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An Analytical Study of Women's Reservation Bill 2023

An Analytical Study of Women's Reservation Bill 2023

The One Hundred and Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of India, officially known as the Constitution (One Hundred and Sixth Amendment) Act, 2023 and informally referred to as Women's Reservation Bill, was introduced in Lok Sabha on 19 September 2023 during the special session of Parliament. This legislation seeks to allocate 33 percent of the seats in the directly elected Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for women.

The bill is the possible culmination of a legislative debate that had been ongoing for 27 years, including the lapsed Women's Reservation Bill (2010), due to the lack of consensus among political parties. The bill was the first that was considered in the new parliament building.

On 20 September 2023, Lok Sabha passed the bill with 454 votes in favour and two against. The Rajya Sabha passed the bill unanimously with 214 votes in favour and none against, on 21 September 2023. President Droupadi Murmu signed the bill on 28 September 2023, and the gazette notification was also published the same day, which made it clear that the reservation will come into force soon after the first delimitation (frozen untill 2026).

Constitutional rights of women:

The Constitution of India establishes a parliamentary system of government, and guarantees its citizens the right to be elected, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble and form associations, and vote. The Constitution of India attempts to remove gender inequalities by banning discrimination based on sex and class, prohibiting human trafficking and forced labour, and reserving elected positions for women.

The Government of India directed state and local governments to promote equality by class and gender including equal pay and free legal aid, humane working conditions and maternity relief, rights to work and education, and raising the standard of living. Women were substantially involved in the Indian independence movement in the early 20th century and advocated for independence from Britain. Independence brought gender equality in the form of constitutional rights, but historically women's political participation has remained low.
  • The fundamental rights of men and women are guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.
  • The Directive Principles of State Policy ensure economic empowerment by mandating maternity leave, humane working conditions, and equal pay for equal work performed by men and women.
  • Political equality and the right to vote are guaranteed by Articles 325 and 326 of the Constitution.
  • In 1992, the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution mandated that one-third of the seats in municipal and Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) be set aside for women. The goal of the amendment was to increase women�s participation in grass-root decision-making.
  • India has also made a lot of measures to empower women in other areas, such as marriage and employment. For instance, the Supreme Court has granted daughters the same status as a coparcener in Hindu families, providing them with access to the inheritance.

History of women reservation bill:
On 9 December 1946, the inaugural session of the Constituent Assembly of India was convened at the Constitution Hall, presently the Central Hall of the Old Parliament House. Notably, Sarojini Naidu was the only woman in the entire gathering, sitting in the first row of attendees facing the presidential dais.

The matter of quota for women was previously deliberated upon in the years 1996, 1997, and 1998; however, it was unable to be pursued further due to the dissolution of Lok Sabhas or the absence of consensus among political parties. In recent decades, there has been growing apprehension regarding the underrepresentation of women in legislative bodies, despite their constituting more than half of the global population.

This democratic deficiency poses a significant hindrance to the attainment of rapid economic development. Consequently, it becomes increasingly imperative to accord utmost importance to this issue, aiming to fortify a political decision-making process that is participatory, responsive, inclusive, equitable, and accountable. The implementation of the Women's Reservation Bill, also known as the Constitution 108th Amendment Bill of 2008, is imperative for contemporary Indian society.

This legislation has encountered six unsuccessful attempts to get cleared since its initial introduction in 1996. Former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav in 2010 had suggested the Women Reservation Bill should not be enacted due to its potential implication of encouraging male parliamentarians to engage in wolf-whistling towards their female colleagues.

The 2023 composition of the Lok Sabha reveals underrepresentation of women Members of Parliament (MPs), constituting less than 15 percent of its members. Similarly, this gender disparity is stronger in state assemblies including Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal, Assam, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Odisha, Sikkim, TN, Telangana, Tripura and Puducherry, where the representation of women falls below 10 percent.

The presence of female MPs in the Lok Sabha has exhibited a gradual enhancement, progressing from a mere 5% in the 1st Lok Sabha to an increase of 14% in the current 17th Lok Sabha. A total of 716 female candidates participated in the 2019 general election, from which 78 women Members of Parliament have been successfully elected to serve in the 17th Lok Sabha. This is about a quarter higher than for the previous election in 2014, where 62 women MPs were elected.

The bill introduced by the Union Minister of Law and Justice Arjun Ram Meghwal on the day-one of business in the newly built Parliament House aims to increase the number of Women Parliamentarians to 181. The 2023 Lok Sabha comprises a total of 542 members, of which 78 are female members. Similarly, the present Rajya Sabha consists of 224 members, with 24 being female members. A total of 102 women parliamentarians are serving as of 2023. On 20 September 2023, Union Home Minister Amit Shah informed during the discussion on the Women's Reservation Bill that census and the delimitation exercise will take place after the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.

