By Annie Banerji
NEW DELHI, March 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Political parties with too few women on their tickets should be barred from participation in India's upcoming national elections, women's rights groups said as they launched their "Womanifesto" on Wednesday.
The 11-point plan - drafted after talks with hundreds of thousands of women, charities and gender experts - calls for action to be taken to improve safety, education, healthcare, jobs and women's representation in politics.
"The Election Commission must make some rules that unless you have at least 33 percent (female) members, you cannot qualify (for elections)," said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research (CSR).
"Political parties' lack of political will has kept women out", said Kumari, whose CSR heads the National Alliance of Women's Organizations, a coalition of over 1,500 rights groups and activists.
She said there are parties that have representation of women as low as 0.20 percent.
Women make up nearly half of all voters in this country of 1.3 billion people, according to the Election Commission of India.
Based on recent state polls, analysts have predicted women will likely head to voting stations in droves for the elections due by May, surpassing male turnout.
The alliance pointed to high rates of crime against women, low levels of female participation in the workforce, and their lack of representation in politics, as reasons for the anticipated flood of women voters.
The activists criticised political parties for failing to adequately address the concerns of women, despite making pledges in successive national elections.
To fight abuse, discrimination and inequality, women must have greater roles in politics so that they can champion policies and laws that improve their lives, they said.
That is why the "Womanifesto" calls for all parties to reserve a third of their tickets for female candidates.
Political parties have yet to finalise their list of candidates for this year's election.
A similar "Womanifesto" was released ahead of the 2014 elections, which swept Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power with the biggest parliamentary majority in three decades.
Like then, the latest document also demands political parties pass the two-decade-old Women's Reservation Bill, which reserves 33 percent of the seats in national and state assemblies for women.
They hold only about 12 percent of seats in both the lower and upper houses of parliament in India, compared to the global average of 23 percent, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an independent organisation promoting democracy.
Major parties, including the BJP and main opposition Congress, have long championed the bill, yet it has faced vehement resistance from male MPs, and has not been passed during Modi's tenure despite his government's strong majority.
(Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Jason Fields; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)
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