NEW DELHI: Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday promised that one-third of government jobs and seats in parliament would be reserved for women if his Congress party wins power in national elections.
An estimated 430 million women are eligible to vote in mammoth elections starting next month in India, which has one of the world's lowest rates of female participation in the workforce.
Gandhi, who is hoping to thwart Prime Minister Narendra Modi's push for a second term in office, said it was important to address this gender imbalance and pledged quotas in national government jobs and parliament.
"Women are generally smarter than men," he told a women-only gathering at a college on a campaign stop in southern Chennai city.
He said a Congress government would ensure one-third of state jobs were reserved for women, and promised a similar quota for seats in the lower house of national parliament via legislation.
Congress failed to push the law through parliament during their decade in government, that ended in 2014 when Modi's right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) thumped them in national elections.
Sixty-one women were elected to the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, out of a possible 543 seats in the 2014 election. Despite the disparity, this was the highest number of female parliamentarians since India's independence in 1947.
India performs dismally on the employment of women, ranking 120 among 131 countries in female labour force. Poor conditions and weak laws also mean women's rights at work are not safeguarded.
The World Bank has reported that just over a quarter of women are part of India's workforce — compared to nearly 80 per cent of men -- and contribute just 17 per cent to GDP in Asia's third-largest economy.
Nearly 20 million women dropped out of the workforce between 2005 and 2012, mainly due to family responsibilities or workplace discrimination, the report added.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee released her All India Trinamool Congress list of candidates this week, offering 17 of its 41 seats to women.
The list included regional actresses Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan while Moon Moon Sen, a former actress who won in the 2014 election, will be contesting again.
"I am all the more happy & proud because 41 per cent of our candidates are women. Trinamool's list speaks for itself," said Banerjee, who has ruled West Bengal since 2011.
Her counterpart in neighbouring Odisha state, Naveen Patnaik, also announced 33 per cent of parliamentary seats would be reserved for women in the state.
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