The bill is a historic legislation which will improvement women empowerment and enable participation of women in India’s political process
In a historic moment, India’s Parliament has finally approved legislation reserving one-third of the seats in its powerful lower house and state legislatures for women. This monumental decision marks the end of a 27-year-long impasse over the bill, which had previously struggled to gain consensus among political parties.
While this move is a significant stride towards gender equality in Indian politics, it is important to note that it will not apply to the upcoming national elections in the following year.
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Instead, it will be implemented in the 2029 national elections, following a new census and adjustments to voting districts.
What does the bill say?
The bill mandates the allocation of one-third of all seats for women in various legislative bodies, including the Lok Sabha, state assemblies, and the federal territory of Delhi, which possesses an elected assembly.
Furthermore, this legislation extends its provisions to seats that are presently reserved for some of India’s most marginalized communities, namely the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. In the 545-member Lok Sabha, 131 seats are currently allocated for these communities, with a similar allocation occurring in various state assemblies.
Once put into effect, this reservation policy will remain in place for a duration of 15 years, although the possibility of extension remains at the discretion of parliament.
The determination of which specific seats will be reserved for women will be made through legislation enacted by parliament, and these reserved seats will undergo a rotation process at regular intervals.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed his government’s commitment to increasing women’s participation in the country’s development process. He celebrated the passage of the legislation and highlighted that his party had been working for three decades to ensure women’s participation in democracy through this law.
The lower house of Parliament passed the legislation with an overwhelming 454-2 vote, while the upper house followed suit with a unanimous 214-0 vote. This legislation has received support from all opposition parties, with many expressing disappointment over the delayed implementation and demanding its immediate application in the upcoming national elections.
Rahul Gandhi, a prominent leader of the opposition Congress party, criticized the delay, stating that the new legislation could be put into effect immediately and accused the government of adopting diversionary tactics. Sonia Gandhi, Ex-President, Congress Party and current lawmaker, echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that Indian women have been waiting for this opportunity for years and should not be asked to wait any longer.
India’s Progress Toward Gender Equality
India is a patriarchal society where women have long been marginalized in various aspects of life. While women constitute over 48% of the country’s population, their representation in Parliament is a mere 15.1%, far below the international average of 24%. Similarly, in state legislatures, women hold only about 10% of the seats.
The journey toward gender equality in Indian politics has been marked by significant challenges, but this recent legislation signals a positive change. It reflects a broader shift in Indian politics, where political parties are increasingly conscious of the need to be responsive to emerging constituencies, such as women.
India’s decision to reserve one-third of parliamentary and state legislative seats for women is a historic step toward achieving gender equality in the country’s political landscape. While the delay in its implementation until 2029 has raised concerns, it remains a significant milestone in the ongoing struggle for gender parity. As India continues to evolve and embrace inclusivity in its governance, the representation of women in politics is poised to increase, bringing about a more balanced and equitable democracy.
Globally, the representation of women in parliamentary lower houses is about 26%, a significant improvement from 11% in 1995, according to UN Women’s data. Only six nations, including Rwanda, Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico, New Zealand, and the United Arab Emirates, have achieved 50% or more women in parliament. India’s recent move is a step in the right direction to join this select group of nations working towards gender parity in politics.
Challenges and Criticisms
Despite the widespread support for this legislation, questions have been raised about the delay in its implementation until 2029. Some opposition members have questioned the government’s seriousness in ensuring gender parity by postponing it for another six years.
In the 1990s, India introduced a similar reservation for women in local organization elections, which has yielded mixed results. Critics argued that seats reserved for women would predominantly be occupied by the educated elite from urban areas, potentially leaving less educated and economically disadvantaged women underrepresented.
India’s passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill is a significant milestone in the country’s quest for gender equality in politics. While challenges in implementation remain, the bill’s approval marks a historic moment in the fight for better representation of women in India’s political landscape. It sends a powerful message that India is committed to empowering women and moving towards a more inclusive and equitable future. As the nation prepares for the upcoming general elections, the impact of this legislation on Indian politics will be closely watched both domestically and internationally.