Bhubaneswar, May 18:
Despite all big talks about women empowerment, there is little to cheer about when you look at the level of women’s participation in lawmaking which, even 67 years after Independence, has remained primarily a male preserve across legislatures in the country including the Odisha State Assembly where a whopping 92% of the MLAs are men.
Only 11 women have been elected to the 147-member House this time, which is two less than their number in 2000. In 2004 the number of women MLAs was 12 and in 2009, there were just seven of them.
In 1995, the House had ten women members.
The new 15th Assembly will have 10 BJD women MLAs while BJP’s Radharani Panda will be the lone woman member for her party. Congress does not have a single woman in its the 16-member legilsature party.
The women BJD MLAs are – Sugnana Kumari Deo (Kabisurya Nagar), Pramila Mallick (Binjhapur), Usha Devi (Chikiti), Basanti Mallick (Mohana), Raseswari Panigrahi (Sambalpur), Nandini Devi (Sanakhemudi), Rajashree Mallick (Tirtol), Seemarani Nayak (Hindol), Snehagini Chhuria (Atabira) and Tukuni Sahu (Titlagarh).
Out of the 11 women MLAs, eight are new faces while Sugnana Kumari Deo, Pramila Mallick and Usha Devi of BJD are old timers, and the last two have been ministers in the Naveen Patnaik government
According to the state Assembly data, 56 women have been elected to the house since 1936 and 20 of them elected repeatedly.
Observers blame political parties for not fielding more number of women candidates during the elections because of an unreasonable apprehension that women have less chances of winning than men.
“If political parties do not field enough number of women candidates in the elections, how can we expect to get more number of women representatives ? The parties are only talking about women empowerment, but when it comes for action, they hesitate to do so,” said a women’s rights activist.
A total of 115 women candidates had participated in the Assembly polls this time, which works out to roughly 8% of the total number of contestants.
The ruling BJD, which keeps talking of ‘women’s empowerment’ on every conceivable occasion, had no more than 14 women in its list of candidates for 147 Assembly constituencies. Still, it was ahead of other parties- the Congress had nominated just eight women candidates and BJP, nine.
According to the data available with Odisha Election Watch, a civil society body working for electoral reforms, in the 2009 Assembly elections, only 126 women candidates were in the fray, which accounted for about 10% of the total number of 1288 contestants.
In the last three assemblies, representation of women in the 147 -member House was 13 (8.84%) in 2000, 12 (8.16%) in 2004 and barely seven (4.7%) in 2009.
The representation of Odisha women in the Lok Sabha presents an equally dismal picture. Only two women Rita Tarai from Jajpur and Sakuntala Laguri from Keonjhar (both from BJD) will represent the state in the lower house this time.
Almost all political parties had failed to field enough women candidates. A paltry 17 women were in the fray for the parliament elections from the state out of the total 197 candidates in the race. This gives a clear indication about how serious the parties are about 33 percent reservation for women.
BJD, Congress and BJP – had fielded only five women candidates in the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state, which works out to a paltry eight percent.