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Data: Women still underrepresented in the Union Council of Ministers

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Unlike in most other democracies, Women have been a part of the Union Council of Ministers in India from the first ever Lok Sabha in 1952. However, their representation & role has been limited. Here is a detailed data-based analysis of the women in the union council of ministers from 1952 to 2021.

The first woman to be a part of the US cabinet was in the year 1933, more than 130 years after the formation of its first cabinet. The United Kingdom gave place to a woman in its cabinet in the year 1929, which was quite late in their democratic history. The same is the case with many other democracies in Europe, with women being inducted into the cabinets around the same period.

India on the other hand had women representation in the union council of ministers from the very first government. Whether it is the influence of times wherein women being part of the cabinet has become an accepted idea or the idea of providing equal opportunity in line with the provision of ‘Universal Adult Franchise’ since the very first election, India has ensured that women were part of the union council of ministers from the very first Lok Sabha. 

In this story, we take a look at the representation of women in the union council of ministers during various Lok Sabha terms and the portfolios they held. The data is collated from various sources, which includes – an archived compilation of council of ministers since independence, the information in respect to the change in portfolios since 1952, the archival data of council of ministers since 1990s and the handbook on the council of ministers 1947-2015. 

Methodology: Each portfolio held by a person is treated as a ministry held by the person. For instance, if a person held two portfolios during the same term, it is treated as the person handling two ministries.  Full-term is referred to as the one who holds a portfolio for the entire Lok Sabha term and part-term is referred to as the otherwise.

Factly has created a detailed data dashboard, where one can find all the information & data related to Women in the Union Council of Ministers, since the first Lok Sabha.  

Till date, 82 Women have been part of the Union Council of Ministers

From the time of the first Lok Sabha (1952-57) to the present 17th Lok Sabha (2019- till date), a total of 82 different women have taken up various positions & portfolios in the union council of ministers. These include the positions of Cabinet Minister, Deputy Minister & Minister of State (MoS).

The first woman cabinet minister was Rajkumari Amrit Kaur of the Indian National Congress. She became the cabinet minister during the first Lok Sabha (1952-57). The first Lok Sabha also included another woman in the position of deputy minister, Maragatham Chandra Shekhar. Both held the Ministry of Health portfolio.

The first non-congress women in the Union Council of Ministers were Sathiavani Muthu and Abha Maiti of ADMK & Janata party respectively. Both of them were part of Charan Singh’s Cabinet between 1979-80. Muthu was the Cabinet Minister of Rural Development while Abha Maiti was MoS in the Ministry of Industry.

The recent cabinet reshuffle witnessed the induction of 7 new women into the Union Council of Ministers making the total number of Women Ministers to 11 with 14 portfolios between them. 

Of the 82 women who were part of the union council of ministers, 11 were given the rank of Cabinet minister in their first stint. Most of the new women ministers were given the rank of MoS during their first stint. 

The highest number of new women inductees was during the 10th Lok Sabha

Former Prime Minister P.V.Narasimha Rao’s council of ministers during the 10th Lok Sabha i.e., between 1991-96 included 12 women ministers. Out of these, 9 were given the opportunity for the first time. They were inducted into the union council at different periods and none of them served a full term. Furthermore, none of these 9 new ministers were given the rank of Cabinet minister.

The 15th Lok Sabha i.e., 2009-14, had the second-highest number of new women ministers in the council of ministers with 8. Even the current, 17th Lok Sabha has 8 new women in the union council of ministers. In terms of giving the rank of Cabinet Minister for first-time ministers, the 16th Lok Sabha i.e., 2014-19 ranks top, when 3 new women ministers were given the cabinet rank.  

The greatest number of Women Ministers during the 15th Lok Sabha

As highlighted earlier, the first Lok Sabha during 1952-57 had only two women ministers. The women representation in the subsequent Lok Sabha tenures have been higher with the exception of the 9th Lok Sabha (1989-91), where only 2 women served as ministers. However, they served in two different governments as Maneka Gandhi was part of VP Singh’s government, whereas Usha Sinha was part of Chandra Sekhar’s government.

While the first non-congress government formed at the Centre under Morarji Desai in 1977 did not have any woman in the council of ministers, the new short-lived government under Charan Singh during the same Lok Sabha had 4 women ministers, including the first two non-congress ministers as highlighted earlier.

