Women Reservation: A Distant Dream?
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address from the ramparts of the Red Fort in 2019, spoke on the importance of women’s contribution in nation building and their utility to make India a developed country in coming 25 years, once again the hope arose that the Women’s Reservation Bill will be passed before 2024 Lok Sabha elections. But, no such initiative has been taken by the Central government so far.
In his speech on the occasion of the Amrit Festival of Independence on 15th August this year, the Prime Minister again appreciated the contribution of women power to the development journey of India. He said the pride of women is going to become a huge capital for fulfilling the dreams of the nation. Today women power is ahead in every field.
If the Women’s Reservation Bill is passed in the Parliament, it will ensure 33 per cent share of women in the House. Though the Bill has been introduced earlier, it could not be passed due to differences of opinion among the parties, especially those of the leaders like Mulayam, Sharad Yadav and Lalu. These people started demanding reservation for backward women within the reservation.
Earlier, the Bill was submitted to the Select Committee headed by Rajya Sabha member Com. Geeta Mukherjee. But it could not move beyond that.
There is a system of reservation for women in the elections of the local bodies, but it is not enough. When it comes to women’s reservation in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha, the Women’s Reservation Bill should be brought in the Lok Sabha once again.
The credit for this will undoubtedly go to the NDA government. But the Central government should not forget that half the population of India gave ample votes to the BJP in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections and state Assembly elections to come to power. Today, women voters are also the reason for the BJP’s victory at the Centre and in most of the states.
Modi ji has awakened hope in the Amrit Mahotsav. The government is in full majority, so when will the Women’s Bill be passed, if not now? The Women’s Reservation Bill is hanging in the House for almost 26 years.
This Bill remains the biggest snarl of politics. It is neither approved nor dropped by the leaders. For more than a decade, there has been hardly any Parliament session in which women’s reservation bill has not been raised. For the first time, the Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1996 during the tenure of then prime minister Deve Gowda. But, it could not move further as unanimous opinion eluded the ruling party.
In 1998, when the then Law Minister Thambi Durai stood up to introduce the Bill, there was a huge ruckus in the Parliament and the copy of the Bill was torn amid scuffle in the Lok Sabha itself. These incidents testify to the intention of men towards the Women’s Bill.
Chief Justice of Supreme Court NV Ramana has expressed concern that very few women get the opportunity to hold top positions. After 75 years of Independence, women should hope that the Women’s Reservation Bill would be passed to give them equality.
Let us remind you that the basic idea of this Bill was born out of a constitutional amendment. It was discussed that one-third of representatives in rural bodies should be women. It was then that women’s reservation in the House was seen as a long-term plan. The Bill reserves 33% seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures for women. There was a discussion on making a provision that after 15 years of its implementation, this system would automatically end.
The question is why was it needed? According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021, India’s performance in the Political Empowerment Index has declined. The number of women ministers has come down from 23.1% to 9.1% as compared to 2019. Even in the economic surveys of the government, it is believed that the number of women in the Lok Sabha and the Legislative Assemblies is very less.
The reservation for women in Houses of elected representatives has many challenges like lack of political education and financial independence on the part of women, patriarchy and other social drawbacks.
I believe that in order to ensure equality between women and men and full development of women’s potential, they should be given the right to self-representation and self-determination. Even though the Women’s Reservation Bill has been derailed, political parties should consider this. Women’s cells have been set up, but are women playing the deciding role?
I remember that in the BJP itself, there was a talk of 33 per cent reservation for women. All parties should give reservation to women in their organisations. The CPM’s base may have shrunk, but the number of women in their politburo is substantial. Women’s reservation is also a part of gender equality and sustainable development goals. There is a need to bring about institutional, social and practical changes among the people of the country.
(The author is former member of Odisha State Commission for Women)