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General Studies 2 >> Polity




1. Context

A day before her appearance in front of the Enforcement Directorate in the Delhi liquor policy case, Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) leader K.Kavitha launched a six-hour hunger strike on March 10, 2023 seeking early passage of the long-pending Women's Reservation Bill. The protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi was inaugurated by Communist Party of India(Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury.

2. History of Political Reservation for women in India

  • The issue of reservation for women in politics can be traced back to the Indian national movement.
  • The issue of women's reservation came up in Constituent Assembly debates as well, but it was rejected as being unnecessary. It was assumed that democracy would accord representation to all groups.
  • For instance, the committee on the Status of Women in India, set up in 1971, commented on the declining political representation of women in India.
  • Though a majority within the committee continued to be against reservation for women in legislative bodies, all of them supported reservation for women in local bodies.
  • Slowly, many state governments began announcing reservations for women in local bodies.
  • The 73rd (the Panchayats) and 74th (the Municipalities) Constitutional Amendment, enacted in 1992, introduced local self-governance introduced in rural and urban India.
  • According to Article 243D, One-third of the total number of seats should be reserved for women. One-third of the seats reserved for the SCs and STs should also be reserved for women. One-third of the offices of chairpersons at all levels should be reserved for women. This is a significant step towards women's empowerment in India at a grass-root level.
  • The reservations under the 73rd and 74th Amendments are rotational in nature i.e., for a certain period, certain panchayats or municipalities should be reserved for women on a rotational basis.
  • Currently, 14 states have 50-58% representation of women in Panchayats. Jharkhand is the highest with 58%, closely followed by Rajasthan and Uttrakhand.

3. What is the Women's Reservation Bill?

  • The Women's Reservation Bill was initially introduced in parliament on September 12, 1996. The bill was introduced in Lok Sabha by the United Front Government of HD Deve Gowda.
  • The main aim of this bill is to reserve 33 percent of seats in Lok Sabha and all state legislative assemblies for women.
  • Reservation criteria as per the bill, the seats will be reserved on a rotational basis. The seats would be determined by a draw of lots in such a way that a seat would only be reserved once in every three consecutive general elections.
  • Since 1996, three other similar Bills- introduced in the parliament in 1998, 1999 and 2008- have failed to become law.
  • Only 7.7% of members in the Lok Sabha and 4% of members of state assemblies were women in 1996 when the first women's reservation bill was introduced. Women's share is now 14.4% in Lok sabha and around 8% in state assemblies.
  • While there are regional variations in the share of women in state assemblies and party-wise differences in the share of candidates who are women, their representation is still far from their share in the population everywhere.
  • The economic survey 2017-18 has acknowledged the abysmally low proportion of elected women's representatives in Lok sabha and the legislative assemblies. However, the survey also notes the success of women's reservations in the three-tier Panchayati Raj institutions.
  • According to the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), globally India ranks in the bottom quarter, 148th out of 193 UN member nations, when it comes to the proportion of elected women representatives in Parliament. Even our neighbors, Pakistan (20.7%), Bangladesh ( 20.3%), and Nepal (29.9%) have higher representations of women in parliament. 
  • The supporters of the bill argue the need to pass the bill for ensuring affirmative action, also backed by UN Women in 2017.

4. Reason for low representation in the legislative body

  • Patriarchal and regressive mindset; Many think that bringing more women into politics will destroy the ideal family. They think women’s main job is bringing up children and being home caretakers.
  • Lack of political will among political parties.
  • Experts say this is because the entry barrier for women in elections is higher than for men: only those women are made candidates who will likely win. The share of women candidates among total candidates in Lok Sabha elections, for instance, has increased only marginally: from 3.7% in 1962 to 4.3% in 1962 to 9% in 2019. At present only about 14% of the members of the Indian Parliament are women, the highest so far.

5. Arguments for the Bill

  • Some argue the need for favorable action to improve the condition of women.
  • Recent studies on Panchayats have shown positive outcomes of the reservation of seats for women.
  • It may ensure greater representation of women in the political arena.
  • It allows for the flexibility of the number of women in parliament.
  • It does not discriminate against male candidates. Rather, it calls for the equal representation of their women counterparts.
  • It is not a permanent setting. Rather, the Bill, when it becomes a law, would be terminated 15 years after enactment. This temporary solution can ensure women's equal representation in Indian politics.

6. Arguments against the Bill

  • It is argued that it would propagate an unequal status for women since they cannot be perceived to be competing on merit.
  • This policy may divert attention from larger electoral reform needs like the criminalization of politics and inner-party democracy.
  • The reservation of seats to women in parliament restricts the choice of the voters to women candidates who the people may or may not prefer.
  • Rotation of reserved constituencies during elections may reduce the incentive for the MP to develop his constituency as he may be ineligible to seek re-election from that constituency.
  • It undermines the democratic principle of the election.
  • The Joint Committee on the Constitution (81st Amendment) Bill, 1996 had recommended the provision of the reservation to women of the other backward classes (OBCs) once the constitution was amended to ensure reservation to women from the OBC community. It also called for the reservation to be extended to the Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils. However, these recommendations were not included in the bill.
  • The political parties may assign their women candidates to a constituency that has a stronger male candidate.
  • There may be public resentment of the women candidate if a constituency has a stronger male candidate.
  • Those who are against this bill argue that reserving a constituency for women would mean a loss of opportunity for men who could have been better or more qualified candidates. This bill may disregard the opinions of the voters.
  • Also, the Women’s Reservation Bill comes with the same shortcomings as any law that renders quota for the underprivileged.

Previous year Questions

1. Consider the following statements: (UPSC 2021)
1. The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919 recommended granting voting rights to all women above the age of 21.
2. The Government of India Act of 1935 gave women reserved seats in the legislature.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
A.  1 only                  B. 2 only                  C. Both 1 and 2               D. Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: B
2. Reservation was provided to women in Government services by (TNPSC Group-I Services Prelims 2011).
A. Jayalalitha             
B. M. G. Ramachandran         
C. Rajaji       
D. M. Karunanidhi
Answer: D

For Prelims & Mains

For Prelims: Committee on the Status of Women in India, 1971, 73rd (the Panchayats) and 74th (the Municipalities) Constitutional Amendment, enacted in 1992, Article 243D, Women's Reservation Bill, Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), United Nations, and UN Women.
For Mains: 1. Increasing women’s participation in parliament and the state legislature is intrinsic to strengthening women’s empowerment and inclusive governance. Discuss?
Source: The Hindu

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