Women voter participation has exceeded that of men, says CEC Sushil Chandra
Chandra said in most countries and territories voting rights were granted to women in a piecemeal manner, but In India women got the right to vote the year the country was born
New Delhi: Indian democracy has covered a remarkable distance since the first Lok Sabha polls and today seven decades and 17 general elections later, women's participation in exercising franchise has exceeded that of men, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra said on Friday.
He also said that democracy and democratic institutions flourish when all groups of people are fully represented.
Addressing an international webinar on Enhancing Electoral Participation of Women, Persons with Disabilities and Senior Citizens' here, Chandra narrated how the Election Commission made special efforts to enhance the participation of women, people with disabilities, senior citizens and transgenders.
In most countries and territories, voting rights were granted to women in a piecemeal manner, he observed.
The United States took 144 years to give equal voting rights to women, he pointed out.
In India, women got the right to vote the year the country was born.
This does not obliviate the fact that many Indian women campaigned for equal right to vote. The Indian suffragette movement gathered momentum with the participation of more and more women in the freedom struggle, he said.
The real logistics issue came up in the preparation of electoral rolls when a large number of women, owing to customary practice, refused to disclose their own names and wanted to be registered as A's wife or B's mother, he recalled.
The EC had to issue instructions that name is an essential part of identity and women voters must be registered in their own name. Public appeals were issued and extension of one month was given for enabling women voters to register.
In the first ever general election of this country back in 1951-52, the ECI undertook special measures to facilitate women voters. To make women voters comfortable, at least one woman was appointed as polling staff at each polling station.
Wherever it was felt they women voters would find it difficult to appear at polling booths, as in the case of 'purdahnashin' or women who wear veils, separate women booths were set up and 27,527 such booths were reserved for women which had all women polling officers.
"It is a remarkable distance that we have covered since then. Today, seven decades and 17 general elections since Independence, women's participation in India has exceeded that of men and stood at more than 67 per cent in the 2019 general election.
"Gender gap, a crucial parameter, which was minus 16.71 per cent in 1962, has not only closed but reversed to plus 0.17 percent in 2019. India has witnessed 235.72 percent increase in female electors since 1971 elections," he pointed out.
Taking a holistic view of gender definitions, the EC included a provision whereby transgenders had the option of registering as third gender' in electoral rolls.
Close to 40,000 persons chose to register themselves as third gender in the 2019 elections, the CEC said.
The poll panel, Chandra said, has made consistent efforts and has gone that extra mile to empower and facilitate the participation of senior citizens and persons with disabilities.
Braille signage were introduced on electronic voting machines 16 years ago on a pilot basis in 2004 assembly elections of Andhra Pradesh and in 2009 Lok Sabha elections were enforced in every constituency.
It was 13 years ago, that directions were issued to provide facilities for electors with disabilities like ramps in buildings.
"We have been mapping PwDs with active involvement of stakeholders and civil society organisations and more than 7.7 million PWD voters have been mapped," he said.
The event was organised to mark the completion of two years of chairmanship of the Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB) by the EC.
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