Minimal presence, minimal use

Women contestants in the recent Delhi polls were either totally absent from social media, or at best fringe actors.
An analysis by KANNAMMA RAMAN and ASHWIN PARTHASARATHY

Women Politicians and Use of Social Media: A Case Study of the Delhi Elections 2013

 

Kannamma Raman

AshwinParthasarathy

 

What social media symbolises is increased access to both information and platforms to express ideas. It has opened the door for new leaders, experts, and voices, and can help get them a ‘seat at the table’.”Jessica Faye Carter

Girls are from Facebook and Twitter while boys are from Google+ and LinkedIn seems to be the virtual mantra. Millions of women around the world use social media to connect with friends, share interests, discuss problems and seek solidarity. So much sowomen represent almost two- thirds of most of the major social networking applications users, (in some cases the proportion is much higher). The break up as seen in the US is as follows:

Source:http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/09/12/its-a-womans-social-media-world/

Women drift to social media as it can, arguably, redress some of the gender imbalances in other areas of society. It is also contended that internet has brought about the empowerment age and a new paradigm of power that is democratically distributed. Not surprisingly, it is believed that social media could be an asset for women politicians. Women politicians in countries like the US and Australia have used social media to further their political careers. Social media allowed Arab women to take on a new form of leadership focusing on utilising connections and networks.

 

This being the case we sought to examine the use of internet and social media by women contesting in the recently concluded elections in Delhi. To begin with as can be seen in table 1, the number of women who contested the election in Delhi has been disappointingly low.

Table 1 Women Contestant in Delhi Elections 

 

All Contestants

National Parties

Year 

Women

Men

Women

Men

1993

58

1263

17

231

1998

57

758

24

233

2003

78

739

21

197

2008

81

794

15

230

2013

71

739

16

136

 

Note: All contestants included independents, parties registered with Election Commission, state level parties and national level parties as defined by the EC.

National Parties are those that are recognised to be so by the Election Commission. The number has varied.

Table 2 highlights the fact that the three main contenders, namely AAP, BJP, and INC, put up only 6, 5 and 6 women contestants, respectively,even though they were contesting from 70,66 and 70 constituencies.This is despite the fact that the big two, that is, the BJP and the Congress, have publicly favoured reserving 33 per cent seats for women in Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies.

 Table 2 Women Contestants of Three Parties in Delhi Elections 2013

 
BJP
INC
AAP
Year 
Total No. Of seats contested
Women Contestants
Winning
Total No. Of seats contested
Women Contestants
Winning
Contesting total
Women Contestants
Winning
1993
70
4
1
70
8
2
 
 
 
1998
67
5
1
70
10
8
 
 
 
2003
70
6
0
70
12
7
 
 
 
2008
69
4
0
70
8
3
 
 
 
2013
66
5
0
70
6
0
70
6
3

Note: AAP did disassociate one of their male candidates.

This dismal situation existed despite the fact that Delhi is one of the first States to accept 50 per cent reservation of seats for women in the Municipal Corporation. Also, it is noteworthy that in the 272-member House of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, now trifurcated into three corporations (east, south and north zones), women are in a majority in each of them. So, obviously, while reservation has pushed parties to field more women in the local bodies they are not willing to do so at the state level. It is almost like women became invisible to the parties as they have all claimed that they could not “find” them andthat fielding less number of women candidates was not “intentional” but “circumstantial.

Given this bleak ground reality we sought to check the way in which women contestants used the social media to communicate with the voters and promote their candidacy. Table 3 gives the break-up of the presence of women contestants in the social media. The data was culled from the affidavits filed, as required by the Election Commission’s directive, by the contestants as well as by searching in Google for details of each contestant. The latter became necessary as most of the contestants had given their email as their social media account as well.While it was possible to get details regarding the women belonging to the established parties, we were not successful when it came to the independents and those belonging to the not so well known parties. Hence in these cases we have strictly gone according to the details given in the affidavit.

As mentioned above, 71 women contested in the 2013 elections. Of these, 15 contested as independents. Fifty six of them were fielded by political parties that were either registered with or recognised by the Election Commission. Of these, 22 contestants belonged to parties that had won seats in the 2008 elections or in the present elections or were recognised as a National Party by the Election Commission. It can be seen in the above Table that only 42 per cent of the candidates had an email account and about 24 and 11 per cent were present on Facebook and Twitter. Most of those with a presence belonged to the national parties.

In order to study the actual use of the media, we examined the total number of posts by these women candidates between November 17 and December 3. The rationale for this is that November 16 was the last date for filing nominations and hence, only after that we had the final list of contestants and December 3 was the last date for canvassing. One thing that came through very clearly is that among the women candidates only Sheila Dikshit with about 1,24,628 likes had substantial following on Facebook but it was still much less than the other chief ministerial aspirant Arvind Kejriwal with 2,653,225 likes, though better placed than BJP’s Harshvardhan (76,868 likes), a comparatively recent entrant (joined on November 1, 2013). However, what is significant is that 8 out of the 17 contestants had less than 10 posts during the 17 days period that we studied. Only one of them had more than a 100 posts. Further, it is to be noted that one of the AAP contestants only had the accounts that the party had started for the constituency in Delhi in 2012. Even Sheila Dikshit’s page had only 19 posts in the studied 17 days. This merely shows that presence on social media did not translate into it being used. Further, as many as 8 out of the 16 the contestants with a Facebook presence started their account only in 2013.

The scenario was worse in the case of Twitter. Only 8 of the contestants had a Twitter handle and of these, five had no tweets and one had a single tweet in the entire period that we covered. Only one Congress candidate had 34 tweets and surprisingly the same person had only one post on her Facebook account. Only one AAP candidate, Shazia Ilmi, was active on Twitter with 171 tweets during the period; 113 of these being retweets by her of other Twitter handles. Further, only one broadcast tweet by her related to women and there was lack of debate or conversation on her constituency-specific matters. We also tried to check if the younger candidates were more active on the internet and as can be seen in Figure 2 the youngest set ofcontestants were virtually absent. This is a worrisome fact as these are the very people who ideally would be active in politics for a longer period and are the future leaders.

As this study is Delhi specific we can only conclude that women contestants were either totally absent or at best a fringe actor. This is despite the recognition that internet and social media has the potential to bring marginalised voices into the public spheres. Yet, it is crucial to note that social media is a double edged sword as women have had to deal with misogynistic abuse. More on this at a later date.

While we do acknowledge the use of internet for electoral purposes is still at its infancy in India, women need to wake up to its potential.

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