Women, who were long considered to be the “weak sex”, in recent times, have made far-reaching achievements in almost all walks of life. However, India, despite having had a woman prime minister, chief ministers, and president, does not show any remarkable progress in the political and social empowerment of women.
The idea of women empowerment seems to have lost the vigour it had enjoyed during the time of freedom movement when Mahatma Gandhi mobilized as many women as men during the freedom struggle.
Nowadays, there is a need for special political interventions for the inclusion of equal representation of women in Indian politics as even the prominent female political representatives are feeling marginalised within their respective parties.
Many women politicians in the electoral and party politics are an ineffective minority within their political parties while the male politicians dominate the functioning of the political party.
Therefore, political interventions like Women’s Reservation Bill are a need of the hour to address the social shackles that are suppressing the equal representation of women in Indian society.
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What is the women’s reservation bill?
- The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, commonly known as the Women’s Reservation Bill, is a bill that seeks to reserve one-third of seats for women in Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies.
- Introduced in 2008, it also provides one-third of the total number of seat reservation for Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes to be reserved for the women of those groups.
- Similar bills were introduced in thrice previously in the late ’90s. However, all these bills lapsed with the dissolution of their respective Lok Sabha.
What are the key highlights of this bill?
- The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008 aims to reserve one-third of all seats for women in Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies.
- The distribution of such seats shall be fixed by such authority as prescribed by the parliament.
- The reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory.
- The reservation of seats for women shall be terminated 15 years after the start of this Amendment Act.
What is the debate on this bill?
- There are numerous differences pertaining to the reservation policy.
Arguments for the Bill:
- Some argue the need for favourable action to improve the condition of women.
- Recent studies on Panchayats have shown positive outcomes of the reservation of seats for women.
- It may ensure greater representation of women in the political arena.
- It allows for the flexibility of the number of women in parliament.
- It does not discriminate against male candidates. Rather, it calls for the equal representation of their women counterparts.
- It is not a permanent setting. Rather, the Bill, when it becomes a law, would be terminated in 15 years after enactment. This temporary solution can ensure the much needed equal representation of women in Indian politics.
Arguments against the Bill:
- It is argued that it would propagate an unequal status for women since they cannot be perceived to be competing on merit.
- This policy may divert the attention from larger electoral reforms needs like that of criminalisation of politics and inner-party democracy.
- The reservation of seats to women in parliament restricts the choice of the voters to women candidates who the people may or may not prefer.
- Rotation of reserved constituencies during elections may reduce the incentive for the MP to develop his constituency as he may be ineligible to seek re-election from that constituency.
- It undermines the democratic principle of the election.
- The Joint Committee on the Constitution (81st Amendment) Bill, 1996 had recommended the providing of the reservation to women of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) once the constitution was amended to ensure reservation to women from the OBC community. It also called for the reservation to be extended to the Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils. However, these recommendations were not included within the bill.
- The political parties may assign its women candidates in constituencies where their representation is limited.
- There may be public resentment of the women candidate if a constituency has a stronger male candidate.
- Those who are against this bill argue that reserving a constituency for women would mean a loss of opportunity for men who could have been a better or more qualified candidates
- This bill may disregard the opinions of the voters.
- Also, the Women’s Reservation Bill comes with the same shortcomings as that of any law that renders quota for the underprivileged.
- It is argued that, in a representative democracy, where 131 of 543 seats are already reserved for SCs and STs, an additional 33% quota will be a disproportionate representation of people’s will.
What can be done to address these issues?
- The reservation of one-third of seats for women in the Parliament limits the choice of the voters in the reserved constituencies.
- There can be two alternatives that can be used to address this issue. They are:
- Providing reservations to the women candidates within the political parties. Example: Sweden, Norway, Argentina, etc.
- Dual member constituencies to ensure their representation by at least one woman.
What are the measures taken within India to ensure equal representation of women in politics?
- The 73rd (the Panchayats) and 74th (the Municipalities) Constitutional Amendment, which was enacted in 1992, had introduced local self-governance that was introduced in rural and urban India. According to Article 243D, One-third of the total number of seats should be reserved for women. One-third of the seats reserved for the SCs and STs should also be reserved for women. One-third of the offices of chairpersons at all levels should be reserved for women. This is a significant step towards women empowerment in India at a grass-root level.
- The reservations under 73rd and 74th Amendments are rotational in nature i.e., for a certain period, certain panchayats or municipalities should be reserved for women on a rotational basis.
- Currently, 14 states have 50-58% representation of women in Panchayats. Jharkhand is the highest with 58%, closely followed by Rajasthan and Uttrakhand.
Are these measures successful in creating women empowerment in India?
Several studies show the positive outcomes of the inclusion of women in governance:
- A study by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) has found the following:
- Women legislators in India raised their constituencies’ economic performance by about 1.8 percentage points per year more than their male counterparts.
- Women legislators in India have raised luminosity growth (measures of night-time lights visible from space) in their constituencies by about 15 percentage points per year more than the male legislators.
- The study by Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) had found that the women representatives are more concerned about the water supply (one of the major issues faced by India) and road connectivity than men.
- A survey conducted in Tamil Nadu had indicated that nearly 30% of the women representatives stated that after the rotation is over, they would contest for the same seat. Another 15% said they may enter into the national level politics if they have the chance.
These studies indicated that the rotational representation of women is an essential temporary solution to deal with both the economic and social problems that are affecting our nation. However, this does not essential curb the suppression of women in Indian society.
What can be the way forward?
- Those who are against this Bill argue that instead of endorsing reservation, the political parties must incorporate a bottom-up approach of inducting more women in their parties to increase their representation in the parliament.
- An expert committee must be set up to analyse the pros and cons of this Bill.
- If this Bill is made into a law, it should exist only temporarily to address the immediate problems of social constraints that are affecting the Indian women.
- Training and moral support must be given by political parties to enable women to actively participate in governmental activities.
- Proactive measures must be taken by the government to remove the patriarchal mindset of the society.
- Security should be provided to the women politicians so that they don’t become the victims of physical and emotional violence at home and in the public sphere.
- The success stories of women politicians must be aware of, to the younger generations to remove the existing idea of the patriarchal dominance within the society.
Women’s Reservation Bill is an essential short-term solution that needs to be implemented in India as the Indian economy and society are currently under the influence of male chauvinism.