Research ArticleConstitutional Law

Women’s Reservation in Parliament- Long Way To Go From Bill To Act.


Author : Vaishnavi Yadav, 2nd year student at Faculty of Law, University of Allahabad.

Abstract

Feminism, by definition, is the belief in social, economic, and political equality of the sexes nonetheless women are often underrepresented in society and now with the rise of feminism, women took a stand for themselves and have achieved equality in many fields yet, there are so many issues that go ignored and equal representation in politics is one of them. Women’s Reservation in parliament will surely erase the gap between men and women in politics. There are still so many women who are caged under the name of patriarchy. Women need to be given equal representation in politics. The simple idea of the reservation is to empower the people and motivate them to participate. Even lots of research has shown that women score higher than men in leadership skills.

In this article, the author will talk about how the idea of the women’s reservation bill came and how it has been tabled for more than 20 years. While talking about the history of the bill the author will also enumerate the merits of the bill and why it has not become an act yet. The author will also throw light on how the bill will affect gender equality in politics in the long run. Looking at other countries, authors and readers will get to know how reservation has uplifted women’s position politically and what India can learn from them.

INTRODUCTION

The Society that has always depicted men as leaders and women as their submissive. Men being the sailor of the ship named power and women merely restricted to household chores but the time does not stand still, women are now awake and they have a list full of demands that need to go fulfilled.

We need stronger and empowered women and Jacinda Arden, the Prime Minister of New Zealand is one such strong woman, she received much praise all over the world for controlling the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus so effectively.

Sana Mirella Marin was the youngest prime minister of the world and was appointed as PM of Finland in 2019. She is the kind of leader the world wants, by entering in the field of decision-making challenges the world run by men that women too can run the world. To the people who think that women are the weaker sex and they can be no good leaders she is the perfect example.

India too has witnessed such a story of strong women leaders in the past but the participation has always been low and that is exactly where we have to work. To state that legislation has not done anything would be a total lie. The right to equality is enshrined in the Constitution of India[1] which proponents that people of India would not be discriminated against based on sex, caste, creed, religion, and gender and to achieve this, the legislation has acted very positively. The 73rd and 74th Amendments ensure that quotas should be reserved for women in Panchayat elections and this step has been very fruitful for the women belonging to deprived society and due to this only they have stepped out of their usual role as homemakers and it made women politically stronger than before.

The astonishing fact that came to focus is of the 543 Members of parliament (MPs) only 62 are women in the current Lok Sabha.This is a mere 11 percent representation for the 49 percent people of India i.e. women[2]. On the other hand, the 51 percent population, i.e. men, have a massive representation of 89 percent in the parliament[3]. Isn’t it unfair?

The BJP manifesto that was released before elections by the party included the Women’s Reservation Bill on page 32, item 14, which promises that “Women’s welfare and development will be accorded high priority at all levels within the government and the BJP is committed to 33% reservation in parliament and State Assemblies through a constitutional amendment” and they have claimed several times that the government will be working towards the betterment of women. However, the promise has remained unfulfilled by several other parties in the past that we chose for our empowerment.[4]

“If women claim freedom and equality with men there will be an end of our civilization”, are the exact words of Loknath Misra recorded in the Constituent Assembly Debates. Doesn’t this sound misogynist? Yes, it surely does and after this to argue that women have attained equality in various fields is far from the truth. Some even have that misconception that women can not walk with men shoulder to shoulder. This orthodoxical stigma needs to be broken down that is deeply rooted in society. The Country has failed to provide equal opportunities to women in various fields. Women have always been down-trodden by lack of access to healthcare, lack of employment and low levels of education, and low social status which manifests in a crime of domestic violence, dowry, female foeticide. And these are the issues that can be gravely understood by women. And knowing the pain of being called the weaker sex, women in power will know how to tackle these deep-rooted crimes and stereotypical minds.

The Women’s Reservation Bill

Women’s Reservation in parliament is as old as time that has been put in cold storage for a very long time. The Bill is a pending bill in the Lok Sabha that proposes to amend the Constitution of India reserving one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha & State Legislative Assemblies but it looks like equality in every sphere of life will remain a dream for many. The Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010, and placed on the table of Lok Sabha. Regarding Women’s Reservation in politics, the Constitution has been amended before i.e, the 73rd and 74th Amendments passed in 1993 which reserved seats in Panchayats and Municipal Bodies in urban and rural local bodies. In 1996, 1998, and 1999, Constitution Amendment Bills were introduced to reserve seats for women in parliament and state legislative assemblies. The 1996 Bill was examined by a Joint Committee of parliament. All the three Bills lapsed with the dissolution of their respective Lok Sabhas.[5]

Journey of the Bill

The Women’s reservation bill in parliament was first introduced by Deve Gowda of the United Front Government in 1996. The idea of reserving seats in parliament for women came after the 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Indian Constitution but the bill failed to become an act and in 1998, the NDA government introduced the bill but failed to give it success. Again after that the bill was reintroduced in 1992,2002 and 2003 and failed every time. In March 2010, Rajya Sabha passed the bill but still is left in Lok Sabha to assent to. And after that Lok Sabha never talked about it and is still in Lok sabha.

