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Women's Reservation Bill: Necessity And Benefits

The recent legislative milestone in India, known as The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill 2023 or the Women's Reservation Bill 2023, has been introduced in the Indian Parliament, signifying a noteworthy development in the legislative landscape.

This new legislation seeks to allocate 33 percent of the seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies, both directly elected bodies, exclusively for women. This initiative aims to enhance gender representation and promote women's active participation in the political decision-making process.

History of women's reservation bill
The Women's Reservation Bill, initially presented as the 81st Amendment Bill in 1996, marked the first attempt to institute 33% reservation for women in both the Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies. Despite being referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee, the bill faced an unfortunate fate as it lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.

Subsequent efforts to enact the bill unfolded in 1998 during the 12th Lok Sabha, where it was reintroduced. Unfortunately, similar to its earlier iteration, the bill met with limited support and lapsed once again.

Undeterred by previous setbacks, the bill resurfaced in 1999, 2002, and 2003, encountering repeated disappointments as it failed to gain the necessary traction.
A breakthrough occurred in 2008 when the bill found its way to the Rajya Sabha and secured passage in 2010. Despite this achievement, its journey was cut short as it was never introduced in the lower house, ultimately lapsing with the dissolution of the House.

Necessity of women's reservation bill
The current composition of women in the Indian Parliament reveals that out of the 542 Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha, 82 are women, accounting for 15.2%. Similarly, in the Rajya Sabha, there are 31 women out of 240 members, constituting 13%. Although there has been a notable increase in the number of women in Parliament since the inception of the 1st Lok Sabha when the representation was at 5%, India still lags behind several other nations in terms of gender diversity in legislative bodies.

Comparatively, global statistics from UN Women highlight more robust female representation in certain countries. Rwanda leads the way with 61% women in its legislature, followed by Cuba with 53%, and Nicaragua with 52%. Even Bangladesh (21%) and Pakistan (20%) surpass India in the proportion of women holding parliamentary seats. This data underscores the need for continued efforts to enhance gender representation in Indian politics, aligning it more closely with international standards of inclusivity.

The proposed bill encompasses several key features aimed at enhancing the representation of women in various legislative bodies.

Reservation for Women

  1. Reservation for Women in the Lower House:

    The bill introduces a new provision, Article 330A, inspired by the existing Article 330, which addresses the reservation of seats for SCs/STs in the Lok Sabha. Under this provision, seats reserved for women will be allocated on a rotational basis across different constituencies within states or Union Territories. For seats reserved for SCs/STs, the bill proposes reserving one-third for women on a rotational basis.
  2. Reservation for Women in State Legislative Assemblies:

    The legislation introduces Article 332A, mandating the reservation of seats for women in every state Legislative Assembly. Within this framework, one-third of the seats reserved for SCs and STs will be earmarked for women. Furthermore, one-third of the total seats filled through direct elections to the Legislative Assemblies will also be reserved for women.
  3. Reservation for Women in NCT of Delhi (New Clause in 239AA):

    The Union Territory of Delhi, being the national capital, holds a distinctive status under Article 239AA of the constitution, delineating special provisions for its administrative and legislative functions. A notable amendment introduced by the bill involves Article 239AA(2)(b), specifying that laws enacted by Parliament shall extend to the National Capital Territory of Delhi. This modification further solidifies the legal framework governing Delhi's governance and underscores its unique constitutional position.
  4. Commencement of Reservation (New Article - 334A):

    The implementation of the reservation will take effect after the census conducted following the commencement of the bill has been published. Delimitation based on this census will be carried out to reserve seats for women. The reservation will be in effect for a stipulated period of 15 years, but it can continue beyond this period as determined by a law enacted by Parliament.
  5. Rotation of Seats:

    A significant aspect of the bill involves the rotation of seats reserved for women after each delimitation. The specific details of this rotation will be determined by a law enacted by Parliament, providing a dynamic approach to women's representation in legislative bodies.

Women in Parliament
Global Female Representation in Parliament (May 2022): As of May 2022, the global average for female representation in national parliaments stands at 26.2%.
Women in Indian Parliament (17th Lok Sabha): In India, the trajectory of female representation in Parliament has seen growth from 5% in the inaugural Lok Sabha to the current 15% in the 17th Lok Sabha, comprising 82 women MPs.

State Legislative Assemblies (SLAs) in India: However, the average representation of women in State Legislative Assemblies (SLAs) nationwide is notably lower, accounting for only 8%. Despite this, the 2023 elections marked a milestone for Nagaland, securing its first two women MLAs. Conversely, Mizoram has not witnessed a woman MLA in the past seven Assemblies.

