Women's Reservation in Parliament
Making Women’s Reservation Bill a reality
12 September 2021 marked the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the first Bill to reserve seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies.
Increasing women’s participation in parliament and the state legislature is intrinsic to strengthening women’s empowerment and inclusive governance. Discuss with respect to the Women's Reservation Bill.
● The Women's Reservation Bill was initially introduced in the parliament on September 12, 1996. The bill was introduced in Lok Sabha by the United Front government of HD Deve Gowda.
● The main aim of this bill is to reserve 33 percent of seats in Lok Sabha and all state legislative assemblies for women.
● Reservation Criteria- As per the bill, the seats will be reserved on a rotational basis. The seats would be determined by a draw of lots in such a way that a seat would only be reserved once in every three consecutive general elections.
● Since 1996, three other similar Bills – introduced in the parliament in 1998, 1999, and 2008 – have failed to become law.
● Only 7.7% of members in the Lok Sabha and 4% of members of state assemblies were women in 1996 when the first women’s reservation bill was introduced. Women’s share is now 14.4% in Lok Sabha and around 8% in state assemblies.
● While there are regional variations in the share of women in state assemblies and party-wise differences in the share of candidates who are women, their representation is still far from their share in population everywhere.
● The Economic Survey 2017-18 has acknowledged the abysmally low proportion of elected women’s representatives in Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies. However, the survey also notes the success of women’s reservations in the three-tier Panchayati Raj institutions.
● According to the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), globally India ranks in the bottom quarter, 148th out of 193 UN member nations, when it comes to the proportion of elected women representatives in Parliament. Even our neighbours, Pakistan (20.7%), Bangladesh (20.3%) and Nepal (29.9%) have higher representations of women in parliament. The supporters of the bill argue the need to pass the bill for ensuring affirmative action, also backed by UN Women in 2017.
Reason for low representation in the legislative body:
● Patriarchal and regressive mindset: Many think that bringing more women into politics will destroy the ideal family. They think women’s main job is to bring up children and as home caretakers.
● Lack of political willamong political parties.
● The entry barrier for women: Experts say this is because the entry barrier for womenin elections is higher than men: only those women are made candidates who will likely win. The share of women candidates among total candidates in Lok Sabha elections, for instance, has increased only marginally: from 3.7% in 1962 to 4.3% in 1962 to 9% in 2019.
● However, evidence from a randomised evaluation by Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) affiliates in West Bengal shows that having female elected leaders in gram panchayats raise the aspirations that parents have for their girls and also the aspirations teenage girls have for themselves.
● Results from evaluations in both Rajasthan and West Bengal showed that the presence of a female elected leader also reduces the gender gap in adolescent educational attainment and results in girls spending less time on household chores.
● Furthermore, gram panchayats with elected women leaders invested more in public goods that women cared about, such as drinking water, public health, sanitation, primary education, and roads, and the measured quality of these goods was at least as high as in the non-reserved gram panchayats.
● Another study showed that reservation for women in gram panchayats not only led to a decrease in bias among voters against women candidates but also resulted in a subsequent increase in the percentage of female local leaders contesting and winning elections.
● Reservation for Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste women in the women's reservation bill provides an opportunity for women from marginalised communities.
● It will weaken the patriarchal process, patriarchal attitudes while ensuring social justice.
● Critics claim that reserving seats for women goes against the merit-based nomination.
● Another common criticism is that these elected women will not have real power and will act on behalf of a male decision-maker.
● Male elected representatives have often criticised the bill, arguing that legislative positions will go to women at the cost of certain qualified men losing out.
● An alternative to women’s reservation is the idea of ensuring reservation within political parties. Countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, and Norway etc, reserve seats for women within the political parties, but do not have quotas for women in Parliament.
● Increasing women’s participation in decision-making is intrinsic to strengthening women’s empowerment as enshrined by equality of rights and freedoms in the Preamble and Constitution of India.
● Both political commitment and rigorous evidence are necessary to deliberate and debate this legislation and ensure its passage in Parliament leading to a mandated presence of 180 elected women representatives in the Lok Sabha and nearly 15,100 elected representatives across all legislative assemblies, thereby bridging the critical gender gap in political and legislative decision-making.