engage
actively in political lives, however, in the developing world, owing to deeply integrated cultural,
religious and social beliefs about the position of females in a culture, it generates many constraints
for females to be a component of decision-making in developing nations. Therefore, women's
participation in the power structure and their political empowerment is still not adequate enough to
analyze women's position in a political system. In order to improve their involvement at the political
stage, it is essential to empower females through multiple programs and through the action scheme
at the local, national, and societal levels.
Fig.1. Number of women members in Rajya Sabha (Council of States)
Source: Women Members in Rajya Sabha
Fig.1 shows the percentage of women in the Indian Parliament. However, the introduction
and implementation of the Panchayat Raj institutions act did not bring significant improvement and
political participation at the national level. This is mainly due to the patriarchal mindset and the
hindrance towards women in the northern part of India, which leads to the overall percentage decline
of women in Parliament, which is the main reason for not showing a significant statistical difference
in the pre- and post-implementation of the Panchayat Raj institutions. By the 1980s, researchers and
social activists started to highlight the issue of women empowerment, and by the 20th-century
research and debates on women’s freedoms and gender equality began to be discussed in the Indian
political arena. Political participation involves the right to vote, the right to compete, the right to stand
for candidacy, and their position as campaigners and the members of the legislature.
116 Titty Varghese. Women’s political participation and leadership in India
Case study
As the world’s second most inhabited nation, India has more than 50% females as its
population, and it is therefore essential to enhance the women’s positions, which is under-represented.
There are numerous explanations why females in Indian society are marginalized as a politician,
primarily because they are repressed by tradition, faith, race, and family status. Patriarchy's presence
still holds females away from accessing political power, especially in political parties where the head
is a man and the female has less chance of becoming the most significant leader because of the lack
of sharing of opportunities. Besides, structural obstacles through discriminatory legislation and
organizations restrict the chances for women to run for office. It is also noticeable that females in the
political sphere face different types of violence, not only physical or sexual violence but also mental
and psychological violence (Nanda, 1999). The lack of sufficient encouragement for women in
politics and permanent exclusion of them to the higher levels of power politics (Hughes & Dubrow,
2018) is also visible in Indian politics.
Traditionally in India, a women's role is restricted to household activities rather than becoming
an active citizen. Therefore, due to family neglect and lack of aid, females did not have enough time
to be politically inclusive. The Panchayati Raj system is a three-tier structure consisting of
village/town, intermediate, and district level institutions. To politically empower women in India,
Mahatma Gandhi advocated a system of decentralizing the administration in villages and local levels.
This system is known as the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI). The government implemented this
advocacy as an essential act by the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act in 1992. The meaning of
Panchayat’ is a ‘village council,’ and ‘Raj’ means ‘Rule.’ So that Panchayati Raj means ‘Rules in a
Village Council.’ In India, villages consist of a panchayat (council of five persons), which have
various powers to deal with the administration of the panchayat. Every state in India had accepted the
policy, and thus empowerment of panchayat had become a vital division of the state. The female
officials come from the same village/town. They can tackle different development problems and
participate in the fight against abuse against females in the village/town due to the knowledge of the
region and locality. Consequently, Kerala is renowned for its development systems, however it is
essential to note that Panchayati Raj institutions in Kerala are working in contrast to all other Indian
states. With the enactment of the Kerala Panchayati Raj Act in 1994, the decentralization of resources
and responsibilities, along with power, has transformed local bodies into robust administrative
centers. Today, LSG in Kerala is composed of 941 Grama Panchayats, 152 Block Panchayats, 14
District Panchayats, 87 Municipalities, and 6 Corporations. The Local Self Government Department
is responsible for coordinating the activities of these 1200 local bodies.
