IN a big boost to women’s empowerment, the Union Government has introduced the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha. The Bill provides for 33 per cent quota to women in the Lower House and state Legislative Assemblies. The Union Cabinet had okayed the Bill on September 18. Once it comes into force, the number of women MPs in the Lok Sabha will rise to 181 from 82, according to Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal.
Officially known as the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, it has been at the centre of a political debate for many years. Despite being introduced in 1996, the Bill couldn’t be passed due to various political hurdles. At present, women’s representation in Parliament is less than 15 per cent. Although women account for about half of the country’s population, their political participation is not significant. The reservation is necessary to ensure that women’s voices are heard. It would not only help address gender disparities and promote social justice but also advance effective governance. A more representative Parliament, with significant participation of women, can better address the diverse needs and concerns of the Indian populace. Moreover, women’s political empowerment is essential for strengthening democracy.
It has been a long-standing issue that has sparked numerous debates. Opponents argue that the reservation system may not truly empower women; rather, it may be misused to promote proxy representation, with male politicians using female relatives as figureheads. There’s also a concern that it may undermine the democratic principle of equal opportunity by promoting gender over merit. Critics argue that it may only benefit women from a privileged background, exacerbating social inequalities. Another argument against the Bill is that scores of men will have to give up their seats for the quota to be implemented. Consequently, despite its importance, the Women’s Reservation Bill has faced significant resistance throughout.
Despite these challenges, the potential benefits of women’s reservation in Parliament are substantial. Research from around the world shows that women in politics tend to prioritise issues such as education, healthcare and social justice. Increased representation of women in Parliament could, therefore, lead to more resources being allocated to these critical areas. Moreover, women’s reservation can set a powerful precedent for gender equality in other sectors. It can challenge traditional gender norms and stereotypes, encouraging more women to participate in public life and aspire to leadership positions.
Women’s reservation in Parliament is not just about numbers or token representation. It is about making the Indian democracy truly representative and responsive to all its citizens. It is about empowering women to take their rightful place in the decision-making processes that shape the nation’s future. And most importantly, it is about building an India where gender is no longer a barrier to opportunity and achievement. Clearly, despite the Bill facing significant challenges and resistance, its potential impact on governance, social justice and gender norms cannot be underestimated.
It is essential for the Indian polity to recognise the importance of women’s representation in Parliament. It will promise a more inclusive and equitable India. Even after 76 years of Independence, India has been unable to achieve equal gender representation in politics. Many countries have introduced some form of electoral apportionment for women. Most of the top 20 countries with high female representation in Parliament have around 30 per cent reservation for women. In the South Asian region, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal have higher women’s representation than India in Parliament. Nepal has 29 per cent legislated quota for women, Afghanistan 28 per cent, and both Pakistan and Bangladesh have 20 per cent seats reserved for women. Globally, too, India is far behind with a ranking of 103 out of 190 countries in women’s representation in the Lower House of Parliament.
Representation of women in the legislature can significantly improve the quality of lawmaking, empowering both women and the nation. We cannot achieve social development with equity and justice without representation of women in Parliament; that is why the Women’s Reservation Bill is the need of the hour. India is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which obliges States, under Article 7, to take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in political and public life and, in particular, to ensure that women are as eligible as men to contest elections to all public bodies, that they have the ‘right to participate’ in contributing to government policy and its implementation. It is time to honour this commitment.
It is high time the political parties actively demonstrated the sincerity of their intent by passing this long-awaited Bill and actually giving more tickets to women candidates to contest in elections. Governance should not be a fiefdom of men, with just a few women managing to break a rigid glass ceiling to enter Parliament. Any democratic system benefits from having people from diverse backgrounds and life experiences represented in its political institutions to draw on the full array of capacity and skills of the population in shaping policies for the advancement of all.
Women’s reservation in politics is important as it is a matter of equity and human rights — both of which are cornerstones of a democratic society. A broad representation of women in Parliament would have an enormous impact on what issues are raised and how policies are shaped and this would create room to reform and revise discriminatory laws against females and ensure accountability of the government. The Women’s Reservation Bill must be passed at the earliest.
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