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Women Cabinet Ministers in India

Posted by Admin on July 1, 2014 | Comment

It was way back in 1930 when Mahatma Gandhi conveyed a profound message through his question: “Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage?” But as one of the proponents of gender equity, India hasn’t been able to save itself from the disgrace of under-representation of women in most decision-making bodies within and outside the government.  The story had remained unaltered till the recent cabinet formation under NDA government.

Women Cabinet Ministers in India

Women Cabinet Ministers in India

First Woman Cabinet Minister in Independent India

Jawaharlal Nehru’s first cabinet had only one woman minister – Rajkumari Amrit Kaur who was given the charge of Health Ministry. She played an instrumental role in ideating and building the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi. Under her aegis, the Indian Red Cross contributed towards improving healthcare quality in the hinterlands of the country. She was the one credited with the initiative of launching Tuberculosis Association of India and the Central Leprosy Teaching and Research Institute, Chennai.

Women Representation in Indian Cabinet since Independence

Despite the fact that the first cabinet of republic of India inducted one woman minister, the successive years did not see any representation of women. Lal Bahadur Shastri’s lean cabinet of 10 ministries had no place for women. The 5th, 6th and 9th cabinet of India under Indira Gandhi’s rule did not see any woman union minister. However, the 6th and 9th cabinet included eminent women such as Dr Sarojini Mahishi, Nandini Satpathy, Sushila Rohatgi and Saroj Khaparde as ministers of state.  In fact, Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet could accommodate only one woman minister – Mohsina Kidwai.

That was probably the beginning of the end of under-representation of women in Indian cabinet. Maneka Gandhi was made the Minister of State for Environment & Forests during VP Singh’s regime. But all these years, percentage of women participation in the cabinet hovered between 0-7 per cent.

The 13th Indian cabinet under PV Narasimha Rao had only Mamata Banerjee as Minister of State for HRD, Youth Affairs and Sports, and Women and Child Development.  After a long hiatus, Indian cabinet accommodated a woman union minister, when Sushma Swaraj was appointed as the Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the first Vajpayee ministry.  Names such as Vasundhara Raje and Uma Bharti were seen in the list of ministers of state in the 17th and 18th cabinet. For the first time since independence, the cabinet (2004 to May 2009) inducted more than one woman union minister as Meira Kumar, Ambika Soni and Panabaka Lakshmi came into the picture, taking the percentage of women’s representation to 10 per cent.

Women Ministers in the Modi Cabinet

This time, women have indeed fared better when it comes to their representation in the cabinet. The NDA government walked the talk on women empowerment and nothing could be more evident than the fact that six out of a team of 23 ministers of the new cabinet headed by Narendra Modi  are women.

It is to be noted that women cabinet ministers were given some of the most challenging portfolios. To begin with, Sushma Swaraj was given the charge of the external affairs ministry, which had always been a male bastion. It naturally places her in the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which is considered as the top decision-making body on national security. 

Other crucial ministries on Women and Child Development, Human Resource Development and Minority Affairs are now being taken care of by Maneka Gandhi, Smriti Irani and Najma Heptulla, respectively. With over 25 per cent of women leaders made a part of the country’s most important decision-making body, it could be a sign of the reversal of past trends.