Gender Equality
Representation of women in the Karnataka state assembly has been negligible since 1967 and worryingly, the trend continues.

In 1963, Karnataka elected 18 women legislators; and to this day, it remains the only year when the most number of women candidates won in the state. A look at the Karnataka state Assembly election results since 1963 shows that the number of women candidates who won declined steadily and were in single digits, except in 1989, when 10 women MLAs were elected.

As the country progressed, so did Karnataka. But even today, the number of women who are given positions of power in the state is negligible. On December 22, eight Congress legislators were added to the Karnataka cabinet. All eight were men. In June this year, when Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy announced a list of cabinet Ministers, only one woman made it to the cabinet.

Currently, nine out of 225 legislators in the assembly are women - a negligible 4% representation for the entire population of women in the state.

No women ministers during cabinet expansion

When the cabinet expansion took place last week, Congress leaders responsible for the expansion chalked out a plan to ensure adequate representation was given to leaders from North Karnataka. This move was made after massive protests by people of the northern part of the state. The caste equations were also balanced out so as to secure the votes of these communities in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

But what the political parties operating in the state conveniently seem to have forgotten is to have adequate representation for half of the state’s population - the representation for women.

Looking at the number of women who were given tickets in the previous elections and the number of women who have won, it becomes obvious that the male politicians in the state believe that they can adequately represent women.

“Women from various communities experience different issues in a different manner. Women from upper caste communities have different views compared to say a woman from a lower caste and from a rural setting. That’s why it is shocking to see that the men have taken it upon themselves to represent women’s issues. They take women for granted and expect women’s vote without giving them adequate representation,” observes Tara Krishnaswamy, a member of Shakti Women’s Collective, which is fighting for equal representation of women in governance.

When parties are sceptical about fielding women

Speaking to TNM, Lakshmi Hebbalkar, Congress MLA from Belagavi Rural and former President of the Karnataka Congress Women’s Wing, says that despite several demands to bring in legislation for reservation of women in Parliament, the Central government has ignored it.

“Even in state assemblies, we can see how priority is given based on winnability factor. The leaders in the parties do not trust women to win as easily as a male candidate. There is no room for taking risks. When I was the President of the women’s wing, I taught several women how to work at the grassroots level. Yes, there is not enough representation now but my goal is to ensure that in the next few years, there are strong women candidates,” Lakshmi Hebbalkar says.

In the 2013 elections, there were 175 female candidates out of a total of 2,945 candidates. The Congress gave tickets to eight; the BJP had seven contestants and JD (S) had 12. Sixty-seven of the women candidates were independents, with just three female representatives in the house.

Contrary to the situation in the state assembly, the Karnataka Panchayat Raj (Amendment) Bill, 2010 reserves 50% of the seats at the local government level for women. In Bengaluru, the Municipal Council has 50% reservation. However, as most activists would argue, the women corporator are mere proxies for their husbands, who control them.

Several women leaders that TNM spoke to say that although the number of women candidates contesting the elections has increased over time, the number of women who are given party tickets has decreased over time. The reason, they say, is that political parties are sceptical about fielding women candidates.

“The most important problem is that political parties in the state and in the country have a history of not giving adequate representation to women. This is a patriarchy-driven environment. Long-time leaders are also afraid of relinquishing control to women in the party. More often than not, women in politics become proxies for men who control them. It is doubly difficult for a woman party worker to climb up the ranks than a man. Support should come not only from within the party but space must be created for dialogue,” a BJP leader told TNM on condition of anonymity.

Demand for reservation for women in governance

In 2014, the Women’s Reservation Bill, which promised 33% representation for women in Parliament and Assemblies, lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.

Over the last four years, the dialogue surrounding reservation for women has picked up the pace. Women’s collectives like Shakti are now demanding that the mainstream political parties give more tickets to women to contest elections.

“One way to go about this is through legislation - by bringing in 33% reservation for women in the Parliament and assemblies. It has been proven that women candidates who contest through party tickets are likely to win than their male counterparts,” Tara says.

However, women leaders in political parties feel that it is difficult to get things moving on that front. “We have been trying for decades. We need the support of women from outside the party. Women must come together to demand representation; only then will this work,” Lakshmi Hebbalkar says.