- Intro – mention the paltry women representation in legislature.
- Mention the failure of gender-reservation system.
- Argue the need to move beyond empowerment towards improving the ability of urban women.
At the national level, gender reservation in Parliament is yet an undone deal. The Women’s Reservation Bill, seeking to reserve 33% seats in the LS, is still pending approval in the Lok Sabha. At present, only 14% of the MPs in the Lok Sabha are women. However, in 1992, the 74th Amendment of the Constitution pioneered gender reservation, mandating reservation of not less than 33% of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in urban local bodies (ULBs). Furthermore, out of the seats reserved in ULBs for scheduled castes and tribes, not less than 33% have to be reserved for women belonging to these groups. Additionally, at least 33% of the offices of chairpersons of ULBs are also reserved for women.
- Sadly, gender reservations at the local level have failed to become a platform for women to enter state and national politics. There are less than 15% women legislators in assemblies and Parliament. Despite the effective implementation of the reservation for over two decades, gender inequalities remain in party hierarchies, and women continue to be kept out of key governance posts.
- Political parties have a pivotal role in regard to women’s political participation. They, therefore, play a critical role in the process of women’s empowerment. Unfortunately, the political parties themselves have perpetuated these inequities within their hierarchies and women find themselves kept out of key posts.
- Within the ULBs, one witnesses the wide-spread tokenism that exist within gender-reserved seats, where wives of councillors have stepped into the shoes of husbands. Husbands continue to control the wards as elected wives work as proxies for their husbands.
Going beyond women empowerment: However, the objectives sought to be served through gender reservation in ULBs should not stop at women empowerment and gender justice. Equally significant should be a more focused attention on the issues specifically related to urban women. It has been seen that while women constitute almost half the city’s population and have customised needs, there is not much evidence of any pronounced focus on their problems by women councillors. No significant effort seems to have been made by women councillors in increasing the employment percentage or in providing specialised services.
Therefore, a clear need is for capacity building programmes that target women councillors, enabling them to perform the normal functions of councillors as well as proactively play a strong advocacy role in the ULBs for the focused needs of women citizens. While gender empowerment and gender justice have great significance, they must translate into bettering of women in the cities.