The Times of India,Mumbai
Kitchen to cabinet? It's a long way
When she was appointed Spain's first female defence minister in april, it was Carme Chacon's baby dumpthat drew the most attention. Chacon, who has since given birth to a boy, is part of Spain's first female majority cabinet, 9 of whose members are women.
A lot has changed in Spain but not in India where only 2 of 35 cabinet ministers in the Manmohan Singh government are female. A comparison of 177 countries in the UNDP'S Human Development Report 2006 found that only 3.4% of ministers in India are women. This has gone up to 11.2% in 2008 but still compares poorly to most parts of the world. It isn't just Nordic countries like Finland (58% of Cabinet members are female, which is the highest in world), Norway and Sweden that have more women in government but also Latin American countries like Paraguay (38%) and Brazil (11.4%).
Even African countries like Rwanda(35.7%), Zimbabwe (14.7%) and Congo (14.7%) have more women in government berth than India. Despit its dismal record on women right's, Afganistan too has 10% women ministers, according to the HDR report. The few countries that fare worse than India are Sudan (2.6%) and Yemen (2.9%).
No consolation for a country that has a long tradition of powerful women in politics - from Sarojini Naidu, who became the first woman to lead Indian National Congress in 1925, to Indira Gandhi, who became the country's first woman prime minister in 1966.
Two of most important player's in the country's politics even now are womenCongress president Sonia Gandhi and BSP leader Mayawati.But even that couldn't ensure smooth sailling for the women's reservation bill which was tabled after 12 yrs and a lot of drama.
On the other hand, Europe has seen a staedy rise in the number of women in position of political power over the last decade. There are currently seven female foreign affairs ministers and, since 2000, there have been no fewer than 16 women chancellors of the exchequer. Finland and Germany have female leaders- Tarja Halonen and Angela Merkel. Sewden has adopted the 'zipper system', where if a man tops the party list, the second positon must be occupied by women- in 2006, women took 164 parliamentary seats out of 349.
A change is noticeable even in nations that have traditionally prided themselves on their orthodox attitudes. In France, a country that denied women the vote until 1944, President Nicolas Sarkozy has fulfilled an election pledge for greater parity between men and women by appointing seven women in a 15-strong cabinet including Rachida Dati, minister for justice; Christine Lagarde, minister of finance and Michhle Alliot-Marie, ministre of the interior. In Italy, where the prime time TV Quiz shows are still presented by women wearing more than spangly bikini bottoms, the re-elected prime minister S Berlusconi has promised that at least a third of his ministers wiil be women. In 2006, Chile's president, Michelle Bachelet, had unvieled a cabinet made up of an equal number of men and women though, as of last January, 9 of 22 positions are held by women.
While some might call it a cosmetic change rather than a real shift in power,there's no denying that the sight of Spain's defence minister inspecting the troops is an image pregnant with meaning, in more ways than one.