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The question of ‘woman or women’ as a unit of analysis in politics

“Women” as catalysts for change in the political arena is a fairly new idea. Women discerned in the light of “politics”, “agents” and “representation” has given birth to new concepts and debates across the feminist discourse. In this article, I would like to draw attention to how the representation of women can play a disruptive role in women’s participation in politics.

Butler defines two functions of “representation”; first, as an operative term within a political process that casts about legitimacy and visibility to women as political subjects and second, a normative function of a language as it can lay down certain ideas about the woman as a category or distort the same.

In 1985, the Indian National Congress ascertained women’s representation as “political agents” when it nominated 32 women candidates but eventually the numbers reduced in the subsequent years. Though in recent years, the world is witnessing women leaders across the globe who have endeavoured to shatter the gender stereotyping of politics. With K.K Shailaja, an Indian politician and current Minister of Health and Social Welfare of the state of Kerala winning accolades by the United Nations for her efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, we witness a wave of simmering change. Another exemplary woman, Dechen Wangmo, the Health Minister of Bhutan, ensured that there are zero Covid-19 deaths so far.

The highlight of women's political agency is also their participation in the political process and more importantly, exercising their right to vote in the Indian political system and the nuances that get engendered by it. A report on the 2019’s Lok Sabha, published in the Business Standard, states that the voter turnout amongst women was higher than ever noted.


However, the numbers may lack the social, economic, political and cultural implications in such studies. Henceforth, women and their political agency cannot be seen as, “sum of all parts” but should be deconstructed into the caste, creed, economic and social privilege. One needs to be careful that often in discourses like these, many factors go unaddressed which generally shapes the narrative. The term ‘women’ or ‘woman’ is criticized by scholars to have “refus[ed] the multiplicity of cultural, social, and political intersections in which the concrete array of “women” are constructed”.

One cannot negate the fact that women participation in voting has flourished in the years, there is a trend that has been observed as to how mostly upper caste, privileged women vote for BJP and Congress is supported by women across moderate social groups. The change in the number of women voters and elected representatives is praiseworthy, but it would be unmindful on our part to nullify that in a country where women amount to 49% of the space, has not even attained the critical mass in its State Assemblies and the Parliament. With such a low percentage, would it not be a risk to even presume that all women are represented? As a woman and a citizen of the Indian democracy,  I call for strong opposition to this patriarchy and generalisation of women in political representation.

Apala Naithani, Advocate, Women for Politics

Apala is a history student at the University of Delhi, believes in learning new concepts and ideas by unlearning and relearning the variegated aspects of our society. She believes that Women for Politics is a brilliant platform to understand the systematic oppression and put in a joint effort to ameliorate the same - find solutions

This article gives the views of the author, and not necessarily represent the position of Women for Politics.

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