The women’s reservation Bill cannot wait any longer

With ample evidence of women leaders making a mark, India ought not to overlook the pivotal role women can play in nation building and development

Updated - April 29, 2023 11:01 am IST

Published - April 29, 2023 12:16 am IST

In the earlier days in the winter session of Parliament in 2007.

In the earlier days in the winter session of Parliament in 2007. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Even though women have been breaking the glass ceiling of patriarchy in every sector, politics is the arena where women find it the most challenging to find space. India may have achieved suffrage early, but women still face significant barriers to political participation and do not have the right to govern. It is disheartening to witness that even 75 years after Independence, Parliament lacks substantial representation from half the population, with women holding just 14% of the seats. It is time to acknowledge the systematic exclusion of women from politics and demand action to create a more equitable political landscape.

A regression after a promising start

Women played a crucial role in India’s fight for independence, by organising demonstrations, leading rallies, and raising awareness. There were numerous female representatives in the Constituent Assembly as well. Just a decade ago, three of India’s largest States, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh, were in the spotlight for being led by women Chief Ministers. While Sushma Swaraj led the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sonia Gandhi served as both President of the Congress Party and Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance. Also, India had its first woman President, Pratibha Patil around the same time.

Despite the presence of influential women in Indian politics, we have regressed since the 1980s and patriarchal backlash has resulted in the status of women in India being far from ideal. Hence it will not be wrong to infer that the issue of political representation of women is a greater case, as opposed to having token representation.

The discourse on women’s reservation in India originates from the pre-Independence era when several women’s organisations demanded political representation for women. It can be traced back to 1955 when a government appointed committee recommended that 10% of seats in the Lok Sabha and State legislative assemblies should be reserved for women. However, it was not until the 1980s that the demand for women’s reservations gained momentum. The National Perspective Plan for Women (1988) recommended that 30% of seats in all elected bodies should be reserved for women. This recommendation was reiterated in the National Policy for the Empowerment of Women, which was adopted in 2001.

In 1993, the Panchayati Raj Act was amended to reserve 33% of all seats in local government bodies for women, which was a significant step towards women’s political empowerment. The success of this reservation led to demands for similar reservations in other elected bodies; in 1996, the Women’s Reservation Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha. The Bill proposed to reserve one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha and State legislative Assemblies for women. However, facing strong opposition from some political parties it lapsed but gained more momentum again in the early 2000s. On March 9, 2010, the Bill was approved in the Rajya Sabha. Sonia Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj, and Brinda Karat of the CPI(M) posed for photographs outside Parliament, smiling and holding hands, indicating that this was a fight much bigger than individual political affiliations.

Global examples

Around the world, women leaders are outperforming their male counterparts. The Scandinavian countries have implemented policies and governance structures that support gender equality and women’s empowerment, which includes women’s representation in political and leadership positions.

Moreover, countries led by women have shown to have some of the best policies and governance practices. The deep scars in Rwanda, a central African nation, from the genocide, are being healed by predominantly a leadership that comprises women; this has also resulted in key social reforms.

Norway implemented a quota system in 2003 that required 40% of seats on corporate boards to be occupied by women. Now, it is time for the women in India, the ‘mother of democracy’, to lead the nation.

A neta in ‘Amrit Kaal’?

Babasaheb Ambedkar was of the opinion that the progress of a community can be measured by the degree of progress which women have achieved, but we are still far away from that benchmark. Equality cannot wait any longer and the time for change is now. Women have been waiting for too long for their right to govern — not just for themselves but for the greater common good. Women’s leadership qualities are not hidden from anyone, so the denial of opportunity for political representation represents grave injustice.

A nation that still struggles to provide basic health care and education, necessary for the dignified life of citizens, must now let women take charge of the task of transforming India.

As India strives to become a Vishwa Guru, we must not overlook the pivotal role women can play in nation building and development. The women’s reservation Bill cannot wait any longer. The Bill must be passed.

Reena Gupta is National Spokesperson, Aam Aadmi Party

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