Findings of the study
Created on 26 January 1972, Idukki is one of the 14 districts of the state of Kerala. There are
52 Grama Panchayats in Idukki District for Development Activities and Social Security Schemes.
The functions of the panchayat are mainly associated with evaluating the utilization of various funds,
monitoring the process of raising funds for the panchayats, arranging all births and marriages,
approving by-laws created by the village/town level panchayat and overseeing distribution. Since the
implementation of the PRI, there has been a considerable increase in the activities of the village
panchayat. Thereby, due to the decentralization of power, the day-to-day running of the village
panchayats to a higher level of local governance and responsibilities. As Idukki district is one of the
districts with proven developmental activities, this paper aims to explore governance in this district.
In order to identify the challenges of elected women representatives, this article made an empirical
analyzes from direct interviews with 25 women leaders (presidents) in the panchayat. As shown in
Fig. 2, the article analyzes various forms of challenges met by the respondents, such as personal and
professional life balance, economic barriers, gender stereotyping, administrative training, solidarity
between representatives, the requirement of having a political party affiliation, and gender-based
violence.
Public Policy and Administration. 2020, Vol. 19, Nr. 1, p. 111-125 117
Fig. 2. Challenges for women in politics
Source: Author
While family-work conflict is the topic of both sexes, many writers concentrate only on
women (Poelmans, 2001). Predominantly, women have far more conflict given the sheer volume of
responsibilities they undertake, although parental involvement is a significant impediment to a
woman's career development. Hochschild (1997) argues that both men and women may prefer to
spend more time at the office and escape parenting responsibilities. However, females spend more
time with their children whilst men are more driven to work than women at the office. Most women
maintain professions, family responsibilities in an era where male colleagues spend more and more
time working separately (Figes, 1994). Table 2 shows how balancing personal and professional life
interferes with the political career of women. Though there are many initiatives and projects in India,
it is one of the countries in the world that lacks women's equality. While discussing the challenges to
be in political participation, all respondents agree that holding the responsibility of home and children
is a significant barrier for them to be active in a political career. As most of the elected women
representatives of the Panchayati Raj system are married and have children, the interview results
show that the co-operation of husbands and husband's parents is essential for a woman’s political
career.
Table 2. Personal and professional life balance
Indicators
Strongly
agree
Agree
Uncertain
Disagree
Strongly
disagree
Household responsibilities
25
0
0
0
0
Time management
25
0
0
0
0
Working under stress
25
0
0
0
0
Family support
24
0
0
1
0
Family in politics
22
1
0
2
1
Decision making in house
18
3
0
2
2
Source: Author
Various household responsibilities limits the woman to spend more time on social
development, especially as sometimes they are required to work at night. All respondents said that
during the time of the flooding of 2018 in Idukki (New Indian Express), they were supposed to co-
ordinate various departments to avoid further loss of life in their local self-government and thus
required an immense amount of traveling, with other colleges and other party members at specific
times, such collaboration seems to be complicated. However, a more significant part of the
20
22
25
25
25
25
25
80
88
100
100
100
100
100
Gender based violence
Political party affiliation
Solidarity between representatives
Administrative training
Gender stereotyping
Economic barriers
Personal and professional life balance
Number of Respondents Percentage
118 Titty Varghese. Women’s political participation and leadership in India
respondents (18) agree that after entering into a political career, they gain more confidence, power,
self-esteem in their personal life, including more freedom to make decisions in their home and
community. While reviewing the importance of family support, a women politician (31 years old)
with a professional degree explained:
“I was a person with no interest in politics before marriage. However, after marriage, my husband, who
is active in politics and his family, supported me to be the candidate for the LSG election, and then I
joined a party. I am very sure that without the support of my husband, I will never be able to have a
political career”. (Anonymous 1, 2019)
A report by the World Economic Forum (2018) shows that a complex strategy should
concentrate on overcoming the fundamental, systemic obstacles women encounter in running for
public office and managing effective campaigns. Lack of exposure to funding and institutional
pressures that render stressful and volatile working environments creates more challenges for women.
