Around 50 per cent of India's population consists of women, but not even 15 per cent have made it as legislators in the Parliament and state Assemblies. West Bengal is the only state in India with a woman chief minister, while various bills that would have promoted female participation in the political process have failed to clear Parliament. Women continue to be left behind in the political stakes despite the current Lok Sabha comprising the largest-ever presence of women MPs, News18 reported.
Women Reservation Bill
The first Women Reservation Bill was introduced in the Parliament on September 2, 1996, by the United Front government led by HD Deve Gowda, which lost its way over time. The last Bill to be introduced was in 2008 in Rajya Sabha and later passed by the Upper House in 2010, but like the previous one, failed at the conclusion of the 15th Lok Sabha after the Lower House sat on it for four years. The Bill seeks amendment in the Indian Constitution to grant 33 per cent reservation to women in Parliament and State Assemblies.
During the year 1998-1999, two more Bills were introduced with the same motive, but the political parties failed to reach a consensus on the contents of such Bill. While the then Union law minister introduced the 2008 Bill in Rajya Sabha, some members in the Upper House tried to snatch it from the minister's hands, News18 reported.
Despite these unruly scenes, reservation for women in Parliament has been a crucial part of the manifestos of all the mainstream political parties. During the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, both BJP and Congress assured to give 33 per cent reservation of seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women.
However, when asked about steps taken by the Union government regarding the Bill, the then Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad of BJP, said that "the issue involved needs careful consideration on the basis of the consensus among all political parties before a Bill for amendment in the Constitution is brought before Parliament".
Idea Behind The Bill
The idea originated as a result of a constitutional amendment that took place in the year 1993. It said that one-third of sarpanch or council leader seats in the gram panchayat should be reserved for women.
As per the Bill, the reservation will be done on a rotational basis, with seats only reserved once in every three consecutive General Elections in India. It will be valid 15 years from the beginning of this Amendment Act.
Issues Faced Till Now
There is already reservation for women at the panchayat and municipal bodies level, with amendments to that effect having been passed in 1993. While some supported that the reservation system has had a positive impact on women's empowerment at the primary levels, it has also been criticised in a way that a profoundly patriarchal society like India only translates into rule by men by proxy.
The same argument was stated by people when the 2008 amendment Bill for women's reservation in Lok Sabha was introduced. According to PRS Legislative Research (PRS), the Bill would not change the inferiority among women since they would not be looked to be competing on merit." It also mentioned that voters' choices will be curbed with such reservation or will reduce the incentive for an MP to work for his constituency as he may be ineligible to seek re-election from that area if the reservation had a rotation policy and women reserved his seat for the next election.
Reportedly, Pakistan had 17 per cent reservation for women in its National Assembly since 2002. But it has eventually resulted in providing fewer tickets to females by their political parties when it comes to contesting from general seats, according to News18.
According to a study based on local-level reservations for women in India, more women tend to participate in village council meetings when the chair is a female and their concerns were also met. "Village councils with reserved female leaders invested more in drinking water infrastructure, roads, sanitation, repairing of schools, health centre repair, and irrigation facilities", the study stated.
But it pointed out that, "while studies have linked female political representation to changes in policy-making, other studies reveal using gender quotas to raise women's electoral representation may not be the most successful way to empower women and improve democracy".
Status Of Other Countries
As per the Inter-Parliamentary Union, women contribute at least half of the total membership of the lower chamber of national assemblies in only three countries globally, led by Rwanda. As for India, the Lok Sabha has 14.4 per cent of female members while the proportion in Rajya Sabha is a mere 11.2 per cent.
Countries like France, South Korea, and Nepal have passed laws mandating parties to reserve at least half of all tickets for females. In South Africa, it has managed to reach a high level of women's representation in the national assembly through voluntary adoption of quota by just one party.