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WOMEN RESERVATION BILL, 2023

2023 SEP 27

Mains   > Polity   >   Election   >   Women and Child issues

IN NEWS

  • The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, or the ‘Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam’, has been unanimously passed from Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
  • The Bill seeks to reserve one-third of the total number of seats in Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for women.

FEATURES OF THE BILL

  • Reservation for Women in Lower House: The Bill provided for inserting Article 330A to the constitution, which borrows from the provisions of Article 330, which provides for reservation of seats to SCs/STs in the Lok Sabha.
    • The Bill provided that reserved seats for women may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in states or Union Territories.
    • In the seats reserved for SCs/STs, the Bill sought to provide one-third of the seats to be reserved for women on rotational basis.
  • Reservation for Women in State Legislative Assemblies: The Bill introduces Article 332A, which mandates the reservation of seats for women in every state Legislative Assembly. Additionally, one-third of the seats reserved for SCs and STs must be allocated for women, and one-third of the total seats filled through direct elections to the Legislative Assemblies shall also be reserved for women.
  • Reservation for Women in NCT of Delhi (New clause in 239AA): Article 239AA to the constitution grants special status to the Union Territory of Delhi as national capital with regards to its administrative and legislative functioning.
    • Article 239AA(2)(b) was amended by the bill accordingly to add that the laws framed by parliament shall apply to the National Capital territory of Delhi.
  • Commencement of Reservation (New article - 334A): The reservation will be effective after the census conducted after the commencement of this Bill has been published. Based on the census, delimitation will be undertaken to reserve seats for women.
    • The reservation will be provided for a period of 15 years. However, it shall continue till such date as determined by a law made by Parliament.
  • Rotation of Seats: Seats reserved for women will be rotated after each delimitation, as determined by a law made by Parliament.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF WOMEN RESERVATION

  • Women's reservation in Indian politics dates back to the Indian national movement, with leaders like Begum Shah Nawaz and Sarojini Naidu advocating for it in 1931.
  • The 1988 National Perspective Plan for Women recommended reservations for women from local panchayats to Parliament.
  • The 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments mandated one-third seats for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions and urban local bodies.
  • Later, bills were introduced in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2008 to reserve seats for women in Parliament and state legislative assemblies but lapsed with changes in Lok Sabha.
  • Parliamentary Committees which scrutinised the 1996 and 2008 bills supported women's reservation, suggesting inclusion of other backward classes (OBC Women), a 15-year reservation period, and methods for Rajya Sabha and state legislative councils.
  • The 2001 National Policy for the Empowerment of Women also endorsed reservation in higher legislative bodies.
  • In 2013, a committee recommended 50% reservation for women in local bodies, state assemblies, Parliament, ministerial positions, and government decision-making bodies.
  • The 2015 Report on the Status of Women stressed the need for 50% women's reservation in state assemblies, Parliament, local bodies, ministerial roles, and government decision-making positions.

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BILL

Gender Equality and Empowerment:

  • Women constitute nearly half of India’s population, and ensuring their participation in decision-making processes is a fundamental aspect of gender justice.
  • According to Global Gender Gap Report 2022, India ranks 48th out of 146 in Political Empowerment. Notwithstanding its rank, its score is quite low at 0.267.

Tackling Underrepresentation:

  • The number of women MPs has increased from 5% in the first Lok Sabha to 15% in the 17th Lok Sabha; but the number continues to be quite low
  • A 2003 study about the effect of reservation for women in panchayats showed that women elected under the reservation policy invest more in the public goods closely linked to women’s concerns.
  • The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (2009) had noted that reservation of seats for women in local bodies has enabled them to make meaningful contributions.

Autonomy and Advocacy:

  • If a group is not represented proportionally in the political system, its ability to influence policy-making is limited. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women provides that discrimination against women must be eliminated in political and public life
  • The various surveys do indicate that women representatives from Panchayati Raj have worked commendable in the development and overall well-being of society in villages and many of them would definitely want to work on the larger scale, however, they face various challenges in the political structure.

