The issue of gender equality in politics has once again come to the
forefront. A recent day-long hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi led by
a political leader has highlighted the long-overdue implementation of the
women's reservation bill. The protest was attended by several women demanding
equal representation in Parliament and was inaugurated by a leader of a
communist party. The proposed bill suggests reserving one-third of the total
seats in state assemblies and parliament for women.
Despite being introduced in 1966 through the 81st Constitutional Amendment Bill,
there have been ongoing debates over its legislative enactment. What are the
sources of resistance to women's reservation in the political sphere?
The debate about reservations in India is not new, as it dates back to the
Indian national movement. It can be observed that even during that time, the
idea of reservations was accepted as a way to achieve social equality. In 1931,
leading women leaders like Sarojini Naidu and Mrs.Nawaz wrote a letter to the
British Prime Minister in which he clearly expressed his opposition to the
system of nominations, seat reservations, and co-option in any field of
activity, which he considered to be a harmful and degrading practice that goes
against any genuine progress.
Additionally, upper-caste women who followed Gandhi were also opposed to
reservations. Although women actively participated in the Indian National
Movement, they lagged behind in the public sphere and political representation
after independence. During the framing of the Indian Constitution, some women
members of the Constituent Assembly also opposed reservations for women.
In 1975, the Committee on the Status of Women in India (CSWI) noted the
declining political representation of women in India. All members of the CSWI
agreed that there should be reservation for women in local bodies, even though
the majority of the members were not in favor of reservations in legislative
bodies. Phulrenu Guha and Maniben Kara dissented in the committee and rejected
the reservation demand for women.
They believed that accepting such favored treatment for women would be
retrogressive since women have been competing with men as equals. They feared
that this provision would only help upper-class and caste women, weakening the
position of women. Women's organizations also opposed reservations for women by
The Janata Government of Karnataka in 1990, the Congress-I Maharashtra
Government under the Chief Ministership of Sharad Pawar in 1990, and Kerala in
1991 announced and accepted reservations for women at local bodies ranging from
25% to 30%. The National Perspective Plan of 1988-2000 also recommended 30%
reservation for women in all elected bodies, although it was unclear whether
this reservation was through nomination or election.
Several state governments have introduced reservations for women in local
bodies, which has been viewed as a political tactic to increase their political
power. Women's organizations and active female politicians have supported these
reservations at the local level. In Maharashtra, the Shetakari Sanghata put up
nine all-women panels in rural local bodies in 1989, and were successful in
seven of them.
In 1992, the Indian Parliament enacted the 73rd and 74th amendments to the
Indian Constitution, which require all state governments to reserve one-third of
seats, including the office of the chairpersons, for women in local bodies.
Within this reservation, seats are also reserved for SC/ST women. Many states
have extended reservations up to 50% for women in local body elections.
Although it is assumed that women in positions of power will take up women's
issues and effect changes in the party and local bodies, studies have shown that
many women who contest elections come from elite families with political
influence. Male politicians are often reluctant to relinquish their power, so
they provide their relatives, such as daughters, wives, or daughters-in-law, as
candidates for the reserved seats.
As a result, women representatives may not act independently but work according
to the wishes of their male relatives. Women from lower castes are often
deprived of their right to be elected to decision-making positions and face
harassment and threats to their families.
Despite these challenges, studies have shown that the reservation of seats for
women in local bodies has had a positive impact on programs undertaken by
villages leading to women's empowerment. Women representatives and
decision-makers have brought attention to their own experiences, problems,
concerns, and priorities, which often fall outside of traditional politics.
Women-led villages have implemented community toilets, smokeless stoves, extra
classrooms, water taps, and have taken up issues such as dowry, literacy, health
campaigns, and demand for equal land rights. Representatives in Rajasthan have
advocated for women to leave their abusive husbands, while in Maharashtra,
panchayats have initiated waste recycling projects. These are visible examples
of the developmental outcomes of women's participation. However, the impact of
women's presence goes beyond these tangible achievements.
It has contributed to increased self-esteem, confidence, changed family
dynamics, and more positive attitudes towards daughters. Women's participation
has provided opportunities for them to take part in public meetings, sign their
names and write. These may seem like small steps, but they have a significant
impact on women's mobility and empowerment, creating the potential for
The most significant achievement is that many women representatives are keen to
stand for a second term and even contest seats from general constituencies. They
aspire to move up the ranks of power, and although their numbers are currently
low, we can hope to see more women taking on leadership roles in the future.
