By Vrishti Beniwal and Bibhudatta Pradhan
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) At a recent global meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said women are the incarnation of Shakti, the goddess of power, and “vital to our development.” However, India’s gender gap ranking has fallen 21 places from last year mainly due to poorer political empowerment, healthy life expectancy, and basic literacy for the bulk of women.
As more women go out to vote in India while their male counterparts stay home, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is shifting attention and planning a raft of female-focused policies before the 2019 national election.
Following the popular roll out of cooking gas for rural families that frees women from smoky woodfires, Modi is pushing to outlaw so-called instant divorce in Muslim communities.
He’s also keen to reserve seats for women in parliament and backroom consultations have begun, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
“Women emerging as a vote bloc would be a crucial factor in deciding the election” though there is no sign that they vote for a party that picks their issues, said Sanjay Kumar, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Yet, “there is a trend to mobilize them. There is greater thrust on women’s issues by Modi’s government.”
Women outnumbered men at polling booths in half of India’s states in 2014, but a Pew survey conducted this year showed they were also more critical of Modi’s policies, including his handling of rising prices, pollution and communal tensions. His choice of a Hindu monk to lead one of the worst states for women in India has also raised some eyebrows.
“Does his acolyte, Swami Adityanath, really care about the status of women?” said Sumit Ganguly, professor at the Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University, Bloomington, referring to the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh who has voiced, among other views, that women need protection, not independence. “Rank paternalism in much of” the ruling party’s leadership is constraining Modi’s ability to effect significant change, Ganguly said.