These systemic inequalities require a robust plan to help women candidates. Capital is among the
most potent resources, and in several nations, lobbying costs are impractically high to most
candidates, regardless of gender and background. Women were reportedly even less likely than men
to have ties to family finances (Knight et al., 2004). Table 3 represents various economic barriers for
a woman to be an active political leader. All interview participants explained that a lack of financial
security is one of the greatest concerns for entering into political careers. Such a situation pushes
them to seek other jobs. Apart from that, most of the respondents agree that the monthly salary they
receive for the leadership position is comparatively less and insufficient to meet the ends. For women
who do not have a strong financial base in their family, entry into the political arena is even harder,
especially if they want to participate in an election or to conduct an election campaign.
Table 3. Economic barriers
Indicators
Strongly
agree
Agree
Uncertain
Disagree
Strongly
disagree
Low salary
25
0
0
0
0
Lack of funding for campaigning
24
1
0
0
0
Travelling in non-working hours
23
1
1
0
0
Lack of economic stability in election
22
2
1
0
0
Inability to have different jobs
20
1
1
2
1
Spending from own
16
4
2
1
2
Source: Author
As a women leader in a panchayat, they must carry out government projects promptly.
However, there are situations, regardless of their financial security, where leaders sometimes spend
money from their own hands to engage in social development (of traveling purposes). This kind of
economic inability consistently counter women leaders from working in politics. When addressing
various economic challenges of leaders to be in politics for longer terms, one respondent (53 years)
with a high school education added:
“I am from a middle-income family which requires to take care of two kids and husband’s parents. My
husband is a farmer. Hence, I am also a part of the agricultural tasks. After being elected as the LSG
president, I merely get time to support my husband in farming jobs. This has resulted in lesser revenue
than before. So, I strongly believe that if a woman would like to have a successful political career, she
must have a stable income or must have the affluent financial status”. (Anonymous 2, 2019)
Gender stereotypes represent expectations of what people do in real life, like other social
stereotypes. If perceivers also encounter a similar community of individuals engaged in a physical
Public Policy and Administration. 2020, Vol. 19, Nr. 1, p. 111-125 119
task, they are apt to assume that these people's abilities and personality traits are shared. Some
stereotypes may represent the separation of classes into broader social system elements, such as the
social class (Eagly & Steffen, 1984). For retaining or improving disparities among men and women,
the position of the social institutions is crucial (Lopez-Saez et al., 2008). Table 4 represents the
various gender stereotypes faced by women in politics. Gender discrimination is one of the greatest
problems faced by women in politics. Although Kerala has successfully implemented various
development initiatives in the state, patriarchy is still persistent in Kerala. All the leaders who
participated in the interviews fully acknowledge the fact that women have less access to higher
positions at meetings of their party and decisions. Although the PRI policy ensures equality in a
panchayat governing body, sometimes the lack of co-operation of male colleague’s limits women
leaders to implement various development strategies.
Table 4. Gender stereotyping
Indicators
Strongly
agree
Agree
Uncertain
Disagree
Strongly
disagree
Patriarchy
25
0
0
0
0
Less opportunity for higher positions
23
2
0
0
0
Society expects higher standards
23
2
0
0
0
Less voice in upper level party meetings
2
22
1
0
0
Male representatives support
20
3
1
1
0
Not tough
19
4
1
0
1
Women are weaker
17
2
2
0
4
Less decision-making capacity
15
3
2
1
4
Source: Author
Nearly 17 women representatives acknowledge that such an in-equality results in creating a
stigma of women in the society that they are weak, or not tough enough to lead the society (19).
