The first phase of the General election of 2024 is set to begin in a few days. While political parties are battling it out in the constituencies, they have also released manifestos with colourful promises for different sections of voters. With women constituting around half of the total proportion of eligible voters, it looks like both the BJP and Indian National Congress (INC) are trying their best to woo them with exciting assurances.

The manifestos of the BJP and INC are similar in many aspects, yet quite different. BJP has better plans for financial empowerment of women, while the INC has better ideas for improving their participation in workforce and providing them an equitable work environment.

Financial empowerment

Empowerment of women appears top on the agenda of both parties. But the approach is slightly different. While the BJP is planning to give loans to women and train them to earn more money, INC is talking about direct doles.

BJP’s Lakhpati Didi scheme focuses on providing interest-free loans to women and training them to generate a sustainable annual income of at least ₹1 lakh. According to the manifesto, the scheme already benefited one crore women and the party says it envisions creating three crore lakhpati didis. With the scheme already tasting success, scaling it up appears a good idea.

The INC, on the other hand, says it will provide ₹1 lakh per year to every poor Indian family as an unconditional cash transfer. This basic income for poor families is good in a way as it provides for their bare necessities. But the benefit is only for the poorest sections of the society. it is unlikely to provide financial empowerment to women. Also the burden on the Centre’s budget due to this dole is going to be enormous.

Workforce participation

As far as improving women’s participation in workforce, the INC manifesto appears to have more concrete plans.

Data from the Periodic Labour Force Survey or PLFS (2022-23) shows that the women’s labour force participation rate in India is at a mere 37 per cent. BJP’s solution to address this is to develop infrastructure such as working women’s hostels and creches.

The INC, on the other hand, promises 50 per cent reservation of Central government jobs for women from 2025. While the number looks generous, it may be difficult to implement immediately, with the paucity of enough qualified women to fill the posts. But over the long term, it can help women. INC’s promise of equal wages, safety and maternity benefits for all women, however, appears sound. The PLFS also shows that more than half of India’s workforce has no access to social security measures, which include maternity benefits.

Other issues

The Women’s Reservation Bill, 2023, which seeks to allocate 33 per cent of the seats in the directly-elected Lok Sabha, State legislative assemblies and Delhi legislative assembly for women was passed in 2023, but is yet to be implemented. The BJP promises a ‘systematic implementation’ of this, while the INC calls the Bill a ‘betrayal’, as it will be implemented only in 2029, after census and delimitation. “The one-third reservation for women will be applied to State Assemblies that will be elected in the next round of Assembly elections in 2025,” the manifesto reads.

The BJP’s manifesto touches upon eliminating diseases such as breast cancer and cervical cancer. It also talks about getting more women into sports. While these aspects are missing in the INC’s manifesto, the party talks about doubling the pay of women frontline workers and appointing an Adhikar Maitri in every panchayat to serve as a paralegal to educate women and assist them in the enforcement of their legal rights.