U. WARWICK (UK) — An increase in female representation in local politics has caused a significant rise in documented crimes against women in India, a new report shows.
That is good news, say researchers, who argue the increase is due to greater reporting of crimes against women, rather than greater incidence of crimes against them.
The research examined the impact of the Panchayati Raj reform passed in 1993, which required Indian states to set aside one third of all member and leader positions in local government councils for women.
Panchayati Raj was implemented in different years by different states given their own election cycles, and is one of the largest experiments with quotas for female political representation anywhere in the world.
The researchers found that documented crimes against women rose by an average of 44 percent after women entered local government, while rapes rose by 23 percent, and kidnapping of women showed a 13 percent increase in the post-reform period up until 2004.
However there has been no significant effect on crimes not specifically targeted against women, such as kidnapping of men, theft, or public order offenses.
The researchers believe there are two reasons behind the surge in reported crimes against women.
First, greater numbers of female politicians make the police more responsive to crimes against women.
Since the quota legislation, the number of arrests has also increased significantly, particularly for cases dealing with kidnapping of women.
Second, women victims who encounter more sympathetic women leaders may feel more encouraged to report crimes.
“The first thing we want to point out is that this is good news, says Anandi Mani, associate professor of economics at the University of Warwick. “The reason it’s happening is because more crimes are being documented than were before the reforms—it’s not an increase in incidences of crime.
“From what we can see in our data, when you have more women political leaders it has a motivating effect on the police to take crimes against women more seriously,” Mani adds. “We see that both in the arrest data and also in terms of women’s satisfaction in their interaction with the police in areas where they have women leaders.
“And consistent with our reporting hypothesis, areas with longer exposure to women in local government show an eventual decline in the crime rate against women, so there is a deterrent effect over time.”
Mani says it was the presence of women in the broad base of political representatives, rather than solely in leadership positions at the higher levels of politics, that generates the powerful impact.
“Our results imply that the presence of women at the lowest level of governance, where they are closer to potential crime victims, is more important in giving voice to women than their presence in higher level leadership positions.”
The authors are Lakshmi Iyer, Harvard Business School; Anandi Mani, University of Warwick; and Prachi Mishra and Petia Topalova, IMF.
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