Hence, it is imperative to change the mindset of the Kerala society to stigmatize women from in-
capable to capable. While discussing the acknowledgment from society about the leadership of
women, one respondent (41 years) with a Bachelor’s degree disclosed that:
“As a women leader, I had to undergo various stigmas of our society daily, especially when it comes in
terms of decision-making in our panchayat. A part of men in locality thinks that a woman is not rational
or brave to take serious policy measures as of a man. Hence, sometimes I had to behave like a powerful
woman, even in my voice modulation, to make others think that I am a serious and strict leader. Such
kinds of misinterpretations must get rid of society”. (Anonymous 3, 2019)
The perceptions of men and women vary in several respects, owing to their specific social
positions and responsibilities. The traditional gender roles of men and women mean that women
usually have multiple tasks at home and on the job in society. However, females are still left with less
ability to engage economically throughout the competition of time and labor, together with pervasive
societal limitations on the right of women to engage in public action. It renders women voiceless in
their lives and, in general, in their capacity to play a significant role in sustained growth (Makhabane,
2002). Table 5 shows the importance of knowledge on administrative tasks for women’s successful
leadership and explains how it affects their careers. A panchayat leader should have skills for
development activities and fulfilling responsibilities. As most of the women representatives were not
having prior experience in administration tasks, the delegation must receive specific training. In
addition, 23 respondents agree that to gain the ability to provide services and reach out to the people,
they require technical skills along with administration.
120 Titty Varghese. Women’s political participation and leadership in India
Table 5. Administrative tasks and training
Indicators
Strongly
agree
Agree
Uncertain
Disagree
Strongly
disagree
Leadership
25
0
0
0
0
Convincing ability
25
0
0
0
0
Equal distribution of services
25
0
0
0
0
Technical skills
23
2
1
0
0
Project implementation
22
3
0
0
0
Party influence of decisions
0
20
0
0
3
Source: Author
Writing new projects to the state government based on the development requirements in their
panchayat requires expertise. Most of the respondents agree that one of the greatest challenges that
women leaders face when implementing development initiatives is the influence of their parties in
decisions, such as when some parties force a woman leader to do as they please. Women leaders must
receive government-level training in order to ensure that it is the responsibility of a representative to
serve the people equally and transparently, without compromising the constraints of these various
parties. However, 3 respondents completely deny that they face any party influence or pressure on
making decisions in their administration. One of the respondents who neglect the party influence
argues: “There were times when I was asked to obey the higher political leader in terms of sanctioning certain
licenses for building construction, in areas where there must not have any building according to the
environmental protection law. Nevertheless, as a leader elected by the society, I denied such external
push factors. Hence, I believed that no matter which party or whom you represent, as a leader, I must
serve society with equal terms and obligations”. (Anonymous 4, 2019)
As in every profession, solidarity and working in collaboration is an essential element of a
successful political career. Kabeer & Lopita (2010) stated that feminist discourse emphasized the
value of widening women's social connections, establishing a partnership with other women, and
increasing their capacity for collective action to pursue gender equity. A significant aspect of such a
phase of social progress seems to be the transformation of partnerships, especially in the lives of
women beyond the given community and sense of belonging relations, where they hold a submissive
role to the partnerships they have selected. However, due to various ideologies of parties, constant
invisible and visible fighting over power and positions, women representatives face a lack of
solidarity of members, as shown in Table 6. In this study, most of the respondents strongly agree that
for the successful functioning of the governance in a democracy, the collective action of all governing
body members, despite their party differences, is an essential factor.
Table 6. Solidarity between representatives
Indicators
Strongly
agree
Agree
Uncertain
Disagree
Strongly
disagree
Collective action
25
0
0
0
0
Judgmental
22
3
0
0
0
Trust
18
1
3
3
0
Compassionate
16
5
2
2
0
Liberty in decision making
14
8
2
1
0
Source: Author
Public Policy and Administration. 2020, Vol. 19, Nr. 1, p. 111-125 121
At times, prejudicial acts from colleagues regarding the decisions of women representatives
seems an essential challenge for them to be in the political realm, as such prejudices tend to undermine
the confidence of women. In a public institution, it is essential to work together for the development
of society through collective action. The lack of mutual collaboration between the administrative
department and political parties is a significant barrier for women to develop trust in politics.