The proposed legislation defines the 33% women reservation to continue for 15 years. Additionally, it mandates that a quota for individuals belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes be established within the reserved seats designated for women in Parliament and Legislative assembly.

The reservation was defined to be implemented once a new census is published and the delimitation exercise is completed. Union Home Minister Amit Shah said in the House that a census will be carried out to implement the women's reservation bill, right after the elections. He also said that the next government will carry out the delimitation soon after the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, brushing aside the apprehensions of a delay in the bill's implementation. The process of delimitation entails the revision of constituency boundaries pertaining to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, with the aim of accurately reflecting increase in population distribution. To be fully ratified, the bill needs ratification from a minimum of 50% of the states. The constitutional reasoning for requiring ratification by the states is its potential impact of the bill on the rights of states.

Significance of the bill:
The significance of the Women�s Reservation Bill in India is multifaceted and has far-reaching implications:
  1. Under Representation of Women in Legislature:

    Globally, women currently occupy only 26.7% of parliamentary seats and 35.5% of local government positions. Such a step by India, a large economy can have a positive impact globally as well.
  2. Gender Equality and Empowerment:

    The primary objective of the bill is to promote gender equality and empower women by providing them with adequate political representation. Women constitute nearly half of India�s population, and ensuring their participation in decision-making processes is a fundamental aspect of gender justice.
  3. Political Participation:

    The bill aims to increase the political participation of women at all levels of government. By reserving seats for women, it encourages women to enter politics, contest elections, and hold public office.
  4. Women�s Voices and Issues:

    Increased representation of women in legislatures ensures that women�s voices are heard on critical issues, including those related to women�s rights, education, health, and safety. It can lead to policies and legislation that address gender-based discrimination and violence.
  5. Women elected to political office can serve as role models for other women and girls, inspiring them to pursue leadership roles in various fields, including politics.
  6. Tackling Patriarchy:

    The reservation of seats for women challenges traditional gender roles and stereotypes, challenging the patriarchal nature of Indian politics and society.
  7. Gender Inclusive Governance:

    Research has shown that gender diversity in decision-making bodies, including legislatures, often leads to better governance and decision-making, as diverse perspectives and experiences are considered.
  8. Social and Economic Development:

    Empowering women politically can have positive effects on social and economic development. It can lead to policies that promote gender-sensitive development, improved access to education and healthcare for women, and increased economic opportunities.
  9. Addressing Gender Disparities:

    The bill can contribute to reducing gender disparities in various sectors, including education, employment, and healthcare, as women�s concerns and priorities are more likely to be addressed.
  10. 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.
  11. The bill encourages political parties to promote women leaders and give them opportunities to contest elections, which can lead to a more inclusive and diverse political landscape.

Critics of this legislation argue that the reservation of seats exclusively for women would primarily favor educated and urban women, consequently neglecting the underprivileged rural women belonging to marginalized castes. Conversely, proponents of this bill assert that the opposition from leaders of these political parties stems from patriarchal tendencies, as they apprehend a potential loss of power to women if a significant portion of seats is allocated to them.

Political parties; Congress, Samajwadi Party, and Rashtriya Janata Dal have criticised the bill as it does not have provision for reserved seats for OBC and Minorities women, which seeks to ensure equal representation for OBC and Minorities women. As the absence of quota for OBC and minorities would make it more difficult for the marginalised women to raise their voices in the Parliament.

Two reasons call for criticism of the 2023 Bill:
  1. First, the implementation schedule�s complexity. The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Act of 2023 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,� according to the bill. The election cycle from which women will get their fair share is not specified.

  2. Second, the new Bill does not offer women�s reservation in the Rajya Sabha and state legislative councils, in keeping with the previous regimes. Women are currently underrepresented in the Rajya Sabha compared to the Lok Sabha. The Lower and Upper Houses must both adhere to the concept of representation.

Previously, numerous critical arguments against the reservation for women in politics had surfaced:

  • Some argue that reservation policies can lead to tokenism, where women are seen as filling quotas rather than being genuinely supported and empowered.

  • There can be resistance and backlash against women in leadership roles, which may not necessarily dismantle entrenched patriarchy.

  • Reservation policies typically apply to political representation but may not address broader societal and cultural norms that perpetuate patriarchy.

  • The effectiveness of reservation policies may vary for women of different social, economic, and cultural backgrounds. Intersectionality�the overlapping of multiple forms of discrimination�needs to be considered.

  • Reservation policies may be a starting point, but achieving lasting change in gender equality requires addressing systemic issues beyond political representation.

