We’re aware of the fact that women in India are massively underrepresented in the Parliament and State assemblies. Women’s percentage in the 542-member Lok Sabha and 245-member Rajya Sabha is only 11.6% and 11% respectively. These figures remain despite the fact that women make up to nearly half the country’s population.

There are many who’ll debate in the name of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. The question to them is — is that enough? Does a mere couple of portfolios represent the real picture of where women stand in the country’s governance? This is an important issue which the Parliament acknowledged long ago, but has failed to address in all its meaning.

Women’s Reservation Bill

Also known as the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, this Bill seeks to ensure that 33 per cent of the seats in the Lok Sabha as well as in state legislative Assemblies are reserved for women. It also seeks to reserve one-third of all seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, for women belonging to those groups, in both Lok Sabha and State legislatures.

This was introduced by the UPA government in 2008. It came closest to reality when it was passed in Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010. Although the Rajya Sabha had passed the bill, the Lok Sabha did not vote on it and it therefore lapsed with the Congress-led UPA government losing power in the 2014 elections. Had it been acted upon, seats would have been reserved on a rotation basis with no seat being reserved more than once in three consecutive general elections.

Why it’s important now more than ever

Since then, there has been absolutely no effort made for the political inclusion of more women. Sadly, as per data by Women in Politics 2017 Map, launched recently by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women, India ranks 148 of the 193 governance-listed countries in terms of representation of women in politics. We also rank 88 in the number of women ministers with only 18.5 % in the cabinet.

As per a report in Association for Democratic Reforms, Bihar and Rajasthan have the highest percentage of women in their State assemblies with 14% each.

The top five countries with the largest share of women ministers are in Europe and America. Bulgaria, France, Nicaragua, Sweden and Canada have crossed the 50% mark of women in ministerial positions. These results showcase a huge commitment for women’s upliftment at the political level.

It has been acknowledged, world over, that women’s representation in government is largely beneficial in resolving complex issues, especially at a time when everyone’s collectively fighting for gender parity and women’s rights

The delay, yet again

Back at the time, when the Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha during UPA’s tenure, the BJP supported it too. Therefore, in plain simple terms, introducing it now should be much easier now that they’re in power.

As opposed to promises made, the governments have done very little to build an environment and system that ensure a sound working towards increased female participation. Sure, the Parliament of India has a Committee for Empowerment of Women, but, despite this, the facts above stated remain. The committee has a restricted ordinance and does not go beyond suggesting minor improvements to the already existing welfare programmes.

The working of 73rd and 74th Amendment Act of the Constitution, which reserves one-third of all seats in panchayats and urban local bodies for women does little to cover the lack of representation in bodies that actually determine and facilitate important policy decisions.

Opinions

“Women’s Reservation Bill is something which the country needed yesterday rather than we fighting for it today. Women make up close to fifty percent of the country population. Now, if you look at their participation in policy processes, governance at the centre&state and other important positions of power, where they can become instruments and catalysts of change, this participation is negligible. Therefore, to fill this missing link, we need the Reservation Bill. We’ve attempted it time and again earlier, where we’ve brought in the 73rd and 74th amendment, making it imperative that locals governments have one-third female participation; and we’ve seen the impact that it has had, as women have gone out to participate in local, municipal and panchayati elections and taken over important responsibilities. If we look at India’s place in the world, we’re way below in women participation parameters. We’re below SAARC countries and most neighbouring countries as well in terms of female representation in politics. It’s time that India, which speaks about women equality and empowerment, should also take them along.” – Priyanka Chaturvedi, National Spokesperson, Indian National Congress 

“33% reservation in the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women is something that I support. Just imagine what a disruption would it have been in the patriarchal society of ours. Rules being followed for millennia would have been flipped. At panchayat and municipal body level women participation has increased because of 50% reservation. Hope we soon have a government at centre which will be serious about empowering women and not just talking about it.” – Ankit Lal, Author, India Social, and Social media and IT head, AAP

“Reservation or no reservation, but making women politically empowered is most necessary because unless women are there in decision making bodies things won’t move faster where the pending decisions about gender laws and regulations are concerned. Giving reservation is important but with that, it is also important that women who have made their own place in politics come forward and not because of their family links. We have to prepare women for political fields so that when they get the opportunity to work they are not dependent on their male relatives.” – Rekha Sharma, Chairperson, National Commission For Women

It is imperative that legislative and constitutional reforms are taken to ensure women’s due access to political domain. About time the Women’s Reservation Bill, guaranteeing 33% reservation to women, is brought back to discussion and implementation. An even greater political commitment is required for achieving the objective of political empowerment of women.
Bhawana is an intern with SheThePeople.TV
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