TCPD Columns

Who are our politicians? Exploring the socio-economic backgrounds of women politicians in Uttar Pradesh


In 2020, the National Statistics Office (NSO) published a Literacy Report according to which the overall literacy level in Uttar Pradesh was 73%, placing the state fifth to last, nationally1. Literacy levels among UP men stood at 81.8% while the levels among women were at a low of 63.4%, which was reflective of the gender disparity in education2. In the wake of this literacy report, analysing the levels of the educational qualifications of elected women MLAs in the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha can prove to be useful. The 16th Vidhan Sabha (2012-2017), 17th Vidhan Sabha (2017-2022) and 18th Vidhan Sabha (2022 onwards) saw the election of 39, 46 and 47 women candidates, respectively3. The bar graph below provides a comparative assessment of the varying educational qualifications of women in the 16th, 17th and 18th UP Vidhan Sabha4.

Graph 1: Educational Qualification of Women in the 16th, 17th and 18th UP Vidhan Sabha5

How well read are our politicians?

It is interesting to note that among the 132 women elected across the 16th, 17th and 18th Vidhan Sabha, only one woman was illiterate (elected in the 17th assembly), while 120 of them belonged to the literate category, with varying degrees of literacy. The educational backgrounds of 6 women from the 16th Vidhan Sabha and 5 women from the 17th Vidhan Sabha remain unknown due to the unavailability of data. The graph is suggestive of the predominance of highly educated women across the three assemblies since nearly 32 women were Graduates or Graduate professionals, while 44 women held post-graduate degrees and 8 women had doctorates. This was in contrast to the 36 women, who belonged to the literate, 5th pass, 8th pass, 10th pass, 12th pass and ‘other’ categories.

It is also interesting to note that the number of women who completed a certain level of school education systematically reduced from the 17th to the 18th assembly, whereas there was an increase in the number of women who had completed higher education6; it rose from 43.6% in the 16th assembly to 76.6% in the 18th assembly. The only outlier that remains is that the number of women holding doctorates fell from 4 in the 17th Vidhan Sabha to 1 in the 18th Vidhan Sabha. 63.6% of the women elected between 2012 and 2022 have completed higher education, something that may prove beneficial in bringing about educational reforms and innovations in the state. The comparative study of educational qualification of women across the 16th,17th and 18th Vidhan Sabha suggests that women who have completed some level of higher education are more likely to contest and get elected in contrast to women who have only finished particular levels of school education. However, to make such a generalization in contexts other than that of UP, an in-depth study of elected women’s educational qualifications would be required.

In addition to looking at the educational qualifications of women MLAs, examining their occupational backgrounds can be significant to understand the socio-economic statuses of women politicians in Uttar Pradesh. 

Figure 2: Occupations of elected women representatives in Uttar Pradesh from 2012 – 20227

The data in Figure 2 indicates that across the 3 assemblies, the majority of candidates possessed a business background––nearly 33% of the total 132 women representatives who were in office between 2012 and 2022 stipulated business as their occupation, particularly in the 17th and 18th assemblies8. With public welfare being a key political responsibility, it is interesting to note that education and social work are amongst the domains with the least number of candidates––ranking along with daily wage labor and self employment––and having just 3 candidates over a decade declaring each as their profession. It is remarkable, however, that the 17th assembly in 2017 had candidates from the informal labor category winning the election. Delving into the parties that fielded these candidates and the demography the candidates represented is beyond the scope of this article, but the representation of this occupational background in politics, that too with women candidates, is significant. 

Touching upon the category of business, the relatively high figures may suggest the prevalence of an entrepreneurial background in candidates, but the dismal figures for self-employment––with just two candidates across the three assemblies declaring it as their line of work––indicates a wide gap between possible family business associations and self-owned enterprises. In tandem, with Uttar Pradesh being a largely agrarian economy9, the decline of candidates with an agricultural background, from ten in the 16th assembly––which accounted for about 25% of the female MLAs in 2012––to just two each in the 17th and 18th assemblies is important to take into account. This corresponds with a steep rise in winning candidates with business as a profession, particularly in 2017, which saw nearly a quadruple increase from 6 candidates in 2012 to 2022 in the subsequent assembly. 

Though the “Others” category appears to be the second highest variable for the occupational backgrounds of female MLAs, it must be taken into account that this is due to the fragmented nature of the occupations stipulated in this category such as housewife, contract worker or service worker which do not lend themselves to be codified under the key occupations. Therefore, one can gather that in Uttar Pradesh, over the last decade, business and agriculture have largely been the professional backgrounds of women representatives. 

While only 8 candidates across the 3 assemblies had a liberal profession, or any line of knowledge based work as their occupation, only 6 indicated politics as their professional background. All these candidates had political antecedents, having contested a minimum of one and a maximum of 5 times before and also have been MLAs at different points in time. All but one of these candidates was from the BJP and 5 out of the 6 candidates who indicated politics as their main profession were from the recently constituted 18th assembly10


The data in Figure 1 points to a considerable number of female MLAs possessing advanced educational qualifications with 32 candidates having a graduate background, 44 candidates having post-graduate degrees and 8 possessing doctorates. This indicates that almost 64% of all female elected representatives in Uttar Pradesh, from 2012 to 2022,  had professional education credentials. However it must not be ignored that this also suggests that the  number of women MLAs in Uttar Pradesh possessing below advanced educational qualification in the timeline of a decade is in near parity with those with higher educational backgrounds. With business being the major background of the winning candidates, it can be surmised that a large portion of women politicians in Uttar Pradesh come from middle to high socio-economic backgrounds. 

While educational and professional backgrounds of candidates are not indicative or suggestive of candidates’ efficacy as politicians, it is worthwhile to explore the backgrounds of those invested with the power to preside over decisions that have significant impacts on the everyday lives of citizens. 


We thank Sai Vikas for reviewing this piece and for his guidance during the research for putting together this dataset.


  1. See also,
  2. Ibid 
  3. The data analysed above includes data from those by-polls where women candidates were elected after the commencement of a particular assembly.
  4. While studying the educational qualifications of women representatives, the composition of the entire UP assembly for each period of five years is being analysed and not just the election years of 2012, 2017 and 2022.
  5. Source: TCPD-IED LokDhaba Dataset
  6. Higher education is inclusive of women belonging to the graduate, graduate professional, post-graduate and doctorate categories.
  7. Note: Occupation data for 4 candidates in the 16th assembly and 23 candidates in the 17th assembly were not available
  8.  TCPD-IED LokDhaba Dataset
  9. International Labour Organisation, 2017, The State of Employment in Uttar Pradesh: Unleashing the Potential for Inclusive Growth
  10. TCPD-IED LokDhaba Dataset


This article belongs to the author and is independent of the views of the Centre.