India: Women’s reservation boosts reporting of crimes
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India: Women’s reservation boosts reporting of crimes

Reported violence against Indian women is on the rise, but not for the reasons you might think. A recent study argues that this increase reflects growing willingness to report violence against women, rather than an increase in the incidence of crime. There’s a reason for this too: more women are involved in Indian politics than ever before.

The study followed data since the 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution that required at least one-third of all seats in local governments to be set aside for women. Since the Panchayati Raj Act, political representation for women has increased, and so has the recognition of gender-based violence. When women are in power, police are more likely to respond to claims of gender violence. Offenders are arrested, and women are safer.

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Encouraging victims to report such crimes is a crucial first step, both in understanding the magnitude of the problem, and in ensuring justice. The study shows the key role that local women representatives can play in facilitating this process. Photo: CWGL / Flickr (CC 3.0)

The researchers – Lakshmi Iyer (Harvard Business School), Anandi Mani (University of Warwick), Prachi Mishra (IMF) and Petia Topalova (IMF) – found that the introduction of mandated political representation for women leads to a large and statistically significant increase in the number of reported crimes against women. Across all categories, documented crimes against women rose by 44 per cent, while rapes per capita rose by 23 per cent and abductions of women showed a 13 per cent increase. The team conducted the analysis for the 17 major states of India over the period 1985-2007.

There is no significant effect on any categories of crime not specifically targeted against women – such as abductions of men, crimes against property or public order offences. This strongly suggests that there is no overall deterioration in law and order conditions or policy changes other than the political representation that are driving the results.

The researchers followed the ‘reporting’ hypothesis and found that the surge in reported crimes may simply reflect improvements in reporting rather than a rise in actual crimes. The presence of women leaders could influence reporting of crimes against women in several ways. First, it could make the police more responsive to crimes against women. Further, women victims who encounter more sympathetic women leaders and more responsive police would be more encouraged to report crimes.

The results are not driven by specific states which might have unusual characteristics. These include Jammu & Kashmir (which has a significant military presence), Karnataka (which was the first state to implement women’s reservations) and Uttar Pradesh (the last state to implement women’s reservation).

Is there a higher probability of punitive action against those who commit crimes against women as a result of increased female representation? The researchers examined data on the number of arrests and chargesheeting rates to shed some light on this issue. The data on police activity shows that the number of arrests per 1,000 people for crimes against women increased by nearly 30 per cent after women’s reservation was implemented. Arrests for rape also showed an increase of 12 per cent, and arrests for abduction of women increased by a statistically significant 18 per cent. For all other crimes taken together, the impact is slightly smaller (at 25 per cent) and the impact on arrests for abduction of males is in fact negative.

The results for the ratio of arrests to total crimes were also examined. While there is only a small increase in this ratio for crimes against women when compared to this ratio for all other crimes, the relative increase in the reporting of crimes against women is much greater. There is no adverse effect on the quantity of police follow-up in the post-reform period.

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