The Power of Political Voice: Women’s Political Representation and Crime in India

Mandated political representation for women results in a large increase in reporting for crimes against women and minorities.


Protecting the rights of disadvantaged groups, such as minorities and politically under-represented citizens, has remained a challenge in many developing countries. Concerned governments have considered a broad range of policies to prevent or redress such injustices, including welfare support, affirmative action quotas in education and jobs, legal protection, and allocation of more law enforcement resources. The presence of minority group individuals in public office could also alter the nature of interaction between advantaged and disadvantaged groups. This paper examines how a 1993 constitutional amendment in India, which mandated one-third of all positions in local government councils for women, affected crime outcomes against disadvantaged groups.


The 1993 Indian constitutional amendment that mandated political representation for women resulted in a large increase in reporting for crimes against women and minorities.

  • The introduction of mandated political representation for women led to a large and statistically significant increase in the number of reported crimes against women. Documented crimes against women rose by 46%, while documented rapes per capita rose by 23% and reports of kidnapping of women showed a 13% increase.
  • This is actually good news, driven by greater reporting of crimes against women. Individual surveys indicate that women are more willing to report crimes in villages with women leaders – but they are not more likely to be targets of crime.
  • Police responsiveness is higher in areas with women leaders – as measured by arrests for crimes against women, as well as women’s reported satisfaction in interactions with the police.
  • There was no increase in reporting of crimes against men or gender-neutral crimes. This suggests that there was no overall deterioration in law and order conditions or policy changes, other than the change in women’s political representation.
  • The presence of women representatives at the lowest level of governance has a larger effect on crime reporting than their presence in higher-level leadership positions.

In short, mandated political representation for women results in a large increase in reporting of crimes against women and minorities, as well as greater police responsiveness in tackling these crimes.


In 1993, a constitutional amendment mandated all Indian states to set aside one-third of positions in local government councils for women. The amendment also mandated reservation for other marginalized groups in proportion to their population ratio. The researchers use a difference-in-difference estimate of the impact of political representation for women and lower castes on crimes against them, because the legislation was implemented at varying dates across Indian states.

The data used are on the reported number of crimes at the district and state level from the National Crime Records Bureau at the Ministry of Home Affairs from 1985-2007. The main variable of interest is crimes against women: rape, kidnapping of women and girls and ‘total crimes against women’ (including the first two variables, as well as dowry deaths, sexual harassment, molestation, cruelty by husbands or relatives, importation of women and girls, prostitution, pornography, giving and receiving dowry, and widow-burning.)

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