September 22, 2023
To provide reservation to women in Lok Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies, and Legislative Assembly of NCT Delhi
Even after 76 years of independence and equal political rights to all, India continues to witness a paltry representation of women in both the Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies. The country stands at 140th rank in the “UN: Women in Politics Report 2023” with a mere female presence of 15% in the Lok Sabha and 13.8% in the Rajya Sabha.1 The demand for women’s representation in decision-making dates back to the historical constituent assembly debates on political reservations. In 1975, India brought attention to the issue of gender inequality by submitting a comprehensive report to the United Nations on the ‘Status of Women in India’. This report emphasized that women faced various forms of discrimination in a deeply patriarchal society, and women’s political involvement and representation lagged significantly. Additionally, the
idea of implementing a quota system to boost women’s participation in policymaking was advocated in reports such as the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee (1957), the Ashok Mehta Committee (1978), and the National Perspective Plan for Women (1988).2 Considering this, the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, introduced in 1993, played a pivotal role in addressing political discrimination against women by ensuring 33% representation for women in local bodies, with a minimum of one-third reserved seats for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). The United Front in 1996, introduced the 81st amendment to the constitution which included the Women’s Representation Bill aiming to allocate 33% of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for women. However, the Bill was referred to the Joint Parliamentary Committee for consultations and had unfortunately lapsed.3
Thereafter, the Women’s Reservation Bill was introduced in the Parliament on multiple occasions in 1999,2002,2003, and 2010. The 2010 version of the Bill, which proposed the reservation of one-third of seats for women in the Lok Sabha by amending Articles 330 and 332 of the constitution to provide for sub-reservation for 33% of women from the SC/ST
community, however, lapsed. Lately, in the Special Session of the Parliament in 2023, The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023 which aimed to provide 33% reservations to women in Lok Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies, and Legislative Assembly of NCT Delhi is tabled in Lok Sabha.
● Reservation in the Legislative Assembly of the NCT: Section 2 of the Bill amends Article 239AA of the Constitution to provide reservations for women in the Legislative Assembly of the NCT. Nearly one-third of the Legislative Assembly seats that are elected by direct election are reserved for women, and one-third of seats within the women’s quota are reserved for
women from the SC community.
● Reservation in the Lower House of the Parliament: The Bill prescribes the insertion of a provision in Article 330 of the Constitution to provide reservations for women in the House of People. One-third of the total number of seats filled by direct election to the Lok Sabha shall be reserved for women, and a sub-quota of 33% of the directly elected seats will be reserved for women from SC and ST communities.
● Reservation in State Legislative Assemblies: The Bill also provides 33% reservations for women in the Legislative Assemblies of every State, given that one-third of the women reservation seats will be earmarked for women belonging to SC or ST. The Bill inserts a new Article 332A within Article 332 of the Constitution for the same.
● Implementation of the Act: Section 5 of the Bill comprises provisions that deal with the implementation of the Act (if passed), including commencement of the law, period of expiration of the law, and rotation of seats. The Bill suggests the reservation of seats for women in Lok Sabha, State legislatures, and Legislative Assembly of NCT Delhi will only come into force after the delimitation process is undertaken, and the figures of the first census after the implementation of this Bill are published. The Bill proposes an expiration period of 15 years for its implementation once notified. The same can be extended on the assent of the Parliament. Further, the Bill mentions that one-third of seats across Lok Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies, and Legislative Assembly for NCT Delhi will take effect on a rotational basis after each subsequent process of delimitation.
The Women’s Reservation Bill would address the gender imbalance in the law-making process and gaps in undertaking women-centric issues for discussion in the Parliament and the State Legislatures, thereby promoting the political and social empowerment of women. Increased representation of women in political forums and in the parliament can serve as an empowerment tool for women across different segments of society. It can encourage women aspiring to engage in politics, leadership roles, and decision-making.