Therefore, all respondents affirm that solidarity is one of the most critical factors for them to improve
their governance tasks, carry out policies efficiently, and enable significant social development in
their panchayat independently and compassionately. While evaluating the necessity of having a
compassionate attitude, one respondent (48 years) with a Bachelor degree explains that:
“As a women leader, many women and girls had the trust and freedom to meet and talk to me directly
about various kinds of personal issues, including violence they face. They tend to hide their problems
with a male ward member or higher official since some times, the issues are related to sexual abuse.
Hence, assisting them with compassion is essential to be a successful leader”. (Anonymous 5, 2019)
Table 7 shows various indicators related to political party affiliation and its importance in
women's political life. Clark (1979) suggests that the campaign discourse has strategic attributes that
justify a particular purpose. It is an unwritten law that without membership of any political party, it
is a very challenging task for anyone to have a seat in the next election, especially those with no
previous political experience.
Table 7. Political party affiliation
Indicators
Strongly
agree
Agree
Uncertain
Disagree
Strongly
disagree
Seat in election
22
0
1
0
2
Engagement in political activities
21
1
2
1
Acceptance in society
19
1
1
3
1
Funding for election
18
1
2
1
3
Support for election propaganda
18
2
0
2
3
Human right advocacy
16
2
1
1
5
Lobbying
16
2
4
1
2
Source: Author
In most cases, women kept away from various political leadership positions. However, by
membership of a political party, a woman can engage in social issues and human rights activities
organized by the political party and gain more attention in public. Therefore, the majority (22) of
respondents agreed that being a member of a political party is one of the most critical channels for
women to enter leadership and act as a mediator for supporting various marginalized sections.
Nevertheless, 2 respondents firmly said that they do not require any political affiliation to be a
political leader as they are already established leaders in their own way, which covers various social
movements and activities. As a response on the importance of party affiliation, one leader (40 years)
with a higher secondary education revealed that:
“I was a housewife with mere knowledge about politics. It was challenging for me to have a firm voice
in the party during initial periods. However, through continuous social mobilization and participation in protests,
I gained more fame, and people started to notice me, which eventually helped me to win in the LSG election.
Hence, I believe that without my party support, I will not be able to serve society as a politician”.
(Anonymous 6, 2019)
Other significant hurdles women face in entering the political arena are the variety of gender
discrimination and violence issues against women in politics. UN Women (2018) identifies that
122 Titty Varghese. Women’s political participation and leadership in India
violence against women in politics (VAWP) is Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and a human rights
violation that impacts on the whole society. This also discourages women's political participation,
democratic rights, and increases under-representation of woman policy-makers. Table 8 shows
various forms of GBV faced by women in politics. Such humiliation in their personal lives puts an
end to women in long term political careers. Twenty respondents revealed various forms of gender-
based violence they face. Most notably, sexual harassment, abuse, and the unnecessary dissemination
of their images via social media. Sometimes, women representatives or their families have been
subjected to public abuse or criticism if there is a lag in policy implementation. Due to these scenarios,
there are situations where even the most powerful women in the leadership decide to leave a political
career and lose interest in the contest in the next election.
Table 8. Gender-based violence
Indicators
Strongly
agree
Agree
Uncertain
Disagree
Strongly
disagree
Threat to personal dignity
20
2
0
3
0
Verbal Threatening
6
8
9
1
1
Cyber bullying
6
8
10
1
0
Sexism
5
20
0
0
0
Harassment
4
21
0
0
0
Objectification
3
11
8
1
2
Threat to personal dignity
20
2
0
3
0
Source: Author
Social media and internet harassment are not very prominent at this time; however, the
respondents mentioned their insecurity in such platforms. While discussing such insecurity, one of
the respondents (43 years) with a secondary education shared an experience:
“As part of my job, I require to travel sometimes at night time. During the last year's flooding, I had to
stay with people in the flood relief camp to make sure the safety and security of my panchayat residents
and co-ordinating facilities, including health care, shelter, food, and sanitation. Such crisis times
requires collaboration with various NGO’s, co-ordinating various political parties and government
institutions services. However, after that, I had faced criticism over sexism and personal dignity threats
due to the association with other males. This has unnecessarily created rumors and led to some conflict
within my family, and this challenged my confidence in continuing a political career for long”.