Challenges in Women�s Representation:
Social stereotypes, a male-dominated political party structure, family obligations, a lack of resources, and different institutional barriers all prevent women from running in and winning state or parliamentary elections. Details of such challenges faced by women are:
  1. Inaccessibility of Institutions: The patriarchal mindsets that plague India�s male-dominated party structures make it difficult for female politicians to win party nominations to stand in parliamentary elections. Election results reveal that while most political parties promise in their charters to ensure enough representation for women, in practice far too few women candidates receive party tickets.
  2. Challenging Environment: Women politicians have been constantly subjected to humiliation, inappropriate comments, abuse, and threats of abuse, making participation and contesting elections extremely challenging.
  3. Political Prejudice: Women candidates receive fewer tickets from political parties because it is still largely believed in the political community that they have a lower chance of winning elections than men do. Even female members of political dynasties are more likely to be assigned �safe� seats�those that had been held by a male relative�where their success is almost guaranteed.
  4. Non-Congenial Structural Conditions: Election campaigns in India are extremely demanding and time-consuming. Due to their responsibilities for family and kid care, women politicians frequently struggle to engage completely. In fact, research shows that having a supportive family is essential for women leaders to be able to pursue a full-fledged political career.
  5. Financial Dependency: Financing campaigns are another barrier due to the fact that many women rely on their families for financial support. The cost of contesting parliamentary elections can be very high, and substantial financial resources are needed to mount a serious effort.
  6. Criminalization of Politics: There is also the danger of criminalized politics, in which strength becomes more important than intellect. As a result, women are more inclined to compete for reserved seats, which are known to be less competitive and hence less influenced by money and muscular power.

How can Women's Representation in Politics be Improved in India?
Women's representation in politics in India has been a topic of discussion for several years, and although progress has been made, there is still a long way to go.

Here are some ways forward to improve women's representation in politics in India:

  1. Reservation of Seats:

    The reservation of seats for women in local bodies and legislative assemblies has been a successful way to increase women's representation in politics. More such reservation policies could be implemented to provide women with more opportunities to participate in decision-making processes.
  2. Increasing Awareness and Education:

    Creating awareness among women about their rights and the importance of their participation in politics is essential. Educational programs and awareness campaigns can help to increase women's political participation.
  3. Addressing Gender-based Violence and Harassment:

    Gender-based violence and harassment are major obstacles to women's participation in politics. Addressing these issues through policy and legal measures can create a safer and more supportive environment for women in politics.
  4. Reforms in the Electoral Process:

    Reforms such as introducing proportional representation and preferential voting systems can help to increase women's representation in politics by ensuring that more women get elected.
  5. Multifaceted Approach:

    These are only a few approaches to increase the number of women in Indian politics. To effect long-lasting change, a multifaceted strategy addressing multiple challenges is required.

According to the United Nations, �This quota reserving 33% seats for women will leapfrog India into one of 64 countries around the world who have reserved seats for women in their national Parliaments. Typically, achieving a critical mass of 30 percent representation by women in Parliament is known to yield positive outcomes for women�s empowerment.

However, we hope that implementing such reservations will ultimately lead to achieving 50 percent representation of women in Parliaments across the globe.� It�s important to note that the Women�s Reservation Bill has faced opposition and debates within India�s political landscape. Some critics argue that it might perpetuate tokenism, while others believe that it is necessary to address the underrepresentation of women in politics.

Reservation for women in politics can be a valuable tool in challenging patriarchy and promoting gender equality, but it should be part of a broader strategy that addresses cultural norms, education, economic empowerment, and social change to create a more inclusive and equitable society. Additionally, the impact of such policies can vary, and their success depends on various factors, including their design and implementation.

  • The Constitution (One Hundred and Sixth Amendment) Act, 2023 (PDF). The Gazette of India. 28 September 2023. Retrieved 10 October 2023.
  • Constitution (128th Amendment) Bill 2023 (PDF).
  • God has given me the opportunity', says PM Modi as women quota bill tabled in LS. Hindustan Times. 19 September 2023.
  • Parliament special session: Govt introduces women's reservation bill in LS. Business Standard. Retrieved 19 September 2023.
  • India's lower house votes to reserve a third of seats for women. Al Jazeera English. 20 September 2023.
  • Sharma, Kalpana (21 September 2023). Women-led development and the Women's Reservation Bill. Hindustan Times. Retrieved 22 September 2023.
  • India's lower house votes to reserve a third of seats for women. Retrieved 22 September 2023.
  • Women's Reservation Bill: Pending for almost three decades for want of unanimity. Deccan Herald. Retrieved 20 September 2023.
  • Profile of the newly elected 17th Lok Sabha. PRS Legislative Research. Retrieved 20 September 2023.
Written By: Mr.Shaikh Moeen Shaikh Naeem, Asstt. Prof., Dept. of Political Science - KBCNMU, Jalgaon

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