Women in Parliament

Women in Parliament

There is an observed revival of the demand for providing reservation for Women in Parliament by multiple interest groups.

• Vice President of India appealed to all political parties to arrive at a consensus and ensure the passage of Women’s Reservation Bill.

  • This appeal was made while he was addressing a gathering at the Women Entrepreneurship Platform Conclave (WEPC) and awarding the Women Transforming India Awards 2018 (WTIA), organized by the NIITI Aayog, WEP and UN in India,

• In another instance, CPI-M member, P.K.S Teacher, during the zero hour in the Lok Sabha in December, raised the issue of passing of the women’s reservation bill which seeks to reserve 33% seats for women in the Parliament and State assemblies. He got the support from many MPs across party lines.
The Economic Survey (2017-18) also pointed out that political participation of women is low despite them accounting for 49 per cent of the population.
• Further, the National Women’s Party, which claims to be the country’s first national level women’s party, and which aims to ensure 50% reservation for women in Parliament, was launched in Delhi in December.
• Similarly, Shakti, a non-partisan collective for enabling women in politics, has announced the launch of its campaign, ‘Call your MP’ which urges people to call their Member of Parliament in this regard.

Status of Women in Indian Politics:
• As per the 2017 Women in Politics Map Report released by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women, India ranks 148 globally in terms of representation of women in executive government and parliament.
Women representation in Indian Parliament is just 11.8 (64 MPs) in Lok Sabha and 11 per cent (27 MPs) in Rajya Sabha, according to a report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women.
Women representation at State level: As on October 2016, out of the 4,118 Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) across the country, only 9% are women, according to the Economic Survey.

  • The highest percentage of women legislators come from Bihar, Haryana and Rajasthan (14%).

Women reservation at local level: The 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution in 1993 made it mandatory to earmark 33% of all positions in Panchayati Raj Institutions for women. This has shown positive results as follows:

  • According to the Economic Survey, as of December 2017, there are 13.72 lakh elected women representatives in Panchayati Raj Institutions. This constitutes 44.2% of total elected representatives at the Panchayat level.
  • Women Sarpanchs also accounted for 43% of total Gram Panchayats (GPs) across the country, exhibiting active leadership of women in local government.

Country Wise Data on Political Representation of Women (Percentage Wise)
Sweden – 47 (2006)
Argentina – 40 (2007)
Norway – 36 (2005)
Canada – 24 (2006)
Pakistan – 21 (2008)

Arguments for Women Reservation in Parliament:
Constitutional rights: Although equality of the sexes is enshrined in the Constitution, it is not the reality. Therefore, vigorous affirmative action is required to improve the condition of women.
Redistribution of resources: political reservation has increased redistribution of resources in favour of the groups which benefit from reservation.
Previous experience: A study about the effect of reservation for women in panchayats shows that women elected under the reservation policy invest more in the public goods closely linked to women’s concerns.

  • For example, in Rajasthan and West Bengal, for instance, increased female political representation in local bodies led to more investment in drinking water and roads.

Gender equality: A 2008 study, reveals that a sizeable proportion of women representatives perceive an enhancement in their self-esteem, confidence and decision-making ability.

• B.R. Ambedkar said that “political power is the key to all social progress”:

  • For example, women in villages with a head council position reserved for women are more likely to report crimes to the police.

Women’s Reservation Bill
A.k.a Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008: It is pending in the parliament.
• It aims to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies.
• The bill says that the allocation of reserved seats shall be determined by such authority as prescribed by Parliament and that the reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory.
• It also provides for reservation of seats for women to cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of this Amendment Act.
• This will be a Constitutional Amendment under Article 368 and will need the ratification of half of the state legislatures before coming into force.
Historical injustice: Proportion of women in the Lok Sabha has seen only a meagre increase since independence from 4.5% in the first Lok Sabha to the current 12% in the 16th Lok Sabha. Therefore, there is a need to undertake some positive discrimination for increasing the women participation in Indian politics.
Recording effect: Increase in the responsiveness of the official towards the pleas of disadvantaged groups.

  • For example, greater police responsiveness towards crimes against women in constituencies where women were part of the political leadership.

To break the Vicious cycle: Socio-economic disadvantages lead to reduced opportunities for women to participate in the political process, leading to weakened representation which, in turn, retards the process of addressing socio-economic disadvantages.

Arguments against Women Reservation in Parliament:
Unequal status: It may perpetuate inequality of women since they would not be perceived to be competing on merit.
• 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.
• This policy diverts attention from the larger issues of electora lreform such as criminalization of politics and inner party democracy.
• Reservation of seats restricts choice of voters to women candidates.
• Rotation of reserved constituencies in every election may reduce the incentive for an MP to work for his constituency as he may be ineligible to seek re-election from that constituency.

Reservation of seats via rotation may not have the desired benefits as it becomes difficult for women to get re-elected to power when their constituency gets a reserved seat after many election cycles.

  • A study by Ministry of Panchayati Raj recommended that rotation of constituencies should be discontinued at the panchayat level because almost 85% women were first timers and only 15% women could get re-elected because the seats they were elected from were de-reserved.
  • Also, the first timer women representatives may not be able to perform the work with high efficiency.

• It could lead to election of “proxies” or relatives of male candidates.

Other Concerns Raised Against the Reservation:
Mandatory reservations will not address deeper imbalances of power: Inexperienced candidates will struggle to raise funds for their campaigns, defend the interest of their constituencies, and ultimately stand little chance of being re-elected.
General quota would favour upper caste and class women: It would compete with claims of other minority groups and infringe on existing quotas for Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Tribes.
Lack of education and leadership training: A survey found that female panchayat heads to be less acquainted with the functioning of the Panchayati system than their male counterparts.
Lacks social capital: Since women are not integrated in any local political process initially, and, unlike men, are not part of the relevant social and power networks, women leaders are prone to inefficiencies.

Way Ahead:
• The rotation of seats can be done over a period of 3-4 election cycles to enable women representatives of a particular constituency to develop administrative expertise during that period.
• The women reservation may be extended in the first instance for 15 years then reviewed to decide whether it should be continued.
• While consensus for reservation of women in parliament and State legislature is being built, the political parties can provide for reservation for candidates within the parties.
• Other options like Dual member constituencies may be considered, where some constituencies shall have two candidates, one being a woman.

  • The advantages of Dual member constituency are it does not decrease the democratic choice for voters, does not discriminate against male candidates and might make it easier for political representatives to cater to large constituencies.