ABSTRACT

Scholarship on women’s political engagement has devoted a great deal of attention to the state, but much less attention to political parties. Whereas writing on gender and the state has been attentive to the complex ways in which states have reproduced or undermined gender inequality, it has ignored parties’ stances on women’s participation and representation. One possible explanation for this neglect is that scholars “go where the action is,” and there isn’t much to report on parties’ success in organizing women. Most political parties are male-dominated and neglect women and women’s interests. Whereas women have played very visible and important roles at the higher echelons of power as heads of state, and at the grassroots level in social movements, they have been underrepresented in political parties, particularly in the upper reaches of party hierarchies. Those women who

have played leading roles in political parties have rarely addressed women’s interests and gender inequality (Rai 2002:chapter 1). South Asia is distinguished by a relatively large number of women in public offi ce. In some ways these women seem to normalize women’s political presence; it was often said that while Indira Gandhi was criticized on many grounds, the fact that she was a woman was not one of them. However, most women leaders have attained their positions through their relationship with husbands, fathers and husbands who have preceded them in politics, thereby diminishing their ability to provide role models for all women.