Gender Equality and Politics – will all-women parties do the job?

Shalini Nataraj-


In January of this year, the National Women’s Party (NWP), an all-women political party, was launched in New Delhi.  The NWP had a very ambitious goal to contest half of the Lok Sabha (283 of the 545 seats) in the recent elections.

However, political parties that have a women-oriented agenda are not new. According to an analysis of an official list of political parties, there have been at least 14 political parties with such a political agenda in the period between 2001-2015 across India.

Another all women’s party, the All Indian Women’s United Party (AIWUP) was launched in 2016.  The AIWUP endorses the Beijing Declaration on Women’s Rights that came out of the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women, granting equal rights on all decision making process including political participation.

The two parties, the NWP, and the AIWUP planned to field women candidates in 283 Lok Sabha constituencies in the current elections in India with the mission of securing 50 percent reservation for women in Parliament.  However, there is very little media coverage on how these parties have fared in the elections.

The AIWUP was formed by a team of women – activists, professionals’ environmentalists and others, to fight for the political, legal and social rights of women in India and create a society to promote true equality between the genders. It aims to create political awareness among women and to provide them with a platform to help fight against all kinds of gender-based discrimination.

Prior to this, the United Women Front was founded in 2007 by Suman Krishan Kant as the national president of the party. Suman began her social activism in 1977 when the Mahila Dakshita Samiti (MDS) was created to help women in distress who suffered from domestic and family violence. Suman is the wife of former Vice-President Krishan Kant and her parents were active in the Quit India movement against the British.

The focus of UWF is to provide a political party made up of primarily women, believing that women cannot make decisions on issues that affect them without sufficient numbers in decision-making. UWF’s agenda addresses women’s illiteracy, early marriage, and tokenism in parliament, and the safety of women.

However, one hardly hears anything about the UWF these days, and while the AIWUP has gained some traction, it does not have a lot of visibility.

One hopes that the rise of the National Women’s Party this year, and the alliance with the AIWUP might prove to be more successful.

NWP ‘s agenda focuses mainly on women’s education, health, employment and security. The party will also focus on agriculture as many women are involved in this sector at the grassroots level, and it intends to put women at the center of the country’s politics.

The founder of the NWP, Dr. Shwetha Shetty is a social activist who earlier founded the Telangana Mahila Samiti, an NGO that works toward providing vocational courses to women and runs orphanages.

Dr. Shetty founded the NWP to ensure equal representation for women in Parliament. The party seeks to address gender disparity in politics and take on deep-seated patriarchal systems that discriminate against women. Planning for the National Women’s Party began in 2012 and according to the Party, it has over 145,000 members and it planned to contest 50 seats in Madhya Pradesh in the elections this April.

According to Dr. Shetty, policymakers do not keep girls and women in mind as they make policy and this contributes to the gap in women’s access to education and job opportunities, and if there are more diverse women lawmakers, women’s problems would be better represented in Parliament. She has stated, “Male chauvinism of political parties is no secret. If women have a platform in politics where they don’t have to beg their male counterparts for a ticket, I think more women could join the field.”

The NWP seeks to advocate for reservations for women in Parliament, a struggle that is now over two decades old.  The reservation bill to give 33 percent seats to women in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha has not passed since 1996.  Although India has been independent for 72 years, with a number of political parties at the national and regional levels, there are barely 11 percent women in both the Lok Sabha (64 out of 542 MPs) and Rajya Sabha (27 out of 245 MPs).  The ruling party BJP had fielded only 38 female candidates on 428 seats it contested in the last elections. The Congress, doing only slightly better, had fielded female candidates in only 60 out of 464 seats it contested.

The NWP announced that it would launch a mobile app called “Mahila Rakshak” to provide emergency help to women, given the high levels of violence against women in the country. The NWP also plans to create a Youth Parliament in every state in the country.  This will be a political school for women to the training and support for them to become involved in the country’s political process.

The idea for the NWP was inspired by the National Women’s Party in the United States.  The National Woman’s Party in the US arose from the movement for women’s suffrage.  When women’s right to vote was achieved in 1920, the NWP began the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, which is yet to be ratified today.

While the rise of women-focused or all women political parties offer some hope of gender equality, just electing women to the office does not solve the problem.  These women then have to remain true to the agenda that got them elected and not get subverted for political expediency.

Let us hope these parties gain momentum and can begin to turn the tide towards the true representation of women at all levels of society.


[Shalini Nataraj is currently Vice President of Programs with the Ing Foundation, a private philanthropy focused on advancing human rights.  The views expressed in this piece are her own]




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