India

Kerala Assembly elections | Breaking the glass ceiling in politics


Though women outnumber men in the Kerala’s electoral pool, no political front has ever pushed for a fairer representation of women within party structures

While Kerala has been consistently maintaining its top slot in the Human Development Index, there is still no change in the apparent under-representation of women in politics. Even the 2021 figures remain dismal as the lists announced by all the three major fronts include just 40 women, only 9% of the total 420 candidates.

The exclusion becomes even more pronounced as there has been no promising change compared to previous years, an indicator of the enormous challenge involved in achieving candidature and office-holding. “Women’s visibility in the upper echelons of democratic politics needs attention. As we enter the seventh decade of electoral politics, Kerala has had just 12 women MPs in the Lok Sabha, as one of the States that has always recorded a low representation of women. It is a simple question. As a State that boasts more number of women than men, with higher human development indicators than other States and a woman Health Minister who was praised globally for her leadership in COVID-19 management, where are its women in public decision making?”, asks Dr. Shoba Arun, Reader in Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University, U.K., and author of Development and Gender Capital in India: Change, Continuity and Conflict in Kerala.

Though women outnumber men in the State electoral pool, no political front has ever pushed for a fairer representation of women within party structures. The Kerala Assembly has seen a total of eight women ministers so far, including K.R. Gowri Amma, M. Kamalam, M.T. Padma, Susheela Gopalan, P.K. Sreemathy, P.K. Jayalakshmi, K.K. Shylaja and J. Mercykutty Amma — a miniscule figure against the 200-plus men. There have been icons like Gowri Amma and prominent leaders such as Susheela Gopalan who were unjustly denied chief ministership, as the State is yet to see a woman helming the Cabinet.

Basic force

Writer Indu Menon observes patriarchy as the basic force that distances women from positions of political leadership. “In Kerala, men fear women coming into power and disrupting our dominant social structure. Look at our fronts promising to protect some very regressive and misogynistic practices in their manifesto. There is no point in expecting gender parity from them,” she says.

Over the years, political fronts in Kerala have also gone for the unfair tactic of fielding women in seats where winnability is zero. “Being given less than 10 per cent of seats or losing seats is evidence that women are not taken seriously in political representation, particularly in its upper levels of governance. For women to be taken seriously, we need them to be seen and heard in public domain, with dignity and equality, and for this, our mindsets need to change,” says Ms. Arun.

Different picture in LSGs

The picture is totally different in Local Self-Governments where the gender gap is diminishing every time with a crop of capable women coming to the forefront and taking over. “It happened because of reservation and in many cases, it ends there. If we want to go to the next level, we will have to challenge many invisible barriers and discriminatory practices within our respective parties,” says a woman politician on condition of anonymity.

Even as more and more women are entering active politics, there has been no considerable rise in the percentage of women candidates or legislators. “It is not easy breaking the glass ceiling and there are several women who get sidelined and silenced in the process. Our involvement or efficiency will not always translate into proportionate representation, and most of the times, we are forced to remain invisible,” she adds.

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