Highlights of the Bill[6]

The Bill which seeks the One Hundred and Eighth Amendment (108th) in the Constitution of India demands the reservation of 33% seats (One-Third of all seats) for women in Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies. One-third of the total number of seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for women of those groups in the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies. There will be the rotation of reserved seats to different constituencies in the state or union territory. After the amendment of the act has been assented the reservation will cease to exist for 15 years.

The report that examines the 1996 Women’s Reservation Bill recommended that reservation should also be provided for women of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) once the constitution was amended to allow for reservation for OBCs i.e., quota under quota. It was also recommended that reservation should be extended to the Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils. However, these recommendations were not included in the bill.[7]

Arguments against the Bill

The Bill lacked the Political consensus in Lok Sabha and failed to become an act and on that various members of Lok Sabha throws various points on not accepting the reservation in parliament-

A survey found that female panchayats are less aware of the functioning of the Panchayati system than their male counterparts.[8] Some were contending that the quotas should be fixed for the backward class of the society within the 33% reservation. Otherwise, women belonging to the upper class will corner the women of the rest of society. [9] While some suggested that the Election Commission should make it mandatory for parties to reserve 33& seats for women which will bring equity in politics and the deserving would get the seat rather than on gender. [10]

Others are of the view that if the bill is passed and the 33 percent reservation for women is added to the previously existing 22.5 percent for scheduled castes and tribes, then more than 55 percent of seats in parliament would be reserved[11]

What came shocking to the sight that the members do not believe this reservation will empower women. Reserving one-third of the seats in our legislatures would undoubtedly bestow special powers and privileges on the approximately 180 women who would make it to parliament and many more to State legislatures on the strength of the quota system. It would also create new aspirations among women at large. However, the question lies before us: whether it will empower ordinary women citizens. Has the presence of 500 plus male legislators in parliament empowered the men of India? Have these MPs facilitated the growth of men’s freedom from abuse and harassment? Freedom from hunger and malnutrition? Do men feel secure and safe in today’s India? If most men in this country have not benefited from the existing presence of male parliamentarians, why should we naively believe that 180 women in parliament will change the fate of women in India? [12]

While some philanthropists argued that the reservation in parliament for women is against the democratic principles of election and it will affect the merit-based election which will create an unequal status of women as they won’t be elected on merits. It was also argued that further reservation will disrupt the selection of members on merit and will affect the deprived section of society.

After having a long discussion over the bill it was concluded that the bill is flawed and will affect the larger part of society.

Why does India need this Bill and What is the purpose of reservation and how will it affect India in the long run?

When we dig into history, the interesting point that came to notice is India has witnessed only a handful of women having power in politics. From a statistical point, India has seen one female President, one female Prime Minister, sixteen Chief Ministers, and zero Vice-Presidents and if it doesn’t shake you I don’t know what else will. This clearly shows the very condition of women in politics.

In the 2014 batch of Lok Sabha, of the 35 states and Union Territories (UTs), 15(Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Jammu Kashmir, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal) have no women MPs. The proportion of women MPs increased in only 9 states between 2004 and 2009[13] and

the rest have either remained the same since the last election or decreased. Between 2009 and 2014, barring West Bengal, there has been a fall in the proportion of female members in the parliament[14]. West Bengal has the maximum proportion (28.6 percent) of female members (12 seats in 2014) in the Lok Sabha[15]

The 2016 Assembly elections report, compared to 2011, show that except Assam (8 MLAs), the rest of the states i.e. Kerala (8 MLAs), Tamil Nadu (17 MLAs), West Bengal (40 MLAs) show an increase in the number of seats won by women.[16]

The low participation of women in politics makes the reservation point even stronger, however, in the past the bill was rejected during the framing of the Constitution, some women members argued against reservation for women[17]. While on other hand some advocated the reservation point too, in 1974, the Report of the Committee on Status of Women highlighted the low number of women in political bodies and recommended that seats be reserved for women in panchayats and municipal bodies.[18] Two dissenting members( Lotika Sarkar and Vina Mazumdar) of the Committee supported the reservation of seats in all legislative bodies. The National Perspective Plan for Women (1988) recommended a quota of 30% in panchayats, municipalities, and political parties[19]. The National Policy for Empowerment of Women (2001) stated that reservation shall also be considered in higher legislative bodies[20]

The United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) National Common Minimum Programme includes reservation of one-third of seats in parliament for women[21]

Keeping aside the fact that India needs Reservation for women, the point of focus is why do they need it? Why Politics? Will this lead to Empowerment?