Women in Panchayats: Shifting the focus to local governance, Bihar took a pioneering step in 2006 by implementing 50% reservation for women in panchayat bodies. Presently, over 20 states have adopted the same policy, emphasizing gender inclusivity at the grassroots level.

India's Standing Among BRICS Nations: Comparing India's female representation to fellow BRICS nations, including the recent additions, India ranks second-lowest with a representation of 15%. This places India just above Iran, which lags significantly with a mere 6% representation of women in its national parliament.

Women's Reservation in Politics
The issue of women's reservation has been around since the independence struggle. Even during the Constituent Assembly debates, the issue had come up but it was rejected on the grounds that a democracy would accord equal representation to all groups of people. However, in the post-independence decades, there was no improvement in the representation of women in politics and the numbers continued to be poor.

In 1971, the Committee for the Status of Women in India was established which talked about the declining women's representation in Indian politics.

Even though the Committee was against the reservation of women in legislative bodies, it was for the reservation of women in local bodies.

After this, a few state governments started providing reservations for women in local bodies.

In 1988, the National Perspective Plan for Women suggested reservations be provided to women from the Panchayat to the Parliament level.

Accordingly, the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution were passed which led to the state governments mandatorily having to reserve one-third of the seats of the Panchayats and the urban local bodies for women.

Of the reserved seats for women, one-third are reserved for SC/ST women.

Currently, many states such as Kerala, Maharashtra, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand provide legal provisions to ensure 50% reservation for women in local bodies.

Benefits of the Women's Reservation Bill:

  • Empowering Women Politically: Recognized as a potent and essential instrument, the bill plays a crucial role in dismantling gender inequality and discrimination, facilitating the political empowerment of women.
  • Advancing Gender Equity: The bill's implementation translates into an increase in the number of women representatives in both Parliament and State Assemblies, contributing significantly to the realization of gender equity.
  • Social Development: Leveraging the leadership experiences of women in family life, the bill becomes a catalyst for societal development, with women contributing valuable perspectives to governance.
  • Impactful Women Leadership: Findings from a 2001 study in West Bengal underscore the positive impact of women's leadership. Women leaders are shown to prioritize investments in infrastructure that directly address the needs of rural women, such as water and fuel.
  • Electoral Advantage: The strategic nomination of women candidates from minority communities presents an electoral advantage, fostering diversity and inclusively in the political arena.

Concerns Associated with the Women's Reservation Bill:

  • Proxy Representation: An apprehension exists that women candidates may be used as proxies or puppets by politically influential husbands or relatives, leading to indirect control and manipulation.
  • Delays in Implementation: Linking the bill with the delimitation exercise raises concerns about significant delays before the quota becomes effective. Operationalizing it in the Lok Sabha before the 2029 general elections might face obstacles, especially considering the delays in the 2021 census due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • OBC Inclusion Demand: Calls to extend women's reservation to Other Backward Classes (OBCs), constituting a substantial portion of the population, have been voiced. This demand stems from the recommendations of the Joint Parliamentary Committee for the 1996 bill.
  • Ambiguity in Seat Identification: The bill lacks specificity on how reserved seats for women will be identified, raising concerns about the practical implementation of the reservation.
  • Challenges with Rotating Constituencies: A study by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj has suggested discontinuing the rotation of constituencies at the panchayat level. This recommendation is based on the observation that a significant number of women elected were first-timers, and rotation limited the chances of re-election.
As of now, the representation of women in the Indian Parliament remains at 15.2% in the Lok Sabha and 13% in the Rajya Sabha. While there has been an increase from the 1st Lok Sabha's 5% women representation, India falls behind other nations in achieving gender diversity in legislative bodies. Comparisons with countries like Rwanda, Cuba, and Nicaragua, where women occupy over 50% of seats, underscore the need for further efforts to enhance gender representation in Indian politics.

The Women's Reservation Bill emerges as a powerful catalyst for societal transformation by empowering women politically and advancing gender equity. As a crucial instrument in dismantling gender-based inequalities, the bill fosters meaningful participation of women in both Parliament and State Assemblies, enriching governance with diverse perspectives.
  The positive impact of women's leadership, highlighted by studies such as the one in West Bengal, underlines their commitment to addressing the specific needs of communities, particularly in rural areas.

Furthermore, the electoral advantage arising from strategic nominations contributes to a more inclusive political landscape, promoting diversity and representation from minority communities. Overall, the Women's Reservation Bill stands as a pivotal step towards building a more equitable and inclusive political sphere.

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