In northern India, some women had long complained that they were fed up with their husbands being drunk.

An alcohol ban brought in at their request has affected 100 million people in the state of Bihar.

The domestic violence, petty crime and wasted income that had long plagued their region fell soon afterwards, the state government claims.

Women-centric campaigns are playing an even bigger role in India’s upcoming national election, in a country of 1.3bn people.

Politicians offering free girls’ education, money to newlywed brides, and special women’s police stations scored highly in the recent regional polls.

The reason? In India’s male-dominated, conservative society, women voters are rapidly gaining ground.

Ranked in the bottom third of countries for gender equality, India has long struggled to get women to the ballot box.

There are a number of reasons for this.

The gender gap in voting is partly because women traditionally have been less likely to register in the first place.

Even if they are registered, the idea of women leaving the household to vote is sometimes frowned upon, and they can face harassment and intimidation at the polls.

For decades, registered women voters’ turnout in elections lagged behind men’s by an average of 6-10%, reflecting their marginalisation in society and giving them less opportunity to shape policy.

There are also fewer women to start with. Sex-selective abortions, female infanticide and preferential treatment for boys in India, mean that there are only 943 women for every 1,000 men in the population.

Despite these issues, the voting gender gap has recently shrunk to its smallest level on record.

In India’s 2014 general election it was 1.8%, down from 8.4% in 2004.

In the 30 regional elections held from 2012 until mid-2018, female turnout was higher than men in two-thirds of states.

Banning alcohol

Bihar in northern India is one of the states with a higher proportion of women voters.

It has long suffered from problems of anti-social behaviour and crime, with alcoholism draining income away from some households.

In the 2015 state elections, women’s turnout exceeded men’s by 7% – and they had a clear message: get rid of alcohol.

Concerned about re-election, Bihar’s chief minister Nitish Kumar pledged to do just that when he won local re-election.

He introduced a ban on drinking and selling alcohol in the state.

Within a year or two, the government reported that violent crime had fallen drastically, while money available for cars and tractors increased.

Social activists such as Medha Patkar have clong called on other states to ban alcohol too, arguing that “liquor is the biggest reason for violence against women”.

However, one study found the police resources needed to enforce the alcohol ban meant there was less capacity to deal with violent crime.

BBC

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