Diverse Perspectives and Promotion of Women's Issues:

  • A more diverse legislature that includes a significant number of women can bring a broader range of perspectives to the decision-making process. This diversity can lead to better policy formulation and governance.
  • Women in politics often prioritize and advocate for issues that directly affect women, such as gender-based violence, women's health, education, and economic empowerment. Their presence can lead to the prioritization of these issues in policy discussions.

International Commitments:

  • India is a signatory to international agreements and conventions that call for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
  • Implementing the Women’s Reservation Bill demonstrates India’s commitment to these international obligations.

Tackling Patriarchy:

  • The reservation of seats for women challenges traditional gender roles and stereotypes, challenging the patriarchal nature of Indian politics and society.

CRITICISM AGAINST THE BILL

Complexity in implementation schedule:

  • This act would go into effect once “an exercise of delimitation is undertaken for this purpose after the relevant figures for the first Census taken after that date have been published”.
  • The election cycle from which women will get their fair share is not specified.
  • So, we have to wait at least till 2029 for the act to be implemented.

Absence of reservation in Upper House

  • Though women are currently underrepresented in the Rajya Sabha compared to the Lok Sabha, the Bill does not offer women’s reservation in the Rajya Sabha and state legislative councils.

OBC Issue with the bill:

  • The women's reservation bill, which reserves 33% of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, does not include a quota for women from the OBCs.
  • Geeta Mukherjee Committee (1996) recommended extending women reservation to OBCs.

Rotating constituencies

  • The Bill states that reserved seats shall be allotted by rotation after every delimitation exercise.  This implies rotation approximately every 10 years as after 2026 delimitation is mandated to take place after every census.
  • Rotation of reserved seats may reduce the incentive for MPs to work for their constituencies as they could be ineligible to seek re-election from that constituency.

Undermines Meritocracy

  • Separate constituencies for women might perpetuate the perception that women do not compete on merit but rely on reserved seats.
  • For instance, in the Constituent Assembly, Renuka Ray argued against reserving seats for women: “When there is reservation of seats for women, the question of their consideration for general seats, however competent they may be, does not usually arise. We feel that women will get more chances if the consideration is of ability alone.”

Tokenism:

  • There is a concern that reservation policies may lead to tokenism, where women are perceived as filling quotas rather than being genuinely supported and empowered.

Resistance and Backlash:

  • Opponents recognize that women in leadership roles may face resistance and backlash, which may not necessarily dismantle deeply entrenched patriarchal structures.
  • E.g.: The case of ‘Pati panchayats’ in India is often cited to validate this argument.

Limited Scope:

  • Reservation policies typically target political representation but may not effectively tackle broader societal and cultural norms that contribute to the persistence of patriarchy.

Intersectionality:

  • Critics emphasize the importance of considering intersectionality, where multiple forms of discrimination overlap, as reservation policies may have varying effectiveness for women from diverse social, economic, and cultural backgrounds.

ALTERNATIVES TO RESERVATION

As reservation of one-third of seats for women in Parliament would restrict the choice of voters in the reserved constituencies, two alternatives have been suggested by some experts:

  • Reservation for candidates within political parties
  • Dual member constituencies where some constituencies shall have two candidates, one being a woman.

WAY FORWARD

  • Promoting Independent Decision Making: Establishing independent monitoring systems or committees to prevent family members from influencing women representatives' decision-making processes. This measure helps reduce the impact of patriarchal mindsets on women's political choices.
  • Raising Awareness and Education: Fostering awareness among women regarding their rights and the significance of political participation. Implementing educational programs and awareness campaigns can empower women and encourage their engagement in politics.
  • Combatting Gender-based Violence and Harassment: Tackling gender-based violence and harassment, which are significant barriers to women's political involvement, through policy and legal measures. Creating a safe and supportive environment is crucial for women's active participation in politics.
  • Electoral Process Reforms: Reservation would not lead to political empowerment of women because larger issues of electoral reforms such as measures to check criminalisation of politics, internal democracy in political parties, and influence of black money have not been addressed.

While reservation policies can be seen as a starting point, they are not sufficient to achieve lasting gender equality. Addressing systemic issues beyond political representation is essential for meaningful change in this regard.

PRACTICE QUESTION

Q: Critically analyse the Women’s Reservation Bill of 2023.