Citizens use participation as a way to communicate their aspirations and needs and a technique to strengthen democracy. The government takes important decisions not only on national and international issues, but also on matters which affect women’s lives directly, such as maternity and child care. Though women have a large stake in politics, as large as that of men, they do not have their share of political power. Politics, the sphere of ‘public’s life deals with establishing , interpreting and enforcing the rules of personal and community religions, has not welcomed women. Traditionally it was believed that politics takes place in the public sphere, distinct and distant from the private sphere.
There has been a rapid growth of informal political activity by women to advance their own interest and rights of citizens, their role in the formal political structure has remained virtually unchanged.
The concept of political participation encompasses all voluntary actions intended to influence the making of public policies, the administration of public affairs and the choice of political leaders at all levels of government. Political participation is concerned not only with the organisation of the state and government and the dialectics of the exercise of power,it also seeks to reorganise the lives of the members of the society.
Today the political interventions by women in India range from movements for peace and good governance to protests against rape, dowry, domestic violence , food adulteration, the price- rise and deforestation. They are raising their voices against discrimination and injustice in social, economic and political spheres. Politics for them doesn’t mean only the activities of electing representatives and governing. It also includes efforts of raising consciousness and changing the unequal power for a just and equal system.
Participation in the freedom struggle had not generated any controversy on gender roles. The assimilation of women in the struggle to free the nation had given them confidence and access to positions of power and responsibility, still the position of power was not within reach.
Voting is the most important and basic means by which citizens are assimilated into the political process and learn how to exercise power.
Many factors impact on elections,such as education, religion, consciousness regarding caste and class, awareness about women’s issues, opinions of male members in the family, preferences for women candidates and the programmes and policies of various political parties. The close relationship between literacy and Voting is generally accepted. Stillness it cannot be assumed that literacy always stimulates political awareness. There is no dearth to show that educated women are that educated women are often apathetic to voting, while the uneducated women in rural areas display remarkable enthusiasm for voting. Political parties often appeal to the religious sentiments of women voters and make clever use of religious festivals to mobilise women voters.
Consciousness regarding caste and class do not also affect and influence voting behaviour. The recent controversy on the bill for reservation of seats for women got linked with the issue of seats available for other backward castes, and the bill could not be passed.
The most common belief regarding women’s voting pattern is that women vote according to the choice of the family’s male members. Women has a mind of her own and she likes to vote according to her choice. The experience of some elected members bears testimony to the fact that women voters seem more concerned about problems that affect their day to day lives, such as price rise, scarcity of water and housing and facilities for health and education than men.
Political parties have now started giving attention to women and their votes, but the inclusion of some issues in their manifestos and declaration of schemes not backed by a firm commitment and a definite plan of implementation, has failed to make any impact. Though voting is the first step towards assimilation in the political system but in itself it is not sufficient. It requires the least motivation and initiative and more so with women for whom the election day is a break from daily drudgery. Voting serves as a tool of political equality, but the act of voting itself doesn’t yield the desired end of equality.
Almost all political parties are generous in giving promises for a better future for women. The government has accepted the approach of visualising women as participants in the process of development and not as mere beneficiaries of welfare schemes. Among the many promises doled out to the women, prominent were, 30 percent reservation of women in institutions of local self-government(Congress), 30 percent reservation of women in the panchayats(CPI-M), 30npercent reservation of women in government jobs( The national front) and the reservation upto 30 percent of women in certain categories of jobs(BJP). The number of women candidates put up was 44 by the congress, 26 by the BJP, 20 by the Janata Dal and three by the CPI.