- The Constitution (ONE Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023 or the women’s reservation Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 19 during the special session of Parliament, under a new name, Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam.
- It was passed by an over whelming majority of 454 votes in favour and only two against, on the very next day.
- This article will discuss both the expected positive outcomes as wellas the reasons for criticism of the bill.
Key features of the bill:
- The legislation seeks to allocate 33 percent seats in the state and central legislative bodies for women which, at present, is abysmally low, around 15 percent in the Lok Sabha and 12 per cent in the Rajya Sabha.
- According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, India ranks 148th out of 193 countries in terms of women’s representation while the global average is 26.5 per cent.
- Similarly, women’s representation in state assemblies is also dismal, ranging from 1 per cent in Nagaland to 23.1 per cent in Bihar.
- The Bill aims to increase the number of women MPs to 181 from the current 82 and women MLAs to more than 2,000 from the current 740.
Current Scenario of Women’s representation:
- There has been a gradual increase in the number of female MPs in the Lok Sabha from a mere 5 per cent in the first Lok Sabha to 15 per cent in the current 17th Lok Sabha.
- A total of 716 female candidates participated in the 2019 general elections, out of which 78 were successfully elected. This is about a third higher than the previous election in 2014, where 62 women MPs were elected.
- Similarly, the present Rajya Sabha consists of 224 members, out of which 24 are women.
- At present, there are a total of 102 women parliamentarians.
Majority required: The Women Reservation Bill would require a special majority of the Parliament and ratification by half of the states. That is a two-thirds majority in both the Houses of Parliament and the approval from at least 50% of states.
Earliest implementation: However, the earliest moment when one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha is likely to be occupied by women in 2029.
This is because the Bill says that the “provisions relating to the reservation of seats for women shall come into effect after an exercise of delimitation is undertaken for this purpose after the relevant figures for the first census taken after (the Bill is passed) have been published.”
This provision of the fresh census and delimitation exercise was not part of the Women’s Reservation Bill passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010.
Significance of the Women’s Reservation Bill
- Historical Underrepresentation: Historically, women have been significantly underrepresented in India’s political landscape. This underrepresentation perpetuates gender inequality as it restricts women’s ability to influence policies and decisions that affect their lives.
- Political Empowerment: The Women’s Reservation Bill aims to rectify this historical imbalance by reserving a certain percentage of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for women. This proactive measure ensures that women have a fair opportunity to participate in the highest levels of decision-making in the country, promoting gender equality in politics.
- Symbolic Importance: Beyond the practical implications, the bill carries immense symbolic importance. It signifies that Indian society recognizes and values the contributions of women in politics, sending a message that women’s voices and perspectives are essential in shaping the nation’s future.
- Access to Political Arena:The Women’s Reservation Bill empowers women by granting them equal access to the political arena. It breaks down traditional barriers and prejudices that may have discouraged women from entering politics in the past, such as social norms and lack of opportunities.
- Enhancing Political Skills: As more women enter politics and gain experience, it helps in building their leadership and governance skills. This empowerment extends beyond politics, as women who succeed in the political sphere can become role models for others, inspiring greater participation in various fields.
- Policy Influence: Through political participation, women gain the power to influence policies that directly impact their lives and those of their communities. This empowerment translates into tangible changes in areas such as healthcare, education, gender-based violence, and economic opportunities.
- Addressing Gender-Specific Issues: Increased female representation in politics brings attention to gender-specific issues that may have been overlooked in the past. Women often advocate for policies related to maternal health, childcare, gender-based violence, and economic opportunities that directly affect women and families.
- Enhancing Decision-Making: Diverse perspectives lead to more comprehensive and balanced decision-making. When women are actively involved in policymaking, the resulting laws and regulations are more likely to consider the needs and interests of the entire population, not just a segment of it.
- Social and Cultural Change: Female political leaders can challenge traditional gender roles and norms, inspiring broader social and cultural change. Their presence in politics can help break down stereotypes and create a more inclusive and gender-equal society.
Criticism of the Bill:
The Bill has also faced some criticisms from various groups, who have raised concerns about its feasibility, desirability, and implications
Concerns about Existing Reservations
- Foremost is the concern that the Bill will create divisions among women based on caste, religion, region, and class.
- Some parties have demanded that within the 33 per cent reservation for women, there should be a sub quota for women from backward classes and minorities.
- Without such a provision, the Bill will benefit only upper-caste and urban women at the expense of lower-caste and rural women.
- However, some others have opposed this demand, on the ground that it will further fragment society along communal lines and undermine unity and solidarity among women.
Concerns about merit and competence of legislators
- By reserving seats for women based on gender alone, the Bill may compromise the quality and efficiency of governance.
- In some instances, women may be nominated by male relatives or patrons who will influence their decisions.
- Women candidates may lack the necessary experience, education, skills, and vision to perform their duties effectively.
- It may also lead to perpetual inequality as they would be perceived as not competing on merit.
Concerns about existing electoral system and political dynamics
- By reserving seats for women by rotation, the Bill may create instability and uncertainty in the electoral process.
- This may affect the continuity and accountability of legislators who will have to change their constituencies frequently.
- It may affect the loyalty and representation of voters who will have to choose from among different candidates every time.
- The Women’s Reservation Bill, with its goal of reserving 33% of seats for women in Parliament and legislative assemblies, represents a significant step toward achieving gender equality in Indian politics.
- However, overcoming political challenges and societal norms remains crucial for its successful implementation.
- Advocacy, public awareness, and consensus-building efforts are essential for moving forward with this important legislation.