The equality of sexes we talk about is not a reality in India and to overcome these affirmative actions are required and fixing quotas will help women to make them believe that they can be part of the decision body.

A study in 2008 shows that a marginal proportion of women who were representatives felt an enhancement of self-confidence and in decision making.

A study on the effect of reservation for women shows that women elected under the fixed quotas i.e, reservation policy invests more in the betterment of public lives emphasizing more on women’s concerns.

Women voters are higher than men but women representation in politics is still low. The sole reason behind this low participation is the patriarchal mindset of society that women are only homemakers, even now some women of rural areas are not allowed to step out of their houses. Yes, the stereotype still exists. It is often assumed that politics involve violence and muscle power and that fears the women to participate in politics. Some also argue that women have no knowledge of politics and they can’t handle it which loses the confidence of women.

According to a study by United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER): Women legislators in India raised economic performance in their constituencies by about 1.8 percentage points per year more than male legislators.Women legislators in India raise luminosity growth (measures of night-time lights visible from space) in their constituencies by about 15 percentage points per annum more than male legislators. According to a study by Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), women representatives were more concerned about issues like water supply and road connectivity than men. Another survey conducted in Tamil Nadu indicated that nearly 30% of women opined that after the system of rotation will be over, they would contest from the same seat. Another 15% said that they would enter mainstream politics if given a chance.

Countries with Women’s Reservation Bill/Act (Sharing a contrast between India and other Countries)

Globally, the concept of reservation in parliament has been widely accepted and 16% of the world’s parliamentarians are women, around 40 countries have introduced gender quotas in elections to national parliaments, either through constitutional amendment or by changing the electoral laws.[22] India claiming that they have worked for women betterment in various spheres of life is no lie but declaring today that women do take part in politics equally is a total lie, as per World Bank data, in 2015, India has 12% participation in national parliament (66 women in the Lok Sabha, making up 12.6 percent of all members, and 28 women, or 11.5 percent, in the Rajya Sabha women), as compared to countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Nepal and Pakistan which have 28%, 20%, 27%, 33% and 21% women participation in their parliaments respectively. Positively speaking, soon after the independence in the first Lok Sabha election women constituted not more than 4.4% of total strength. This was just after independence where history shows that a large number of women participated in the independence movement but when it comes to politics the participation was very low. We cannot constitute the true reason behind the low participation but what we can gather is women lacked motivation at that time. And now the participation rose to 12% in national parliament even though we can not consider this an achievement as India was ranked one hundred and forty-ninth out of 193 countries in terms of the share of women among elected representatives, behind its neighbors Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.[23] According to a report published by the United Nations, “Women In Politics” in 2017, the rank of India was 148th in the category of “Women in Politics”, and at 88th position in the ‘Women at Ministerial position’ category. [24] In contrast to India, more than 100 countries have introduced action policies for women in politics after the World Conference for Women, held in Beijing in 1995 in the last two decades.

The problem that arose, will reservation ensure the proper representation of women in politics? Following the issue faced with equal representation, in an editorial, The Economics Times suggested that there should be a tactical shift towards other areas of the institutional life of women rather than only politics.

Norway has fixed a 40% quota for women on boards of its companies which is a good start and also it came to be successful as Norway came in 13th place on the ‘share of women in the parliament of other global countries’. More than 41% of all representatives elected for the Norweigian parliament held in 2017 were women.[25]

Countries like Argentina, Mexico, and Costa Rica, have legislated party quotas and have over 36% female representation in their national legislatures.[26]

Those who are still in doubt that will reservation ensure equal representation should know that global experiences have shown that the voluntary political party quota system has not improved the participation of women to a marginal extent and on the opposite side the fixed quota system has done well and it improved the representation of women.

In Rwanda, when introducing the quota nearly 50% of women won and the percentage rose to 64% while the fixed quota was only 30%. Denmark, Iceland, and Sweden are the countries well known for their higher women’s representation in politics and the only reason behind this participation is Gender Quota.

Viewing the data and experiences from different countries, it became vital to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill.

CONCLUSION

Women’s Reservation in parliament is the need of the hour, and it is time legislation should stop excusing and give assent to the bill. This is the time people should realize that politics is a shared responsibility of all the genders and instead of dominating an area both the gender should hold hand and work for the betterment of society. Now is the time the legislation should start discussing the rightful participation of women in decision-making.

There are ‘women issues’ which can only be understood from a woman’s standpoint.

2014 was hailed as the year of ‘woman manifestos’, with all major parties vying for 33% reservation for women in parliament and state assemblies. 2019 was no different. The BJP places it high on its list of priorities and yet, five and a half years after it has come to power, there has been no mention of it.[27]

So many people who support this bill, even Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Indian Law Minister, received around 270 letters from civil society activists on Women Reservation in parliament ahead of the first Lok Sabha Session of 2019.

