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Women’s Reservation Bill 2023- History, Highlights & Challenges

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The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, commonly known as the women’s reservation Bill, has reignited a decades-old debate about gender representation in India’s legislative bodies. Initiated during the freedom movement, the push for gender parity in politics has seen numerous ebbs and flows, culminating in the recent bill presented by the Modi government.

This topic of “Women’s Reservation Bill 2023- History, Highlights & Challenges” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

Historical Context

  • Freedom Movement and Gender Quota: Gender representation in politics was a subject of discussion during India’s freedom movement.
  • Constituent Assembly Perspective:
    • Women members did not advocate for reservations during the Constitution’s framing, fearing it might limit women’s representation.
    • In 1947, Renuka Ray highlighted the potential challenges posed by reservations, emphasizing capability as the sole criteria.

The Struggle for Representation

  • Post-independence Scenario: Despite hopes, female representation in legislatures remained dishearteningly low.
  • Momentum from Panchayats and Local Bodies:
    • The 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments, which reserved 33% seats in local bodies for women, spurred demands for similar quotas in legislative bodies.

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Previous Attempts and Failures

  • Unsuccessful Endeavours:
    • Various governments since 1996 have tried but failed to pass the women’s reservation Bill.
    • The UPA government passed the bill in Rajya Sabha in 2010, but it stalled in Lok Sabha due to political opposition.

The 2023 Bill: Provisions and Criticisms

  • Features of the 2023 Bill:
    • Appears to be a concise version of the 2008 UPA Bill.
    • Proposes 33% reservation for women in Lok Sabha, state Legislative Assemblies, and Delhi Assembly.
    • Provides reservation for women within existing SC and ST quotas.
    • Seats to be reserved rotationally with a 15-year cap.
  • Criticisms:
    • Vague Timeline: The bill does not specify when the reservations will come into effect, leading to ambiguity.
    • Exclusion of Upper Houses: The bill ignores the Rajya Sabha and state legislative councils, which already have low female representation.

Way Forward

  • Clear Timelines: The government should set definitive timelines for implementation to avoid future ambiguities.
  • Upper House Reservations:
    • Purnima Banerjee’s past proposal can be a foundation: allowing only women to fill seats vacated by women.
    • Consider similar provisions for SC, ST, and other minorities.
  • Addressing Misconceptions: Dispel notions suggesting women members would merely be proxies, as this undermines women’s agency.

Conclusion

The introduction of the women’s reservation Bill, though not flawless, marks a significant stride towards achieving gender parity in Indian politics. It is imperative now, more than ever, to build on this momentum and not let another two decades pass without concrete change.

Practice Question for Mains

Discuss the provisions and significance of the Women’s Reservation Bill 2023. (250 words)

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