Are women ministers best-suited for ‘nurturing’ ministries?

When Umashree was inducted into the ministry, everyone knew that she would be given Women and Child Development portfolio. Was this an automatic choice because the candidate is a woman or was the decision based on capability?

The dust has settled down after the Karnataka elections. According to the pundits, BJP was booted out for corruption and Congress elected, for lack of any other options. Now the voters wait to see if their mandate pays off. In the midst of this, it is my job to ask – how did the women candidates fare in the election?

First, the numbers. There were 2939 candidates contesting for the 223 of 224 seats. Little over six per cent of the candidates were women – 170. Out of them, only 58 were from major political parties. 13 of them contested from Bangalore. But the city didn’t elect any woman to power. In the previous elections, 107 women contested, across the state.

Of the 170, only five women won the elections across the state and only one made it to the cabinet. Umashree, who won from Terdal constituency, not surprisingly, was given the women and child development portfolio – a post considered to be and ‘tailor-made’ for women because it is ‘soft.’ She has also been given the additional charge of Kannada and culture, again a portfolio that is considered ‘soft.’

There were 2939 candidates contesting for the 223 of 224 seats. Little over six per cent of the candidates were women – 170. Out of them, only 58 were from major political parties.

It is true that portfolios should be allocated based on the capabilities of a candidate; common grouse however, is that women, when elected, are automatically put in women and child welfare or Kannada and culture department.

If you look at the history, Shobha Karandlaje from the previous BJP regime who served portfolios such as Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, Food and Civil supplies and Power is the only example of a woman handling ‘weighty’ portfolios in recent times.

As every media has highlighted, S M Krishna government in 1999 saw maximum number of women ministers. Motamma handled Women and Child development, Rani Satish handled Kannada and Culture, while Suma Vasanth handled Muzrai and Nafeeza Fazal handled Science and Technology portfolio. Only the latter two held portfolios that are considered to be significant.

There are a few examples from early days, when women were given other portfolios. Gracy Tucker was Karnataka’s first woman minister and handled Education portfolio back in 1957. Leelavathi V Magadi became the Deputy Minister for Rural Industries in 1958. Yashodhara Dasappa was a cabinet rank Minister for Social Welfare in 1962. Manorama Madhwaraj, though a political heavyweight from Udupi district, handled women and children welfare portfolio for three terms before she was given the Food and Civil Supplies portfolio.

On the other hand, Shivakantha Chature (1985) A Pushpavathi, B T Lalitha Naik (1994), Bhageerathi Marulasiddana Gowda (2004) were all ministers for Women and Child welfare, while Leeladevi R. Prasad was the minister of Kannada and Culture in 1985.

That is just a little over a dozen ministers in the 57 years of Karnataka’s democratic history. Half of them handled the ‘soft’ portfolios. And this half is the cause of much concern among those who worry about women’s participation in politics.

Does allocation of these portfolios strengthen the stereotype that women are naturally the nurturers or that they are the flag bearers of culture? Does it make the women work hard to prove they are capable of handling other posts?

M V Rajeev Gowda, Professor of Economics and Social Sciences at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, doesn’t think that Women and Child Development is a ‘soft’ portfolio, neither does he think that women are being sidelined by being given this portfolio. He says, "if there were more women in the assembly, with more diverse capabilities, they would have been given different portfolios based on their capabilities." He does agree however that this is a ‘traditional portfolio’ but adds that this is something that women can perform well in, given the fact that they do exhibit more empathy for the issues.

Vimala K S, Vice President of Janawadi Mahila Sanghatane, CPI(M), however asks why men cannot handle the same post and learn some empathy. She also asks why the political parties didn’t field enough women in the first place. She says: "Senior leaders such as Motamma and Rani Sathish were not given tickets at all. The (Congress) party was only trying to keep its own people happy and didn’t think of setting a good precedence by giving tickets to more women, thereby increasing the number of women in the Assembly."

Whether they agree on the portfolios being ‘soft’ or not, both Gowda and Vimala’s statements point towards the fact that there aren’t enough women in politics. Would 33 percent reservation bill that is pending in the Lok Sabha solve this problem?


  1. keerthikumar says:

    There are many PM’s,CM’s and Ministers have and gone, there was no agenda or accountability for each like that present women minister will continue.Public will decide at the time of election.Once given chance we the public have any hold to call them back, what ever plus or minus we have to bear

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