NEW DELHI — They occupy only 25 per cent of the work force, less than 12 per cent of parliamentary seats, a backseat in many homes dominated by patriarchal voices, but in one significant area Indian women have emerged on par with men: at polling booths. That has made political parties sit up and take notice in a country where a slim margin can make the difference between victory and defeat.
To mark women’s empowerment, the Election Commission set up hundreds of “pink booths” in the country during the five-week general election that wraps up Sunday. In the capital, New Delhi, several polling stations were festooned with balloons and staffed with women and volunteers who handed out roses and sweets setting a festive atmosphere.
There may well be reason to celebrate: the hope is that this general election will virtually close the voter gap between men and women, which five decades ago stood at 15 per cent but narrowed down to one and a half per cent five years ago.
“The elimination of the gender gap in turnout would be a monumental achievement, especially in a conservative, patriarchal society like India’s,” says Milan Vaishnav, Director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment. “In 2019, nearly all parties are touting their pro-women credentials if for no other reason than they cannot afford to alienate a growing segment of the electorate.”
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