The Women’s Reservation Bill in India seeks to reserve a certain percentage of seats in both the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for women. The primary aim of the bill is to enhance women’s political representation and participation in decision-making processes at the highest levels of government. Read here to learn the latest developments.
Indian Parliament passed the Women’s Reservation Bill on September 18, 2023. It is a landmark moment for gender equality, especially in terms of women’s political leadership.
The passage of the bill is testimony to India’s commitment to women-led development, for which it mobilized global support during its G20 Presidency in 2023.
The Women’s Reservation Bill 2023
The Women’s Reservation Bill 2023, officially titled The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill 2023, was introduced in the Parliament of India, marking a significant moment in the legislative arena.
The current legislation aims to reserve 33 per cent of seats in both the directly elected Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies exclusively for women.
It was historic as being the first bill considered in the newly inaugurated parliament building.
The women’s reservation would be implemented following the first delimitation, which is currently on hold until 2026.
Women’s Reservation Bill: History
The bill has its roots in the recommendations of various committees and commissions, including the National Commission for Women and the United Nations, which have advocated for increased women’s participation in politics.
The bill was first introduced in Parliament in the 1990s but has faced numerous challenges in the legislative process.
Over the years, the Women’s Reservation Bill has been introduced in Parliament multiple times but has not been passed into law. It has lapsed or been deferred several times due to political disagreements and resistance.
The bill has faced opposition from various quarters, including some political parties and lawmakers.
- Critics have raised concerns about its implementation, its potential impact on other marginalized groups, and whether it addresses the broader issue of women’s empowerment beyond political representation.
- Despite its challenges, the bill has received support from women’s rights activists, civil society organizations, and many women politicians. They argue that it is a necessary step to break down gender barriers in Indian politics.
- Supporters of the bill iterate that it will help address gender disparities in political representation and empower women to actively participate in policy formulation and decision-making. It is seen as a step toward achieving gender equality in politics.
Some states in India have taken independent measures to increase women’s representation in local governance. For example, several states have introduced a quota system to reserve seats for women in panchayats (local self-government bodies).
Objectives of the Bill
The proposed bill calls for the reservation of one-third (33.33%) of the total seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for women.
- It mandates 33 percent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha, the state Legislative Assemblies, and the Delhi Assembly.
- It also reserves one-third of seats for women within the existing SC and ST reservations.
- Seats will be reserved on a rotational basis, and reservations will cease after 15 years.
Criticism of the bill
Two reasons call for criticism of the 2023 Bill.
- First, the implementation schedule’s complexity. The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Act of 2023 would go into effect once “an exercise of delimitation is undertaken for this purpose after the relevant figures for the first Census taken after that date have been published,” according to the bill. The election cycle from which women will get their fair share is not specified.
- Second, the new Bill does not offer women’s reservation in the Rajya Sabha and state legislative councils, in keeping with the previous regimes. Women are currently underrepresented in the Rajya Sabha compared to the Lok Sabha. The Lower and Upper Houses must both adhere to the concept of representation.
Previously, numerous critical arguments against the reservation for women in politics had surfaced-
- Some argue that reservation policies can lead to tokenism, where women are seen as filling quotas rather than being genuinely supported and empowered.
- There can be resistance and backlash against women in leadership roles, which may not necessarily dismantle entrenched patriarchy.
- Reservation policies typically apply to political representation but may not address broader societal and cultural norms that perpetuate patriarchy.
- The effectiveness of reservation policies may vary for women of different social, economic, and cultural backgrounds. Intersectionality—the overlapping of multiple forms of discrimination—needs to be considered.
- Reservation policies may be a starting point, but achieving lasting change in gender equality requires addressing systemic issues beyond political representation.
Significance of the bill
The significance of the Women’s Reservation Bill in India is multifaceted and has far-reaching implications:
- Under Representation of Women in Legislature: Globally, women currently occupy only 26.7% of parliamentary seats and 35.5% of local government positions. Such a step by India, a large economy can have a positive impact globally as well.
- Gender Equality and Empowerment: The primary objective of the bill is to promote gender equality and empower women by providing them with adequate political representation. Women constitute nearly half of India’s population, and ensuring their participation in decision-making processes is a fundamental aspect of gender justice.
- Political Participation: The bill aims to increase the political participation of women at all levels of government. By reserving seats for women, it encourages women to enter politics, contest elections, and hold public office.
- Women’s Voices and Issues: Increased representation of women in legislatures ensures that women’s voices are heard on critical issues, including those related to women’s rights, education, health, and safety. It can lead to policies and legislation that address gender-based discrimination and violence.
- Women elected to political office can serve as role models for other women and girls, inspiring them to pursue leadership roles in various fields, including politics.
- Tackling Patriarchy: The reservation of seats for women challenges traditional gender roles and stereotypes, challenging the patriarchal nature of Indian politics and society.
- Gender Inclusive Governance: Research has shown that gender diversity in decision-making bodies, including legislatures, often leads to better governance and decision-making, as diverse perspectives and experiences are considered.
- Social and Economic Development: Empowering women politically can have positive effects on social and economic development. It can lead to policies that promote gender-sensitive development, improved access to education and healthcare for women, and increased economic opportunities.
- Addressing Gender Disparities: The bill can contribute to reducing gender disparities in various sectors, including education, employment, and healthcare, as women’s concerns and priorities are more likely to be addressed.
- International Commitments: India is a signatory to international agreements and conventions that call for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Implementing the Women’s Reservation Bill demonstrates India’s commitment to these international obligations.
- The bill encourages political parties to promote women leaders and give them opportunities to contest elections, which can lead to a more inclusive and diverse political landscape.
According to the United Nations, “This quota reserving 33% seats for women will leapfrog India into one of 64 countries around the world who have reserved seats for women in their national Parliaments. Typically, achieving a critical mass of 30 percent representation by women in Parliament is known to yield positive outcomes for women’s empowerment. However, we hope that implementing such reservations will ultimately lead to achieving 50 percent representation of women in Parliaments across the globe.”
It’s important to note that the Women’s Reservation Bill has faced opposition and debates within India’s political landscape.
Some critics argue that it might perpetuate tokenism, while others believe that it is necessary to address the underrepresentation of women in politics.
Reservation for women in politics can be a valuable tool in challenging patriarchy and promoting gender equality, but it should be part of a broader strategy that addresses cultural norms, education, economic empowerment, and social change to create a more inclusive and equitable society.
Additionally, the impact of such policies can vary, and their success depends on various factors, including their design and implementation.
Previous year question
Q. “The reservation of seats for women in the institutions of local self-government has had a limited impact on the patriarchal character of the Indian Political Process.” Comment. (2019 GS-2)
-Article by Swathi Satish