Understanding the historical background for lower representation necessitates
highlighting the factors which lead to travails. The dearth of women's presence
in the political realm can be attributed not to a solitary root, but to a
multitude of causes. This entails, the unequal distribution of power between the
sexes, the dominance of patriarchal system which expounds and perpetuates male
domination by vesting the authority to make decisions to the eldest male member.
Throughout history, it has been widely followed that a woman's place is within
the domestic confines of her home, while men have been expected to assume the
role of breadwinner. This perspective is deeply ingrained in every aspect of
society, and the domain of politics is certainly no exception. Owing to such
beliefs, the societal and economical autonomy for women are adversely affected.
The latter, in particular, assumes paramount importance for efficiently
executing electoral campaigns. In order to disseminate their party's message
across vast swathes of terrain and engender public approval, the contender must
secure funds for the same.
Thus, those who have long held the reins of economic autonomy and muscle power
are held in greater esteem than women in our traditional society. Furthermore,
the parties themselves are disquieted to opt for a candidate who may demand
excessive expenditure or inflate the costs of electoral campaigns. Owing to all
these, notwithstanding the vivacity of women for participation in elections,
Women are devoid of the opportunities to contest as a candidate.
When Parties are asked to address the issue their response to
underrepresentation of Women is their less prospects of winning. However, with
the presence of ample opportunity, women can have equal access to winning
vis-�-vis their counterparts.
An active political involvement is the part and parcel for their success, which
encompasses to converse within the established institute to get insights upon.
However, In an orthodox society where interaction with opposite gender is
excoriated, with reference to women labeled as loose character if "caught"
indulging in conversations with colleagues, Thus, further confining them to
their domestic responsibilities.
Not only the domestic roles undertaken by women discourages their political
participation, but the nature of Indian politics also aggravates their prospects
to engage in such a domain.
It is a prevailing notion that the presence of women in positions of power could
potentially pave the way for greater female engagement. Regrettably, this dire
state of affairs remains largely unchanged, even in instances where women in
political power have failed to take meaningful action towards improving the
A quintessential of this is, Indira Gandhi regime, where no positive steps were
undertaken to uplift women and they were left to struggle for empowerment. It is
pertinent to note that women themselves are demotivated to participate in the
so-called "muscle power" arena of men. A major reason responsible for such
alarmingly low participation of women in politics is Education.
Often times, families discourage their female members to pursue higher academia
owing to which the female literacy levels are exceptionally meager. This
perpetuates a cycle in which women are burdened with household responsibilities,
preventing them from exploring their full potential. The survey conducted by the
Inter Parliamentary Union, represents the critical condition of women in
politics, with India standing at a miserable rank of 134 out of 186 countries.
In the annals of India's political history, the issue of women's equality has
sparked intense and enduring debates. It is a cause that has been advocated
tirelessly, yet it remains elusive. Despite the enactment of reservations for
women in local bodies, the exclusion of women from legislative bodies continues
to be a thorny issue.
Notably, a significant number of women leaders, including those who fought for
India's independence, were initially against reservations. They believed that
reservations would be a regressive step and would only serve to benefit the
privileged upper-class and caste women. However, studies have since revealed
that the reservation of seats for women in local bodies has had a transformative
impact on women's empowerment. Women representatives have been at the forefront
of advocating for issues that have traditionally been overlooked in traditional
politics, leading to increased self-esteem, confidence, and altered family
dynamics. Daughters have gained positive attention, and women's mobility and
empowerment have been significantly boosted.
Undeniably, the journey has not been without its challenges. Women have been
used as proxies by male relatives, and harassment towards women from lower
castes persists. Nevertheless, women representatives remain resolute in their
quest for equal representation, even contesting seats from general
constituencies. It is high time that India implements the women reservation
bill, providing for one-third of seats in state Assemblies and Parliament to be
reserved for women. Such a move would ensure that women have an equal voice in
decision-making processes and will enable them to effectuate changes that
address issues that disproportionately affect them.
In conclusion, the adoption of the women reservation bill would signal India's
unyielding commitment to gender equality and women's empowerment. It is a moral
and societal imperative that cannot be overemphasized. We must stand together,
united in our efforts to ensure that the voices of India's women are heard loud
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