UPSC CSE: Why has women’s success rate dropped despite 7-fold increase in participation rate in two decades? – The Indian Express

From 85 women candidates qualifying the Civil Services Exam (CSE) in 2000 to 220 women joining the services in 2019, the 21st century has seen a steady increase in the number of women participating in one of the toughest exams in the world. However, the success rate of women applicants has been declining over the past few years to as low as 0.12 per cent in the Civil Services 2019 exam, official data shows.
Conducted by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), the Civil Services Exam is held to recruit Group A and B-level officers in various departments of the central government. Usually dominated by men candidates, the exam is gradually witnessing a rise in women’s participation, however, not at an ideal pace.
The data for UPSC CSE is available till 2019.
In 2001, a total of 47,392 women candidates applied to appear in the Civil Services Exam. This number increased to 1,35,075 women applicants in 2011 and 3,67,085 women in 2019, as per the annual reports released by UPSC. In the year 2019, most women candidates applied for the exam.
Jayanika S, a Political Science professor at Delhi University, said that more women joining higher education institutions and awareness about the exam are one of the reasons for an increase in women applicants.
“In the last 20 years, we have seen a tremendous change in the number of women who wanted to study Political Science (Hons) for preparing for UPSC CSE. Students of this generation are well aware of what they want to pursue after college. They discuss with peers as well as with faculty. Exposure is definitely one of the factors. Even if a student is not qualifying, they will at least apply once to test their capabilities for this exam,” the professor said.
Despite a tremendous increase in the number of women applicants, their success rate in the exam continues to dip over the years. Comparing the two decades of this century, the first decade showed relatively better performance than the later decade.
Between 2001 and 2010, the women candidates showed better results in the prelims exam with the year 2008 showcasing the best pass percentage of 3.07 per cent. However, the results of the second decade saw a downward trend with 2019 presenting the worst pass percentage of 0.86 per cent for women candidates in the prelims exam.
The overall success rate of women candidates is also plunging over the years. In 2001, 0.36 per cent of women candidates qualified for the UPSC CSE. After a decade, the overall pass percentage did not show much improvement. In 2011, the overall pass percentage for women candidates was 0.35 per cent. The later decade saw a steady decline in women’s qualifiers. From 0.54 per cent of women clearing exams to join services, the number dropped to 0.12 per cent in 2019.
Mohammad Tarique, deputy director at Jamia Millia Islamia RCA, believes that the reasons for the lower success rate of women in the Civil Services exam are more than one. “The gender disparity starts right at the level of coaching where we see less number of women candidates going for coaching as compared to their male counterparts. One reason is the support they get from family to pursue civil service as a career. Most women are not given the chance to take up professional guidance and hence they end up not qualifying for different stages of the exam,” Tarique explained. 
“The other reason could be the better performance of male candidates in the exam which takes up the passing marks cut-off. As we are aware, over the years, engineering students have better qualified for this exam. With better exposure at the college level, they tend to begin the preparation well in advance. The skewed gender ratio in engineering colleges could also be another factor,” he highlighted. 
IAS Rupika Joshi*, a Karnataka cadre officer, said that societal pressure is one of the biggest reasons why most women give up on the UPSC dream. 
“Usually it takes at least two to three attempts for an aspirant to qualify for the CSE. With a vast syllabus and long study hours, a student needs mental and emotional support from family and friends. However, as compared to male candidates, women are usually not supported to invest major years of their youth into an exam that has uncertain chances of success,” Joshi said. 
“I am one of the victims of this mentality. As I lived in a joint family I usually faced taunts from relatives and grandparents for studying at an age my cousins had either started working or were married off. Thankfully my parents were supportive and paid no heed to them else I would not have been able to qualify the exam on the fourth attempt,” she shared.
Several women aspirants said they had to take up another job due to societal pressure and gave up on their dream.
Kanika Sabharwal, a probationary officer with a leading national bank, shared that despite qualifying for the main exam twice, she had to take up the bank job as her parents felt she will not get married after 30 years of age. 
“I gave up on my dream job. Although I enjoy my line of work, UPSC was my childhood dream. My parents agreed for investing only two years into this exam and if I did not succeed, they will marry me off. I do not blame my parents but the society as a whole who have not yet accepted that women can be as successful as men if given the chance. We are still expected to get married, have children and settle in life at a particular age,” Kanika said.
(*name changed on request)

Sakshi SarohaSenior Sub Editor at The Indian Express, Sakshi is a major in Economic… read more


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top