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Women Voters in India: Changing Patterns Over The Last Decade

While fair elections for State Assemblies and Parliament are held on a regular basis, they do not represent the genuine consent of the people since a substantial percentage of women are absent from the electorate. In 1990, Amartya Sen created the expression “missing women” after demonstrating that in areas of the developing world, the ratio of women to men in the population is suspiciously low. The deterioration of the sex ratio in nations such as India and China indicated a severe disregard for women. He calculated that over 100 million women had gone missing as a result of gender discrimination. While India’s sex ratio rose, their participation in political decision making, representation and engagement in politics was low. Recently, women voter turnout is rising and the difference in general elections among men and women decreased from 16.7% in 1962 to just 4.4% in 2009.

It is important for women in India to vote because 48% of the Indian population is women (as per 2011 census). While more voters are realising that elections have consequences, women’s position at the periphery makes it even more important for them to vote and therefore be in control. They have the ability to choose the life they desire for themselves. When they vote they also act as policymakers and change-makers. They have come to the realisation that if they do not vote, the choice will be made for them. Depending on the candidate and political party they support, they drive a certain agenda and can even be advocates for a specific issue that women face in India such as child marriage, gender equality etc. Indian women are realising that if they do not vote, they are giving up part of their voice as elections are decided by those who vote.

Young women at the voting booth to cast their vote

Over the previous decade, there has been a shift in the voting patterns of women, which has been dubbed a ‘silent revolution.’ During this silent revolution, women account for 342 out of 717 million of India’s total voters. In two-thirds of India's state elections today, women turnout has been more than men's. In a very patriarchal and conservative society, this is a stunning turn of events. Men have traditionally voted in greater numbers than women in India. As per the Election Commission men had an 8.4 percentage point turnout edge over women in national elections until 2004. By 2014, however, the difference had decreased to only 1.8 % points. The 2014 General Elections witnessed the highest women voter turnout in each state, the leading state was Laskshwadeep which had an 88.42% women turnout followed by Nagaland which had an 87.49% women turnout. Women outnumbered men in many key states such as Bihar, Rajasthan and Odisha during the 2014 elections. Following this trend, in the 2019 elections women, voters increased from 65.63% to 66.68%, further narrowing the gap.

Why are more Indian women voting?

Rise in literacy rate: In recent years, there has been an increase in women’s voting and with this there has also been an increase in the literacy rate amongst women. This could be one of the factors responsible for the increase in voter turnout. As the women literacy rate has increased to 59.28% in 2011 to 65.79% in 2018 there was also an increase in the number of women voters during these years. Women are using the rise in literacy to their advantage by becoming more conscious and aware of their rights.

Social media: Along with a rise in literacy, the previous decade has seen tremendous technological advancement, which has resulted in a significant increase in media exposure in the country. People all throughout the country rely on newspapers, television, and radio for information. By raising knowledge about rights and concerns, the media may help to increase political involvement. When comparing turnout among women without media exposure to those with limited exposure in the National Economic Survey 2009 and 2014 data, there appears to be a sharp difference (as voter participation improves when exposure to media is considerable).

Increased efforts of The Election Commission: The Election Commission of India also uses media platforms for voter awareness campaigns. The Election Commission has worked on increasing women’s participation in the electoral process by improving the safety of women in polling booths so that no voter intimidation takes place. Moreover, they have set up separate queues for women on election days.

Interest of women in politics: Research conducted by Praveen Rai in the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, India shows that the interest of women in politics is a key factor determining their participation in elections campaigns. It also shows that 9 out of 10 women interested in politics voted in the general elections in 2009, compared with those who seemed disinterested in politics. Women who were interested in politics participated at a greater rate (43%) in election campaigning in the 2009 general elections than women who were not interested in politics but nevertheless campaigned for various political groups (12%). It is widely assumed that more educated women, working women, women of higher social status or social class, and urban women are more likely to be interested in and engaged in politics. Studies show that women who are employed are more interested in the electoral process. They are more interested in the electoral process because they are often more independent and exercise their agency in deciding whom to vote for and have higher levels of electoral participation as voters in electoral competitions than those governed by family and peer groups.

Women standing in a queue to cast their votes

There are reasons other than these key enablers that have led to an increase in the number of women voters. Such as women’s movements across the country, the work of civil society across urban, rural and tribal areas towards overall empowerment of women, and increased research on women’s empowerment in India. However, while there has been an increase in the number of women’s voters, the gap can be bridged and sustained if more women are encouraged to go out and vote. We call out to all readers to vote and motivate women around them to exercise their right to vote.

Tarini Khanna

Tarini is a second-year Political Economy student at King's College London. She can be on LinkedIn.

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

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