Women reservation in Parliament

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    19th Mar, 2019

Issue

Context

  • Regional parties have decided that at least a third of their candidates in the Lok Sabha elections will be women.
  • Biju Janata Dal (BJD) declared 33% reservation for women in the forthcoming elections. While Trinamool Congress (TMC) declared to allocate 41% of Lok Sabha poll tickets to women.

Background

  • The Women’s Reservation Bill, 2008 that reserves 33% of seats in parliament for women was approved by the Rajya Sabha, but failed to find support in Lok Sabha.
  • According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union in 2014 women make up only 11.8 percent of the Indian Lok Sabha and 11.4 percent of Rajya Sabha
  • Among its South Asian neighbors, India ranks fifth in women’s political representation in parliament falling behind Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.
  • In 1952, women participation was as low as 5% of entire house. The growth to 11% even after 72 years into democracy has been slow and dismal.

Analysis

  • Feminizations of Indian politics: India was one of the earliest states in the world that saw female head of the state. Currently also females occupy important positions in cabinet in defense and foreign portfolio. Yet these inspiring examples are handful in relation to current share of females in Indian population which is around 49%.
  • According to the Economic Survey 2018, prevailing cultural attitudes regarding gender roles, domestic responsibilities, female illiteracy, lack of confidence or finances and the threat of violence, are just some of the obstacles women face
  • Domestic work and rearing children are still tasks primarily performed only by women. There is a huge stigma associated with women who choose to work, and even more for women who choose to join politics.
  • Thus low representation of women in the legislature can be traced to the patriarchal structure of Indian politics. In addition to this lack of reservation for women in parliament and state assemblies is due to unwillingness among political parties to give tickets to women, a general lack of awareness of electoral politics among women and the lack of family support.
  • Lack of Consensus: Lapse of Women reservation bill and its pending since last one decade has shown that politicians have failed to agree to 33% reservation as there is also debate among regional and national political parties over the percentage of reservation.
  • Why representation Matters: In 1994, India ratified the 73rd and the 74th amendments to the Indian Constitution, granting women 1/3 reservation in rural and urban democratic bodies. Women leaders of panchayat (village councils) often serve as positive role models for many girls. Women sarpanchs accounted for 43 per cent of total gram panchayats (GPs) across the country, exhibiting active leadership of women in local government.
  • Economic development and women empowerment: Some of the most economically advanced countries like USA grapple with skewed gender ratio in Parliament. It does not reach global gender average of 24% of lower house seats by women. On the other hand in Rwanda around two third of its seats are held by women, it is the highest female representation in parliament. Countries like Bolivia and Cuba also have more women in parliament than men. This shows that level of economic development does not necessarily promise women a place in legislatures as some advanced societies too can be plagued by gender bias and political unwillingness. Even when women enter they are often given junior roles, and usually restricted to “soft issue” portfolios, such as social affairs and family. Thus what truly makes a difference is that gender quotas are sincerely implemented. As happened with reservation at village bodies and municipalities through 73rd and 74th amendment act. It was seen that women panchayat leaders are more likely to invest in priorities for women because they understand and share these priorities. States like Odisha and Bihar 19 other states, have increased this reservation to 50% from 33%. Thus Political empowerment can be the first step towards a more inclusive and equal society
  • Women are emerging as a strong political force in Indian democracy with this they must have bigger voice in decision making. However this has to start with gender sensitization at school and college level. Discriminatory attitude and gender stereotyping is the result of many years of social conditioning which can be broken with inspiring examples and political support.
  • Globally, some women are beating the odds to rise to high political office. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, the longest serving female head of government. Nancy Pelosi has become the most powerful women in American politics. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has proved that motherhood is no barrier to the top job, becoming the second leader in history to give birth while in office.

Way Forward

  • Women reservation bill or issues related to women political participation should not just be confined to time of elections. It should be in fact part of political discourse throughout.
  • Lack of confidence and finance among women should be addressed to encourage more participation from them.
  • Bottoms up approach can help in removing entry barriers for women. Political parties should nominate more women in their internal working committee and field more women candidates during elections.
  • While women contribute about 50% to Indian population. 33% is an under representation in legislatures. Efforts must be made to push for percentage that adequately represents the dreams and aspirations of women.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:
Empowerment of women is a major issue in Indian political discourse but is not limited to politics only. Do you agree?

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