There are many facets of the recent state elections but the most important is the role of women in shaping India's future destiny. Rising participation of women in India's political arena is one of the most significant stories of the last decade and women voters are now playing a significantly bigger role in elections than ever before, says a research note.
In the Ecowrap report State Bank of India (SBI) says, during the 2019 general Lok Sabha elections, female voter turnout rate was higher than males, which has been declining from 1971, when the gap was at 12%. The rise in women voter turnout is even more pronounced in state assembly elections.
"In the 23 major States, where state assembly elections happened in last 5-years, women's turnout was higher (more than 1%) than that of men in 15 States and marginally higher (0-0.5%) in 3 states. Interestingly, out of these 18 states, same Government was re-elected in 10 states. This represents an inflection point and finally resulting in a qualitative change in the gender underpinning of India's democracy," says Dr Soumya Kanti Ghosh, group chief economic adviser of SBI.
According to the report, the mandate in the state elections has been the decisive mandate across almost all states. For example, it says, for West Bengal, the number of seats where winning margin is between 50,000 to 1 lakh votes has increased 3.5 times between 2016 and 2021.
"The same has happened in Tamil Nadu also where the number of seats increased 6 times in the aforesaid vote margin category. In Assam also, this ratio increased by 2.5 times during the same period. However, there are no divergent trends in the case of Kerala and seat distribution as per vote margin is almost same in both 2016 and 2021," the report says.
Dr Ghosh says it is not surprising that today political parties focus much more on women’s issues during their campaigns than ever before. He points out how party policies and campaigns are increasingly focusing on winning over women voters as never before.
This includes distribution of free gas cylinders in Uttar Pradesh, free rice, jewellery and, cow to the poor in Tamil Nadu, and free bicycles, tablets for girls going to school or colleges in West Bengal, and free public transport to women in many states.
In this context, SBI says, it believes that the Central government should quickly push through the increase in marriage age for women.
"On social front, this will lead to lowering maternal mortality ratio (MMR) as well as improvement of nutrition levels while on financial front opportunities will be opened for women to pursue higher education and careers. We believe increasing the legal age has the potential to reduce India’s MMR and will lead to more females doing graduation and hence coming into labour force," the report says.
Another benefit, SBI says, is legal marriage age will become same for men and women.
In a consultation paper of reform in family law in 2018, the Law Commission argued that having different legal standards “contributes to the stereotype that wives must be younger than their husbands”.
SBI says, "Interestingly, the mean marriage age in India is already above 21 years or at 22.3 years and any increase in marriage age will still be notional in nature as long as change of mindset of people does not happen regarding female education and marriage. About 35% of females in India are married before the age of 21 years."
"Let us change our mindset towards a more just society. It should start from working place. At SBI, women employees today head more than 3500 branches and representation of women in total workforce is 25.3%!" the report says.