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  • Rhea Charles

Muslim Women in Indian Politics

Historically in Islamic societies, the women's role has been within the home, which has limited and created obstacles for female leaders. Muslim women face a double bind--discriminated against both as women and as Muslims. “In terms of cumulative discrimination--being a Muslim and being a woman--there is a compounding effect for sure,” said Gilles Verniers, a political science professor at Ashoka University and co-director of the Trivedi Centre for Political Data (TCPD). “The usual barriers to entry that apply to all women, apply even more strongly to Muslim women.”

While looking at past data, we find some very disturbing statistics:-

  1. Five of the 16 Lok Sabhas since Independence have had no Muslim women members, and their number never crossed four in the 543-seat lower house of parliament.

  2. Till date, out of 29 states, 24 of them have no Muslim women in the Parliament.

  3. Currently, only four of 543, or 0.7% members of the outgoing Lok Sabha are Muslim women, who comprise 6.9% of the general population.

  4. Since Independence around 612 women have been elected to 16 Lok Sabhas, of them around 21 have been Muslim women.

  5. India has 14 Muslim-majority Lok Sabha constituencies and in addition, there are 13 constituencies where Muslims comprise more than 40% of the population. There are a total of 101 seats where Muslims make up more than 20% of the population.

  6. India’s 2019 elections saw a record number of women politicians in the lower house of parliament: 78 were elected, or 14 percent of the legislative body. But it didn't progress across the board. The lower house’s representation of Muslim women went way down, from four before the May contest to just one, Sadja Ahmed.

  7. The picture is not much different at the state level. Less than 8% women are represented in the state Assemblies. Muslim women are almost negligible. In Assam Legislative Assembly, there are 14 women members, of whom only one is a Muslim woman.

  8. So far as states are concerned, of 29 states and 7 Union Territories only three states are headed by women as chief minister, but none of them is a Muslim. Out of the Governors and Lt Governors/Administrators of 29 states and seven Union Territories, only two are women, but there is no Muslim woman.

  9. At present there are about 36 Lok Sabha committees out of which only three are headed by women and none of them is headed by a Muslim woman. Similarly, in Rajya Sabha there are at present 12 standing committees (others are joint committees), none of which is headed by a Muslim woman.

  10. Of the 16 Lok Sabhas we never saw a Muslim woman Speaker and in Rajya Sabha no Muslim woman occupied the post of Chairman. Of the eighteen times deputy chairmen’s post in Rajya Sabha saw four occasions when a Muslim woman was the incumbent. Interestingly, on all these four occasions only one, Najma Heptullah, was there.

Nevertheless, we do have some stories of muslim women in politics that inspire and pave the way towards a more inclusive society, like, Shamina Shafiq who is the General Secretary of the All India Mahila Congress (AIMC), the women’s wing of the Indian National Congress (INC). She hails from a middle class muslim family in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh and is a former member of the National Commission for Women (NCW). In 2009, she decided to be the change she wanted to see in Indian politics.

While sitting and reading a newspaper whose headline was about a political leader who couldn’t read or write, Shamina at that moment passed a comment about it to her husband saying that how can such people be representing us in the parliament to which her husband replied that it was people like her who sit at home and complain and don’t do anything about it. That’s when Shamina made up her mind and took up her first post as the State Secretary of the Uttar Pradesh Mahila Congress.

Muslim women who have chosen to enter politics, despite religious and socio-economic barriers are an exception and not the norm. In a democratic country, there should be fair representation of all people. The need of the hour is to have more muslim women in the parliament which will ensure a greater say that this minority group will have.

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