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Reservation for Women in Politics

Context:

A day before her appearance in front of the Enforcement Directorate in the Delhi liquor policy case, Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) leader launched a six-hour hunger strike on March 10 seeking early passage of the long-pending Women’s Reservation Bill.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. History of Political Reservation for Women
  2. Women’s Reservation Bill
  3. Arguments in support of the Women’s Reservation Bill
  4. Arguments Against Reservation for Women in Politics:

History of Political Reservation for Women

Origins of the Issue:
  • The demand for political reservation for women in India can be traced back to the Indian national movement in the 1930s.
  • Women leaders Begum Shah Nawaz and Sarojini Naidu submitted an official memorandum to the British Prime Minister in 1931, outlining the status of women in the new Constitution.
Initial Rejection:
  • The issue of women’s reservation came up in Constituent Assembly debates but was rejected as being unnecessary. It was assumed that a democracy would accord representation to all groups.
  • However, it became clear in the following decades that this was not the case.
Growing Support:
  • The Committee of the Status of Women in India, set up in 1971, commented on the declining political representation of women in India.
  • While a majority of the Committee was against reservation for women in legislative bodies, all of them supported reservation for women in local bodies.
  • Many State governments began announcing reservations for women in local bodies.
National Perspective Plan for Women:
  • In 1988, the National Perspective Plan for Women recommended reservation for women from the level of the panchayat to that of Parliament.
  • These recommendations paved the way for the historic enactment of the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution, which mandate one-third of the seats in Panchayati Raj Institutions and one-third of the offices of the chairperson at all levels of the Panchayati Raj Institutions and in urban local bodies, respectively, to be reserved for women.
Legal Provisions:
  • Many States, including Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Kerala, have made legal provisions to ensure 50% reservation for women in local bodies.
  • Within these seats, one-third are reserved for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe women.

Women’s Reservation Bill

Introduction and Lapse of the Bill:
  • The Women’s Reservation Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in September 1996 to reserve 33% of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for women.
  • The Bill failed to get the approval of the House and was referred to a joint parliamentary committee which submitted its report to the Lok Sabha in December 1996.
  • In 1998, the Bill was reintroduced in the 12th Lok Sabha by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, but failed to receive majority votes.
  • The Bill was reintroduced in 1999, 2002 and 2003, but failed to receive majority votes.
Passing of the Bill and Opposition:
  • In 2008, the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government tabled the Bill in the Rajya Sabha and it was passed with 186-1 votes on March 9, 2010.
  • However, the Bill was never taken up for consideration in the Lok Sabha and lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.
Promise by BJP and Current Status:
  • In 2014, the BJP promised 33% reservation for women in its manifesto and repeated the promise in its 2019 agenda.
  • However, there has been no movement from the government regarding the Bill.

How many women are in Parliament?

  • Only about 14% of the members in Indian Parliament are women, the highest so far.
  • According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, India has a fewer percentage of women in the lower House than its neighbours such as Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh — a dismal record.

Arguments in support of the Women’s Reservation Bill

  • Affirmative action is necessary: Proponents argue that affirmative action is necessary to improve the status of women in politics, as political parties are inherently patriarchal.
  • Under-representation of women: Despite the hopes of the leaders of the national movement, women are still under-represented in Parliament. Reservations would ensure that women form a strong lobby in Parliament to fight for issues that are often ignored.
  • Evidence of positive impact: There is evidence that women as panchayat leaders have shattered social myths, been more accessible than men, controlled the stranglehold of liquor, invested substantially in public goods such as drinking water, helped other women express themselves better, reduced corruption, prioritised nutrition outcomes, and changed the development agenda at the grassroots level. Studies have found that women leaders are more likely to invest in goods that are important to the interests of women.
  • Addressing challenges: India faces challenges such as a high percentage of crimes against women, low participation of women in the workforce, low nutrition levels, and a skewed sex ratio. To address these challenges, it is argued that more women in decision-making are needed.

Arguments Against Reservation for Women in Politics:

  • Opposes Constitutional Equality: Some opponents argue that reserving seats for women in politics goes against the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution. They believe that this could lead to women not competing on merit, which could lower their status in society.
  • Women Are Not a Homogenous Group: Unlike a caste group, women are not a homogenous community, which means that the same arguments made for caste-based reservation cannot be made for women.
  • Women’s Interests Are Connected to Other Strata: Women’s interests cannot be isolated from other social, economic, and political strata.
  • Restricts Voter Choice: Some argue that reservation of seats in Parliament would restrict the choice of voters to women candidates. Suggestions have been made for alternate methods, such as reservation for women in political parties and dual-member constituencies, but there are concerns about their effectiveness.
  • Threat to the “Ideal Family”: Some opponents argue that bringing women into politics could destroy the “ideal family” since men hold primary power and key positions in politics.

Source: The Hindu


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