And now is the time women should look for a larger picture of their equality that can make them enter the arena of politics and emerging victorious and create an impact on the incoming generation. Now is the time for political empowerment as only women with power can understand the women with no power.

And women should also realize that maybe someday it is she who is governing the country, she should remove the veil and start leading people.

Recalling the words of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in his book, “India: Economic Development & Social Opportunity”, “Women’s Empowerment can positively influence the lives not only of women themselves but also of men and of course, those of children.


REFERENCES

  1. India Const. art. 14.
  2. http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011census/population_enumeration.aspx accessed in July 2016.
  3. Menon R. Rajini, Why is passing the Women’s Reservation Bill urgent?, OXFam India (Jul. 15, 2016), https://www.oxfamindia.org/blog/why-passing-womens-reservation-bill-urgent.
  4. Roy Pragya, Why The Women’s Reservation Bill Is The Need Of The Hour?, Feminism in India (Jun. 18, 2019), https://feminisminindia.com/2019/06/18/women-reservation-bill/.
  5. Sanyal Kaushiki, Legislative Brief: The Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008, (Sept. 3, 2008) https://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Constitution%20Eighth/bill184_20080923184_Legislative_Brief____Womens_reservation_Bill_final.pdf.
  6. Ibid.
  7. India: The Women’s Reservation Bill, https://www.wikigender.org/wiki/india-the-womens-reservation-bill/.
  8. Reservation to women in Parliament, Next IAS (Aug. 25, 2020), https://blog.nextias.com/reservation-to-women-in-parliament.
  9. Reservation of seats for women in Legislative bodies:Perspective, https://rajyasabha.nic.in/rsnew/publication_electronic/reserv_women_pers2008.pdf.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Iype George, Women’s Bill: What is the fuss about?, Rediff News, (Aug. 24 2005), https://www.rediff.com/news/2005/aug/24spec2.htm.
  12. Kishwar Madhu, The Logic of Quotas? Women’s Movement splits on the Reservation Bill’, Manushi, Issue No. 107, Jul-Aug 1998, https://www.manushi-india.org/pdfs_issues/PDF%20Files%20107/8.%20The%20Logic%20of%20Quotas.pdf.
  13. http://eci.nic.in/eci_main1/ElectionStatistics.aspx.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Gupta Alok, 61 women make it to Lok Sabha in 2014 against 59 in 2009, Down To Earth (May 19, 2014), http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/61-women-make-it-to-lok-sabha-in-2014-against-59-in-2009–44447 accessed in July 2016.
  16. http://genderinpolitics.org/statewise-trends-of-women-mlas-in-state-legislative-assemblies/ .
  17. Kaur Amrit, Memorandum on Minorities (March 20, 1947) and Report of the Provincial Constitution Committee, June-July 1947, The Framing of India’s Constitution: Select Documents, (ed) B. Shiva Rao, 1967; and 18th July, 1947, Constituent Assembly Debates (Proceedings) Volume IV, https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/144509967.pdf.
  18. Towards Equality: Report of the Commission on the Status of Women in India (Chairperson: Smt Phulrenu Guha), Ministry of Education and Social Welfare, Department of Social Welfare, Government of India, 1974.
  19. National Perspective Plan for Women – 1988-2000, Report of the Core Group set up by the Department of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, 1988.
  20. National Policy for Empowerment of Women, 2001, Department of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.
  21. National Common Minimum Programme of the Government of India, May 2004, http://pmindia.nic.in/cmp.pdf.
  22. Pal Satrupa, Politics of Women’s Reservation in India, Vol. 1, Issue 3, International Journal of Humanities & Social Science Studies (IJHSSS), 118-122, Nov. 2014, http://www.ijhsss.com/files/Satarupa-Pal%2C-full-paper_7798jkm9.pdf.
  23. Promise: Introducing 33-percent reservation in parliament and state assemblies via constitutional amendment, The Caravan, https://caravanmagazine .in/modimeter/women-the-nation-builder/reservation.
  24. Women’s Reservation Bill (Apr 2019), https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-editorials/women-s-reservation-bill.
  25. Statistica Research Department, Share of the women in Norweigen Parliament from 1945 to 2017 (May 30, 2020), https://www.statista.com/statistics/741351/share-of-women-in-the-norwegian-parliament/.
  26. Dang Geetika, Women’s Reservation Bill:What can India learn from other countries? (Oct. 18, 2019), https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2019/10/18/womens-reservation-bill-what-can-india-learn-from-other-countries/.
  27. Singh Abha, Let’s talk women’s reservation, Dec. 18, 2019, https://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column-let-s-talk-women-s-reservation-2805945

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