This is the third article in a series on issues affecting voters in the world's largest democracy as they head to the polls.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- India's election, which concludes Monday, has brought to light many of the challenges this growing nation faces, including widespread corruption and a slowing economy. It has also has brought public scrutiny to the treatment of women, who typically feel less safe walking alone at night in their neighborhoods than men do.
Safety is a concern for many women in India, especially given recent internationally publicized reports of crimes committed against them. Better protection and faster prosecution of violent crimes against women figure into the six-point "Womanifesto" published by Indian women's groups and endorsed by the nascent "Common Man" Party as well as the beleaguered Congress Party.
Given these developments, it might be surprising that a majority of Indian women say they feel safe walking alone at night. Further, India's gap between women and men in perceptions of safety is not unusual -- many other countries, including the United States, see lower percentages of women than men saying they feel safe walking alone at night.
However, there are strong differences by region. Women in the North are particularly concerned about walking alone at night. Several high-profile incidents of violence against women have occurred in Delhi, which is located in the North. About four in 10 in this region say they feel safe (41%) -- far lower than women in the South (81%), the Central and East (64%), and the West (58%).
Women's Confidence in Police Varies by Region
One goal of the "Womanifesto" is to strengthen laws against committing acts of violence against women (as well as minorities and children) and to ensure "swift, certain justice." In 2013, Indian women (60%) were about as likely as men (64%) to say they have confidence in the local police force. However, these national totals shroud important regional differences: In the North, 40% of women are confident in the local police force, while a majority (52%) are not. And while about half of women in the West have confidence in their local police force, this is 21 points lower than the percentage of men who think so.
Majority of Women Say Women Are Treated With Respect
The Womanifesto more broadly aims to equalize and empower women in Indian society. The equality of women in India has come under criticism by such bodies as the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, which ranked India 56th out of 86 nations in its 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index. Still, a majority of Indians (57%) believe women are treated with respect in India. As a country, however, India has lost ground on this issue -- in 2011, 68% believed women were treated with respect.
Again in the North -- where some of the most high-profile crimes against women have been committed -- perceptions are vastly different from those in the rest of the country. Just a fifth of women (21%) in the North believe women are treated with respect, compared with 74% in the South, 71% in the Central and the East, and 59% in the West. Men in the North equal Northern women's pessimism about the plight of women, with 21% saying women are treated with respect.
Women make up about 49% of the electorate in India, and women's issues have already played a notable part in the campaign and ongoing election. The six-point Womanifesto has been embraced by two important political parties, but the BJP, the favorite in this election, has not publicly adopted or supported this document. However, the BJP, like the Congress Party, has increased its references to women in the 2014 party platform compared with 2009. Adding to this pressure of providing a better environment for women is close attention from international media and the fact that some foreign governments, such as the United Kingdom, have advised women to use caution when traveling to India.
The economic concerns that many women in India face will likely have an important effect on much of the female vote there. Many women are the ones tasked with dealing with household budgets, and so matters of finances and economics will undoubtedly be top of mind. Nonetheless, with safety and general respect increasingly becoming a part of the public discourse, women's issues could also play a pivotal role in the North, if not elsewhere.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 3,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted September-October 2013 in India. Before 2013, results are based on face-to-face interviews with approximately 2,000 to 5,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted 2008-2012 in India.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±2.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.