Most Indians say that “women and men make equally good political leaders”, and more than one in 10 feel that women generally make better political leaders than men, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of nearly 30,000 adults throughout India.
Only a quarter of Indian adults believe that men make better political leaders.
Does this finding reflect a strong demand for female leaders? Indian women have been ministers, president and prime minister – Indira Gandhi was only the second woman to head a state in the 20th Century. Some 14% of MPs in the current parliament are women, up from 5% in the first election in 1952.
Yet, political participation is poor. Only 8% of the more than 50,000 candidates in federal and state elections are women, according to a 2019 report by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a research group. India ranks 144 among 193 countries in a global ranking of women in national parliaments. A bill to reserve a third of all seats in the national parliament and state legislatures for women has been hanging fire since 1996.
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Researchers like Alice Evans, a social scientist at King’s College London, are sceptical about the latest findings. “We should not necessarily see this as a strong demand for female leaders. There is plethora of evidence pointing to discrimination against women in India,” Dr Evans, who is researching a book on gender equality, told me.
A women’s electoral victory in India has no “demonstration effect”, said Dr Evans. Other parties are no more likely to field women candidates and women in nearby constituencies are no more likely to stand for office.
“Restriction of mobility has meant that Indian women struggle to be electorally competitive – they have little opportunity to congregate with peers, amass knowledge of the wider world, forg