Women Reservation Bill
What is Women Reservation Bill: On September 19, 2023, Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam or the Women’s Reservation Bill, officially known as The Constitution (128th Amendment) Bill, was introduced in Lok Sabha. This significant bill proposes to reserve one-third of the total seats in Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for women. This move aims to promote gender equality and empower women in the political arena.
History of Women’s Reservation in India
The 73rd and 74th Amendments, which were enacted in 1993, brought about the inclusion of panchayats and municipalities in the Constitution. These amendments mandated that one-third of the seats in these bodies must be reserved for women. However, it’s important to note that the Constitution does not have similar provisions for reserving seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies. While the Constitution does reserve seats for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in these legislative bodies in proportion to their population, it doesn’t extend this reservation to women. It’s worth mentioning that during the discussions in the Constituent Assembly, there were members who opposed the idea of reserving seats for women in legislatures.
Currently, in the 17th Lok Sabha, women occupy 15% of the total seats. In state legislative assemblies across the country, women, on average, make up just 9% of the total membership. In a 2015 report on the Status of Women in India, it was observed that women’s representation in state assemblies and Parliament remains disappointingly low. Furthermore, the report highlighted the lack of women in decision-making roles within political parties. To address these disparities, the report recommended reserving at least 50% of seats for women in local bodies, state legislative assemblies, Parliament, ministerial positions, and all government decision-making bodies. The National Policy for the Empowerment of Women in 2001 also expressed the possibility of considering reservations in higher legislative bodies.
Previous Women’s Reservation Bills
Over the years, several bills seeking to amend the Constitution to reserve seats for women in Parliament and state legislative assemblies have been introduced, notably in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2008. However, the first three bills lapsed with the dissolution of their respective Lok Sabhas. The 2008 Bill was introduced and passed by the Rajya Sabha, but it too lapsed with the dissolution of the 14th Lok Sabha. Notably, the 1996 Bill was examined by a Joint Committee of Parliament, while the 2008 Bill was scrutinized by the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law, and Justice. Both committees supported the idea of reserving seats for women and made recommendations, including the consideration of reservation for women from other backward classes, setting a reservation period of 15 years with a review, and working out the details of reserving seats for women in the Rajya Sabha and state legislative councils.
Key Features of the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam
The Women’s Reservation Bill, also known as The Constitution (128th Amendment) Bill, 2023, proposes several key provisions:
- Reservation for Women: The Bill aims to reserve approximately one-third of all seats for women in Lok Sabha, state legislative assemblies, and the Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. This reservation also includes seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in Lok Sabha and state legislatures.
- Commencement of Reservation: The reservation will become effective after the census conducted following the enactment of this Bill is published. Delimitation, the process of defining electoral constituencies, will be carried out based on this census to allocate seats for women. The reservation will initially be implemented for a period of 15 years, but it can be extended further through a law passed by Parliament.
- Rotation of Seats: Seats reserved for women will be rotated after each delimitation exercise, as determined by a law enacted by Parliament. This provision ensures a fair distribution of reserved seats among various constituencies.
These measures are designed to promote women’s participation in the political decision-making process and enhance gender equality in legislative bodies.
Issues to Consider
Certainly, let’s examine the issue of reservation of seats for women in legislatures from the three perspectives mentioned:
(i) Effectiveness of Reservation for Women’s Empowerment:
Reservation of seats for women is viewed as a means to empower women in the political sphere. Proponents argue that it can help address gender disparities in legislative bodies and promote women’s participation in decision-making processes. It provides a direct pathway for women to enter politics and gain experience in governance.
(ii) Feasibility of Alternate Methods:
While reservation is one approach, alternate methods for increasing women’s representation in legislatures can be considered. These may include incentivizing political parties to field more women candidates, promoting women’s political participation through awareness campaigns and education, and encouraging women to join politics at the grassroots level. The effectiveness of these methods can vary and may require sustained efforts.
(iii) Issues with Proposed Method:
The Women’s Reservation Bill proposes a system of reserving seats based on a census and subsequent delimitation. One potential issue could be the challenge of accurately implementing the reservation, including determining constituency boundaries and ensuring equitable representation. Additionally, there may be concerns about the effectiveness of rotating reserved seats and ensuring that women elected to these seats have a meaningful impact.
Purpose of Reservation
The arguments for and against the reservation policy for women in legislatures present a complex and nuanced debate. Let’s further explore these perspectives:
Arguments in Favor of Reservation:
- Enhanced Representation: Reservation ensures that women are represented proportionately in legislative bodies, addressing the historical underrepresentation of women in politics. This can lead to a more inclusive and diverse decision-making process.
- Empowerment and Participation: Reservation policies can empower women by giving them a direct role in governance. It encourages women to participate actively in politics, bringing their perspectives and concerns to the forefront.
- Promotion of Women’s Issues: Women elected through reservation policies often prioritize issues that affect women and marginalized communities, leading to policies and legislation that address gender disparities and women’s rights.
- Effective Governance: Studies have shown that women elected under reservation policies can be effective leaders, focusing on public goods and services that are closely linked to women’s concerns.
Arguments Against Reservation:
- Merit-Based Competition: Opponents argue that reservation policies may hinder the principle of merit-based competition in elections. They suggest that women should compete on an equal footing with men based on their abilities and qualifications.
- Perceived Competence: Some critics express concerns that women elected from reserved constituencies may be perceived as not competing on merit, potentially affecting their credibility and effectiveness as representatives.
- Broader Electoral Reforms: Critics contend that while reservation addresses the issue of women’s representation, it does not address broader electoral reforms needed to improve the political system, such as criminalization in politics, internal party democracy, and campaign financing.
- Perpetuation of Unequal Status: There are concerns that reserving seats for women may inadvertently perpetuate the perception of unequal status, as women may be viewed as needing special provisions rather than competing on equal terms.
The debate over reservation policies for women in legislatures is complex and reflects broader discussions about gender equality, political representation, and electoral reforms. Ultimately, the decision on whether to implement such policies involves careful consideration of these arguments and their implications for the political system and society as a whole.
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