The highest number of women in the union council of ministers during a Lok Sabha tenure was in the term of the 15th Lok Sabha i.e., 2009-14, wherein 14 different women have been made ministers. Of these, 4 women held the rank of Cabinet Minister, while 2 were MoS with independent charge and the rest of the 8 women were MoS in different ministries.

Around half of the Women Ministers held the rank of Minister of State


To date, the Minister of State (MoS) is the most common rank given to women ministers. They have been given this rank on 71 separate occasions. It has to be noted that this is by the rank in the union council of ministers and not based on the portfolio i.e., a minister holding multiple portfolios during a government’s tenure of the same rank is treated as one. Also, if the same person has held different ranks during the same or different Lok Sabha terms, they are treated as different.

Further, any change in the rank is also considered i.e., if an MoS is elevated to Cabinet minister, these are considered as individual instances. For instance, Nirmala Sitharaman during the 16th Lok Sabha tenure was MoS for Finance as well MoS for Corporate affairs, MoS (IC) for Commerce & Industry and Cabinet Minister for Defence. Hence, she is categorized under three categories.

Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister during the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th  Lok Sabha. In the respective council of ministers, she held multiple portfolios and also included several women ministers.  However, none of these women ministers were provided the Cabinet rank.

Information & Broadcasting followed by Culture are the most common Portfolios held by Women

Indira Gandhi served as the Prime Minister of India during the 3rd, 4th, 5th & 7th  Lok Sabha, during which time she held many portfolios in addition to her position as the Prime Minister. This includes a few key portfolios like Home Ministry, Defence, Finance & External Affairs. For the purpose of this analysis, we have excluded Indira Gandhi since hers is a special case and have focused on those women who have been part of the council of ministers as only ministers.

Among the portfolios handled by women in the union council of ministers, the Culture and Human Resource Development Ministry is the most common with women holding this in 15 instances each. The next common portfolio is Social Justice and Empowerment. 

Among the key portfolios, Nirmala Seetharaman was the cabinet minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs. Smriti Irani though has been relinquished of the Textile ministry, after a short stint currently holds the key portfolio of Women & Child Development during 17th Lok Sabha.

To date, Information and Broadcasting (I&B) happens to be the common portfolio in the rank of Cabinet, followed by Culture. Apart from Social Justice and Empowerment, I&B also happens to be the common portfolio for the rank of Deputy Minister. Among the portfolios where women were MoS, Human Resource Development is the most common followed by Culture, Health & Family Welfare, both at the same position. External Affairs is also very common (5 occasions) among the portfolios held by women as MoS.

Only two women held the rank of Union Cabinet Minister for Women & Child Development 

Of the 13 instances where a woman held the Women & Child Development portfolio, Maneka Gandhi (16th Lok Sabha) and Smriti Irani (present 17th Lok Sabha)  are the only two women who held it in the Cabinet rank. Maneka Gandhi is the only woman who held it for a complete term of 16th Lok Sabha from 2014 to 2019. It remains to be seen if Smriti Irani would hold for the entire duration of the 17th Lok Sabha. 

Of the 6 instances where a woman held the rank of Minister of State (Mos), all of them were part term (not complete Lok Sabha term). Of the 4 instances in the rank of Minister of State (in charge), 3 were part term and 1 full term. Usha Sinha, who belongs to the 9th Lok Sabha (1989-91) is the only woman who held the rank of  Deputy Minister which is also a part term.

Women still under-represented in the Union Council of Ministers

Currently, there are 10 women in the union council of ministers out of the total strength of 78 (including the Prime Minister). This is around 13% of the strength of the union council of ministers. If only ministers of the cabinet rank are considered, then there are only two women out of the 30 who hold the cabinet rank which is around 6.7%. Even their representation is a meager 14.6% in the Lok Sabha and 11.7% in the Rajya Sabha currently. 

According to the Women in Politics: 2021 report of the Inter-Parliamentary Union that ranks countries based on the women in ministerial positions and considers only the cabinet rank as of 01 January 2021, India stood at 160th position in parliaments around the world, the lowest among BRICS nations, indicating how women are underrepresented in the decision-making executive positions. 

The Global Gender Gap Report 2021 highlighted gender gap widening in India is largely due to women’s inadequate representation in politics, technical and leadership roles.

If more women are to participate in politics & hold important positions, political commitment along with addressing institutional and social barriers that deter equal representation and participation are needs of the hour.

Featured Image: Women in Union Council of Ministers

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