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Open data for International Women's Day: Making data work to bridge the gap in women’s political representation

 

“As a woman, I want women who have felt themselves outside history to be written back into history, in the words of Eavan Boland, 'finding a voice where they found a vision.' "  Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland & Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

 

Bhanupriya Rao (bhanupriyak@gmail.com)

 

Did you know Rwanda, a country that is emerging from one the worst genocides in human history, has around 64% women MPs in their national Parliament? In fact, Rwanda and Bolivia are the only countries in the world where women outnumber men in the Parliament. That is an encouraging thought to start International Women’s Day with.

 

I did not just stumble upon this data. It was part of an enterprise I undertook recently along with a friend, when we started delving deeper into India’s dismal record with women’s political representation in national parliament and state legislative assemblies. Having just learnt that women make up for 12% of India’s Parliament, we wanted to situate India’s position vis-a-vis rest of the world. The findings were mind numbing. Even more dismal is the fact the fewer women made it to the cabinets or got weighty ministerial positions.

 

What began as a preliminary look at current data, soon led us to scour through historical data from the first elections (1951) onwards to understand the trends better. The only hitch: all of this meticulously compiled data by the Election Commission of India lies locked up in PDFs. The friend wrote a script to scrape all this data from the PDFs, which we manually verified to correct for any errors. We are now in possession of 65 years of election data for parliament and state assemblies in open formats.

 

What do we intend to do with this data? Several things. First, we are building an interactive project on ‘women in politics’ as a resource for researchers, journalists, campaigners etc. We would also put out all this data in open formats for reuse by anyone who wants to. We believe data is public good and must be available in reusable formats as open data. We would also send this to the national open data portal (data.gov.in) for wider public use. Most importantly, we would like to use this to lobby with the Election Commission to make their data available in open formats starting with the upcoming elections in November to a few state assemblies. Had the EC data been in open formats, it would have saved 2 weeks of our time and we would have delved into our granular analysis already.

 

So is this a geeky data exercise? No. Data - and open data - is a means to an end. We are very clear that the reason we began looking into this a result of our anguish at poor representation of women in elected bodies. We'd like for this data to be used to campaign with MPs to pass the ‘33% Women’s Reservation Bill’ stagnating in the Parliament for decades. A prominent woman MP at the forefront of this campaign has already picked up this research to speak about it. We would like to partner with other organisations and campaigns to make use of our data and analysis to push for the constitutional mandate to higher women representation.

 
As Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of HP stated, ‘the goal is to transform data into information and information into insight’ ... and in this case, further to use this insight to make a change for women everywhere.