Are Women The Most Important Voters In Uttar Pradesh's State Assembly Polls?

© AP Photo / Rajesh Kumar SinghRural Hindu women with their faces covered stand in a queue to cast their votes at a polling station on the outskirts of Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh state, India, Sunday, May 12, 2019
Rural Hindu women with their faces covered stand in a queue to cast their votes at a polling station on the outskirts of Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh state, India, Sunday, May 12, 2019 - Sputnik International, 1920, 09.02.2022
Almost every political party in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has fashioned special sections for women in their election manifestos, from promising more jobs to setting up more educational institutes. This could be related to the fact that women's engagement in politics has swelled from 44.2 percent in 1991 to 59.56 percent in 2019.
“I am not very interested in politics … I will vote for the candidate my family votes for,” 59-year-old Sarita Trivedi, a resident of Lucknow city in Uttar Pradesh, told Sputnik adding that women in her community mostly follow the men’s decision who to vote for.
Asked whether she has any requests for the government, Sarita, who was wearing the traditional saree and had a veil covering her head, said: “My husband is retired. Our son is in Australia and our daughter is married. Can the government create the same job opportunity with the same pay scale in Lucknow city or in India so that my son can return to us?
“I don’t expect anything from any government. I'm neither educated enough to understand the issues nor am I interested,” she added.
State capital Lucknow is the constituency of late prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who belonged to the Bharatiya Janata Party. The city has a mixed population - 27 percent Muslims and 70 percent Hindus (around 20 percent are upper caste) - usually voting in a mixed pattern.
According to statistics from the Election Commission of India, nearly 69.8 million of the state’s 150 million voters are women this time round.
Historically, women have played a marginal role in Uttar Pradesh elections. However, their voting turnout has increased over the years, especially since 2012 when around 60 percent of the women came out to vote compared with 58.68 percent of the men. In the 2017 state assembly polls, women’s turnout stood at 63 percent and men at 59 percent.

How Political Parties are Wooing Women

In December, the state's ruling party - the BJP - addressed an all-women gathering of a self-help group in Prayagraj city, formerly known as Allahabad.
The BJP, in its manifesto, promised to provide them with more jobs, women-centric police stations, colleges for girls, and financial support for women belonging to the weaker section of society during marriage.
This came after the opposition Congress party, led in Uttar Pradesh by general-secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (daughter of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi), based the entire party campaign on women.
Congress said that the party would reserve 40 percent of its tickets for women in the upcoming state Assembly elections.
The local parties - Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, and Rashtriya Lok Dal - are also leaving no stone unturned to attract women voters, promising them jobs, among other things.
Vijayalakshmi, a senior Uttar Pradesh-based journalist, said: "On the positive side, we are seeing that politicians have shown sensitivity towards gender issues and made fewer gender insensitive comments."

Rakhi Tiwari, 34, a professor at one of the prestigious colleges in Prayagraj, told Sputnik: “Prayagraj is an educational hub, every year thousands of girl students from across the state come here."

"But even after so many years, it's so difficult to find clean female washrooms in public places, or locate buses after 9 pm.
“Every party talks about safety and security for women before the election. But I don’t see them doing anything about it once they win,” she emphasised.
"No one talks about the health and employment of women who are sidelined or sell goods in the streets. They are still ignored," Tiwari added.
Echoing her views, Mradula Sisodia, a fashion designer and entrepreneur based in Uttar Pradesh's city Noida, said: “I applied for funds under the BJP’s government new project - One District, One Product. But no bureaucrat or politician is really interested in [helping out] women."
Basing her views on her own experience, she continued: “When I was run­ning around to establish my start-up, I would only meet men who always doubt your abilities. Gender sensitisation is a hugely ignored issue."

“Frankly speaking, the government needs to employ women in every department in every region. Until then, all talk of female empowerment doesn't make much sense,” she added.

Former vice-chancellor of Banaras Hindu University, HK Singh, said his empirical studies on Self Help Groups in the state showed that although women have managed to grow quantitatively, they needed a quality boost.
He said that in the past few years, the emphasis on law and order, education and gender equality has helped women to become more independent, giving them a sense of safety.
"Women are willing to join the economic, political and bureaucratic roles. However, this is only true for 10 to 15 percent of the population living in urban areas,” Singh said.
The seven-phase polling for the 403 seats of the legislative assembly in India’s most populous state will begin on 10 February, and the result will be announced on 10 March.
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