TODAY -

Empowerment and political participation

Dr Khumukcham Tombisana Singh *



Empowerment is not characterized as achieving power to dominate others, but rather power to act with others to effect change. Political participation is a major component of empowerment. “Research in participation and empowerment links them bi-directionally, empowered individuals may be more likely to participate in organizations, and participation promotes empowerment.”

The term political participation generally refers to those voluntary activities of members of a society, in the selection of rulers and formation of public policy.

Since popular sovereignty is one of the inseparable attributes of democracy, the right to participate is an important aspect of democratic government and an inherent right in a democratic process. Political participation is the basic ingredient of every political system. Participation helps the individual to be effective and associates him with the political system. Higher the rate levels, the more varied the forms of political participation. It is vital to the proper functioning of a democratic polity.

The International Encyclopaedias of Social Sciences denied political participation as the principal means by which consent is granted or withdrawn in a democracy and rulers are made accountable to the ruled. It signifies such proceedings like voting, seeking information, discussing and proselytizing, attending meetings, contributing financially and communicating with representatives.

Many writers have rightly argued that political participation of citizens is the distinguishing mark of modem states. More than anything else, the modem state is distinguished from the traditional ones by the extent to which people participate in politics. High levels of political participation are usually associated with democracy, which is beneficial both to the individual and to the society.

Political participation has been considered as a ‘sine qua non’ of democracy. It has been characterized as a civic duty, as a sign of political health and the best method of ensuring that one’s private interests are not neglected. Although political power in every society is monopolized by a few, the incumbents of political authority in every system are found to be quite keen on ensuring some amount of political participation by the people.

Thus, by involving the many in the matters of the state, political participation fosters stability and order by reinforcing the legitimate of political authority. Political participation is a term that has many meanings. The term is applied to the activities of people from all levels of political system. Sometimes the term is applied more too political orientation than to activities.

Political participation is defined in such a way as to include the exercise of power in non-governmental as well as governmental here. It is true that there exists a great deal of confusion with regard to what is meant by that term. Participation may be viewed from two angles again-intensity and width.

How deeply a person is involved in an issue and to what extent he would go towards achievement of this objective would determine the intensity. Width arises because of the complex nature of political activity that requires participation in different issues ranging from casting votes to participating in a technical expert committee or becoming a minister.

Explanations for the very slow progress women have made in gaining political office around the world have been multi-causal, including their lack of time for politics due to their domestic obligations, their lack of socialization for politics, their lower social capital and weaker asset base than men owing to discrimination in schools and in the market, their under representation in the jobs that favour political careers, their marginalization within male-dominated parties, their inability to overcome male and incumbent bias in certain types of electoral systems.

Women’s political participation is most often measured in terms of the numbers of women to be found in formal politics, in positions of public office to which they have been elected. This extremely crude measure is made even more so by the tendency to limit it to the numbers of women in the main legislative house at the national level, excluding not just numbers of women in regional and local government, but numbers of women elected as magistrates, members of the boards of public bodies such as schools or health facilities, and the like.

The reasons for using this measure have to do with simple convenience. There are significant data gaps on numbers of women in local governments and other sub-national elected bodies around the world, and there is such wide variation in governance systems for sub-national communities and public bodies that they are barely comparable.

Numbers of women in representative politics are not the best indicator of the extent and intensity of women’s political participation because there is no necessary relationship between the two. Relatively large numbers of women were found in politics in socialist countries in periods when women’s independent civil society activity was suppressed under single-party governments. And India with the largest women’s movements in the world has some of the lowest levels of women in national office.

Numbers of women active in women’s organizations, or at least numbers of women’s organizations in a country, might be a better indicator of levels of women’s political participation.

However, organizations of this type may be urban-biased and elitist and unrepresentative of the interests of the majority of women, and the existence of a large number of such organizations in a country may indicate not strength but fragmentation and therefore weakness in the women’s movement.

Nevertheless it is one of the few measures available of women’s activism. This variable has not, to my knowledge, been correlated with different measures of women’s educational achievement (adult literacy, numbers of women’s college and secondary school graduates, enrolment ratios). It would be a relatively simple statistical exercise to do this and worthwhile for the purpose of this EFA report.


* Dr Khumukcham Tombisana Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a political scientist
This article was posted on June 30 , 2017.


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