Despite their representation as candidates of major political parties being dismal, women will decide the fate of thousands of candidates in the 2022 state elections.. Except Punjab, more women have come out to vote in the other state elections, clearly showing the decisive shift of women asserting their electoral power.
According to the Election Commission of India, in the past three phases of Uttar Pradesh elections, more women have turned up at the polling booths than men. The last and seventh phase of polling in the states will take place on March 7, a day before International Women’s Day.
Official data shows that women will have to perform very badly in the last round of polls for men to score over them.
In the fourth phase, the women voting percentage (62.77%) was slightly higher than men (62.01), in the fifth phase it was 60.96%, about five percentage points more than men.
In the second phase, the voting percentage difference between men and women was close to 12 percentage points.
A probable reason for higher voting of women in the last three phases of UP polls could be that a large number of men are migrant workers, who leave their villages after sowing crops post Diwali and return back to their villages after Holi for harvest season. But, the election commission officials said that the dip in voter turnout for women is less as compared to men.
Similarly, the woman voter turnout in Manipur was two percentage points higher than men, in Goa it was about two percentage points more and in Uttarakhand, about five percentage points. In Punjab, the voter turnout of men was a few decimal points more than woman.
However, the election commission data confirms the broader trend of women voters asserting themselves more in the Hindi heartland in the past decade or so with gender parity almost achieved in school education, especially till upper primary level. Various studies have shown that more women are coming out to vote in the once Bimaru states of UP, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha.
The big questions remain, how free are they to decide on their vote. Not much, various studies have shown that they still vote for a candidate or a party decided by men in their family. However, trends on ground indicate that younger women are more independent than the older ones when it comes to vote.
If that turns out true, the two beneficiaries could be the Congress and Samajwadi Party alliance. The Congress may have some reason to cheer as it has given 40% of the tickets in Uttar Pradesh to women candidates. This may not necessarily translate into seats but may result in higher vote share.
As food inflation is a major electoral issue in elections, although not much spoken of by leaders, the women may prefer the Samajwadi-Party-led opposition alliance which have promised several inflationary relief measures. Also, high unemployment could push younger educated women voters towards the SP, which appears more formidable to defeat the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in UP.
It has been a long and arduous journey for women voters to claim their status in elections and is a signal of silent feminism. In 1962, when for the first time, the segregated voting percentage of male and female voters was provided, the voting difference between them was 16.7 percentage points. In 2019, for the first time women voting percentage was higher than men. And, the victory margin was 0.17 percentage point.
The data clearly shows that women’s participation in polls is now clearly higher than men. Sadly, the political parties cannot see the emerging women power and continues to deny women their right in ticket distribution. Less than 20% of the candidates given by major political parties in the five state elections were women. The Congress gave 40% tickets to women only in Uttar Pradesh, where its chances of winning the polls are bleakest. It is time for 33% reservation for women in assemblies and Parliament.