(Anonymous 7, 2019)
Conclusions
The implementation of the Panchayat Raj Institutions act has a significant role in the
devolution of power to the local levels of administration and for enhancing self-reliance and
empowerment of women. Although the South Indian state of Kerala shows higher participation of
women at LSG level, findings from the primary data collected from the Idukki district shows the
various challenges faced by elected women representatives. Cultural barriers and patriarchy still
stagnate women’s participation in the political spectrum and democratic governance. The higher level
of responsibility in household activities impedes more women to seek a career in politics for longer
terms. In most cases, to have further social skills and communication in society, women are required
to affiliate with a political party and in their activities, which sometimes seems to be an additional
commitment for them to obey or act according to the party interests.
The lack of sufficient financial stability inhibits women leaders from focusing on establishing
their space in politics. Patriarchy and gender segregation for higher political powers, even after
working for party activities for many years, is an essential catalyst for hindering women from
Public Policy and Administration. 2020, Vol. 19, Nr. 1, p. 111-125 123
maintaining their compliance in politics. Various developmental projects require expert opinion and
self-reliant practices; hence women need to be competent in managing governance with ease. Various
forms of gender-based violence against women in politics in the form of verbal harassment,
challenges in personal dignity, and sexism restrain women from progressing in political participation.
Finally, since the co-operation of male colleagues is an integral part of successful governance, women
representatives tend to adopt various mechanisms for increasing mutual trust. The experiences from
the women politicians reveal that in order to increase more women’s participation into politics and to
maintain their participation in governance, it is essential to formulate feasible policy measures at the
state and national levels.
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Titty Varghese
Moterų politinis dalyvavimas ir lyderystė Indijoje: Iššūkių nagrinėjimas
Anotacija
Moterų politinis dalyvavimas laikomas esminiu darnaus vystymosi elementu; tačiau Indijos
lyčių lygybės politika vis dar nagrinėjama. Po nepriklausomybės 1947 m. buvo imtasi daugybės
iniciatyvų didinti politinį moterų atstovavimą decentralizuojant valdžią įvairiose Indijos savivaldos
institucijose. Panchayati Raj institucijų aktas padidino atskirtų visuomenės segmentų, įskaitant ir
moteris, dalyvavimą priimant politinius sprendimus įvairiose institucijose. Taigi šiame tyrime
bandoma išaiškinti politinę moterų lyderystę vietos savivaldos institucijose. Taikant kokybinius
metodus, tokius kaip Panchayati Raj institucijų pakeitimo akto dokumentų analizė ir ekspertų interviu
su išrinktais moterų atstovais viename Keralos valstijos rajone. Šio tyrimo metu buvo siekiama
įvertinti iššūkius su kuriais susiduria moterys būdamos politinio lyderio pozicijose didžiausiose
demokratinėje šalyje pasaulyje - Indijoje. Tyrimo išvados rodo, kad padaryta nemaža pažanga
užtikrinant moterų lygybę užimti aukštas vadovaujančias pozicijas, tačiau vis dar yra esminių kliūčių,
trukdančių moterims aktyviai reikštis politinėje arenoje.
Titty Varghese socialinių mokslų doktorantė Kauno technikos universitete, Lietuva
email: titty.varghese@ktu.lt
Titty Varghese doctoral candidate in the social science, Kaunas University of technicnology,
Lithuania
email: titty.varghese@ktu.lt
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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