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Impact of gender reservation in Indian Urban Local Bodies (ULB)

  • Category
    Society
  • Published
    19th Oct, 2021

Context

Twenty-five years have passed (since the Bill for women reservation was first introduced in the parliament in 1996) but we are yet to realise the reservation of one-third of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies.

  • The women Reservation Bill continues to languish but the reservation in urban local bodies (ULBs) has made a significant contribution towards narrowing down the gender divide when it comes to women representation at the grass-roots level of democracy.

Background

  • Presently there are 79 women MPs in Lok Sabha as compared to 24 women members in the first Lok Sabha.
  • It needs to be appreciated but a lot more has to be done.
  • The scenario changes when it comes to urban local bodies.
  • The changes started taking shape as early as 1992, with the 74th constitutional amendment act came into existence, which pioneered gender reservation at the sub-national level.
India ranks 148th globally in terms of representation of women in executive government and parliament, according to a report published by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women.

Analysis

The 74th Constitutional Amendment of 1992 not only mandated gender reservation but also provided constitutional safeguards to the long due demand for ensuring female representation in the polity at the sub-national level. The relevant features are:

  1. It provided for the women reservation of not less than 33 percent of the total number of seats in the urban local bodies (ULBs) mandatory.
  2. Also, not less than 33 percent of seats are further reserved for the women belonging to SC/ST communities.
  3. At least 33 percent of the offices of chairpersons in urban local bodies are reserved for women.
  4. To ensure that the effect of the reservation is evenly spread across all the geographical areas of the city, the reserve seats are allotted to different territorial constituencies on a rotational basis.

    Article 243T(3):Not less than one third (including the number of seats reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes) of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every Municipality shall be reserved for women and such seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a Municipality.

Going a step ahead:

  • The constitution has only fixed the minimum percentage of gender reservation in urban local bodies (ULBs). But some states have exceeded this prescribed threshold and has provided 50 percent reservation for women in ULBs.
  • The states which make to this exclusive list are Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra and Tripura.
  • The election of women at the local government level, particularly from unreserved seats conveys the overwhelming presence of women in the above-mentioned states four states.

Benefits of gender reservation in Urban Local Bodies:

  • Bringing women into political domain: It has successfully brought out women from the kitchen and home and launched them into the domain of local politics.
  • Step towards gender equality: It has added to the cause of women’s empowerment and gender equality.
  • Career opportunity: Many liberated women have made a thoughtful decision to make politics a career and have exhibited abilities that are at par with male councillors.
  • Breaking stereotype: The constructive modifications brought by the women have enabled them to break the glass ceiling of gender prejudices held by society.
  • Social welfare: Community welfare, health and poverty reduction appeal to women and they are more likely to work on them with vigour.
  • Encouragement for others: Occupying positions like chairperson or mayor in statutory municipal committees has a multiplying effect that encourages other young women and girls.

What are the challenges in ensuring women participation in politics?

  • Poor implementation of reservation policies: Despite catapulting women into the arena of local polity, the gender reservation has failed to pave the path for women to move into the state and national politics.
    • Presently there are less than 15 percent women legislators in parliament and assemblies.
  • Gender inequalities within party structure: The existence of gender inequalities in party hierarchies has kept women away from key governance posts. It has to some extent negated the impact of the effective implementation of women reservations.
  • Proxies for male counterparts: Wide-spread tokenism exists within gender reserved seats where wives of the councillors have stepped into the shoes of husbands. By doing so the husbands continue to controls the wards as elected wives work as proxies for their husbands. The practice of “sarpanch pati” exercises undue influence on the work of their wives elected to power.

Going Beyond Women Empowerment:

  • Objectives of gender reservation in ULBs must see the bigger picture, which is more than ‘women empowerment’ and ‘gender justice’.
  • More focus on women-centric issues: Despite women constitutes almost half of the city population, it is unfortunate to see that no attention has been given by the women councillors to the problems which are mainly women-centric. Issues related to urban women needs should be given much-needed attention.
  • Improving the contribution: Steps need to be taken to towards improving the contribution of the women workforce in Indian cities.
  • Easy access to required service: Access to housing and public transport from homes to workplaces should be provided to both low wage employees and those who work from offices.
  • Strong support system: Women with small children need a support system that can take care of their children, enabling them to pursue employment activities.
    • Assistance through support services to women-led households, where they are the sole providers.
    • Shelter and support programmes for elderly and abandoned women. Also including the women that have been subjected to domestic violence.

Conclusion:

It is sad that not much has been done by the women councillors in the above-mentioned areas despite having significant representation in the ULBs. It suggests that there is a need for capacity building programmes tailored for women councillors to enable them to discharge the normal function of councillors and also focuses on the customised needs of women in the cities. The discrimination of women councillors from their own party and from the residents whom she represents needs to be stopped. Undeniably the gender empowerment and gender justice have played a significant role but they must get translated into ameliorating the lives of women in the urban centres. It must influence the process of recruitment by grassroots mobilisation of female constituents into politics.

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