GANGTOK, 27 Mar:
The upcoming Assembly and Lok Sabha election has the highest number of women candidates ever to participate in Sikkim elections. There are 17 women candidates, including one Lok Sabha candidate, participating in the upcoming elections. The second highest number of 15 women candidates was back in the 2009 elections. In 2014, 1985 and 1979 there were 11 women candidates.
Interestingly, this time Congress had given tickets to the most number of women  but unfortunately lost two in the scrutiny process. With 04 women left in the running, Congress draws with SDF in the number of women candidates in the fray. In 2014 too, both SDF and Cong had fielded three women candidates each.
HSP ranks second with three women candidates while SKM, SRP and JBMP all have two women candidates each. BJP has only one woman candidate in the upcoming election.
While increase in participation is a big yes, performance of women candidates has not been so great.
The first woman MLA to be elected was Chewang Lhamu Bhutia [Sikkim Sangram Parishad] in 1989, 15 years after the first elections were held in Sikkim. In the 2014 elections, seven of the 11 women candidates forfeited their deposits with the best-performing among the seven securing a mere 2.73% of the votes polled in her constituency.
The only woman candidate from the Opposition who did not forfeit her deposit was Bharati Sharma, the then SKM president, from Soreong-Chakung who lost to SDF’s RB Subba.
All three winners were from SDF.
From 1979 to 2014, 73 women candidates have participated in elections and only 13 have been elected.
The highest number of women legislators the Sikkim Legislative Assembly has had is four in 2009 when Chandra Maya Subba, Neeru Sewa, Tilu Gurung and Tulshi Devi Rai, all from SDF, won the elections.
When it comes to voting, women have been consistently outperforming men in exercising their franchise; even setting a national record in the 2009 election with 82.77% turnout against the 81.46% male voter turnout.
In the 2014 elections, there were five constituencies which had more women voters in the rolls than men, namely Upper Tadong, Namchi-Singithang and all three constituencies of North Sikkim.
Incidentally, North Sikkim has never had a woman MLA and has seen only three woman candidates in the eight elections held in the State since 1979. This year’s SKM candidate for Dzongu, Chung Kipu Lepcha will become the fourth woman ever to contest elections in the district. If successful she will script history by becoming the first woman MLA from a district where female voters outnumber the males.
The first woman candidate to contest elections in North Sikkim was Phutik Bhutia [Sikkim Prajatantra Congress] in 1979 from Lachen-Mangan.
And one is still only talking representation here; real issues of gender equality remain largely unaddressed with issues of independent identities and inheritance receiving only lip-service.