The women’s reservation Bill cannot wait any longer

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    In Context

    • India may have achieved suffrage early, but women still face significant barriers to political participation.

    History of Women in Politics in India

    • Pre-Independence:
      • Women played a crucial role in India’s fight for independence, by organising demonstrations, leading rallies, and raising awareness.
    • Women’s suffrage:
      • Independent India can rightly be proud of its achievement in so far as women’s suffrage is concerned. Women were allowed to vote from 1950 onwards and so could participate on an equal footing with men from the first general election of 1951-52. 
        • In contrast, In the U.S., it took several decades of struggle before women were allowed to vote in 1920. 
        • Most countries in Europe also achieved universal suffrage during the inter-war period.
    • Female leaders to note:
      • India had and has charismatic female leaders like Indira Gandhi, Jayalalitha, Mayawati, Sushma Swaraj and Mamata Banerjee among several others. 
      • There were numerous female representatives in the Constituent Assembly as well. 
      • Just a decade ago, three of India’s largest States, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh, were in the spotlight for being led by women Chief Ministers. 

    Issues

    • Lack of substantial representation:
      • Even 75 years after Independence, Parliament lacks substantial representation from half the population, with women holding just 14% of the seats.
      • Despite the presence of influential women in Indian politics, we have regressed since the 1980s and patriarchal backlash has resulted in the status of women in India being far from ideal. 
        • Hence it will not be wrong to infer that the issue of political representation of women is a greater case, as opposed to having token representation.
    • Lower than global average:
      • India’s ranking in this regard has fallen over the last few years. It is currently behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. 
        • The data for May 2022 showed that women’s representation in Pakistan was 20 percent, in Bangladesh 21 percent, and in Nepal was 34 percent. 
    • Politics as men’s profession:
      • Politics is often seen as a male bastion, and women are discouraged from entering it on the pretext that it is not a ‘feminine’ profession.
      • Female candidates were often made to contest in elections as “namesakes” for their husbands.
    • Infrastructural barriers:
      • Young women face severe infrastructural barriers to entering politics.
      • This includes a lack of clean toilets and safe accommodation during fieldwork.

    Demand for the Reservation in Politics

    • Pre-Independence:
      • The discourse on women’s reservation in India originates from the pre-Independence era when several women’s organisations demanded political representation for women. 
    • 1955 Committee recommendations:
      • It can be traced back to 1955 when a government appointed committee recommended that 10% of seats in the Lok Sabha and State legislative assemblies should be reserved for women. 
        • However, it was not until the 1980s that the demand for women’s reservations gained momentum. 
    • National Perspective Plan for Women (1988):
      • The National Perspective Plan for Women (1988) recommended that 30% of seats in all elected bodies should be reserved for women. 
      • This recommendation was reiterated in the National Policy for the Empowerment of Women, which was adopted in 2001.
    • Panchayati Raj Act:
      • In 1993, the Panchayati Raj Act was amended to reserve 33% of all seats in local government bodies for women, which was a significant step towards women’s political empowerment.
    • Women’s Reservation Bill:
      • The success of this reservation led to demands for similar reservations in other elected bodies; in 1996, the Women’s Reservation Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha
      • The Bill proposed to reserve one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha and State legislative Assemblies for women. 
      • Lapsed:
        • However, facing strong opposition from some political parties it lapsed but gained more momentum again in the early 2000s. On March 9, 2010, the Bill was approved in the Rajya Sabha.

    Global examples

    • Around the world, women leaders are outperforming their male counterparts.
      • Moreover, countries led by women have shown to have some of the best policies and governance practices.  
    • Scandinavian countries:
      • The Scandinavian countries have implemented policies and governance structures that support gender equality and women’s empowerment, which includes women’s representation in political and leadership positions.
    • Rwanda:
      • The deep scars in Rwanda, a central African nation, from the genocide, are being healed by predominantly a leadership that comprises women; this has also resulted in key social reforms.
    • Norway:
      • Norway implemented a quota system in 2003 that required 40% of seats on corporate boards to be occupied by women. 
    • Now, it is time for the women in India, the ‘mother of democracy’, to lead the nation.

    Way ahead

    • Babasaheb Ambedkar was of the opinion that the progress of a community can be measured by the degree of progress which women have achieved, but we are still far away from that benchmark.
    • A nation that still struggles to provide basic health care and education, necessary for the dignified life of citizens, must now let women take charge of the task of transforming India.
      • As India strives to become a Vishwa Guru, we must not overlook the pivotal role women can play in nation building and development. 
    • The women’s reservation Bill cannot wait any longer to get passed.

     

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] It is time for the women in India, the ‘mother of democracy’, to lead the nation in Political sphere. Discuss. What are the issues faced by women representatives in India?