● The quota representation would give a kickstart for women to see politics as a safe and egalitarian space for taking up issues that they are concerned with. It would become a platform to bring more women leaders to the spaces of decision-making, therefore creating a natural pathway for women to choose politics as a career choice. A study in panchayats of Rajasthan shows that women who have been able to take up leadership positions due to the mandated
political representation under the 73rd Amendment act as role models for other women to voice their opinions and impact their career aspirations. 4
● Supporters of the Women’s Reservation Bill contend that affirmative action is crucial to improving the status of women in politics primarily because political parties often show inherent patriarchal tendencies. It is essential to understand that without deliberate measures to promote women’s participation, gender disparities in political representation may persist or
even worsen. Currently, only 14% of Members in our Lok Sabha are women which is even lesser as compared to our neighbors -Nepal (32.7%), Pakistan (20.2%), and Bangladesh (20.7%).5 One of the major reasons behind this low representation is because of the male dominance in the political parties and concerns regarding the winnability aspect. Therefore, the quota system would ensure that political parties have equal participation of women in elections.
● Advocates of reservations argue that reservation of seats for women will establish a robust parliamentary lobby of women to promote inclusive policy and decision-making. Presently, India faces significant challenges including a high incidence of crimes against women, low female participation in the workforce, inadequate nutrition levels, and an
imbalanced sex ratio. To effectively tackle these issues, it is imperative that the representation of women in decision-making roles is augmented.
● Women in leadership roles at the Panchayat level have demonstrated greater accessibility compared to men, effectively addressing issues like liquor trade, investing in public services like clean water, reducing corruption, and prioritizing nutrition. Studies by researchers such as Esther Duflo and Raghav Chattopadhyay in states like West Bengal and
Rajasthan reveals that women leaders tend to prioritize resources and services crucial for women’s well-being. This evidence underscores the importance of increasing women’s participation in Parliament and State legislatures for more informed and holistic decision-making, ultimately contributing to a healthier, inclusive democracy.
● The Bill in its current form has overlooked provisioning reservations for women from Other Backward Communities (OBCs), minorities, and Persons with Disabilities (PwDs). Further, the Bill has only proposed reservation quotas for women in Lok Sabha and has bypassed women’s reservation quotas in Rajya Sabha. This partial/exclusionary reservation to women in itself is going against the fundamental spirit of representation.
● Moreover, given the profound gender disparity and the existing unequal empowerment of women, it is highly likely that marginalized groups may go under-represented by women leaders hailing from privileged backgrounds. Unless women from all sections of society receive agents for absolute political empowerment, resentment for fair representation might rise from deprived communities. An example of this discontent was illustrated when JD(U)’s late leader Sharad Yadav infamously questioned whether women with “short hair” could adequately represent “our women,” referring to women from rural areas. 6
● It is also argued that in a representative democracy, where 131 of 543 seats are already designated for SCs and STs,7 an additional 33% quota would result in a disproportionate representation of people’s mandate. Moreover, it is contended that the Women’s Representation Bill could potentially aggravate the unequal status of women, as it may cause a public perception that they are not competing on the basis of merit.8
● Nevertheless, with the Women’s Reservation Bill, political parties that are essentially patriarchal in nature might nominate women as a proxy for male candidates who are facing backlash or are not eligible. Parties may nominate women for seats that are unwinnable, they may run in elections but not win, or they may be demoted to supporting positions. This can also lead to nominating women without having a genuine interest or knowledge of politics.9 Without efforts to augment women’s political consciousness and their overall empowerment, the policy action to bestow reservation to women may seem a futile attempt.
1 UN Women, Women in Politics 2023, accessed at Women in politics: 2023 | Digital library: Publications
2 Laura Dudley Jenkins(1999), Competing Inequalities: The Struggle Over Reserved Legislative Seats for Women in India accessed at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge core/content/view/87E90771F765FB11907346DEA8196524/S002
3 Radhika Santhanam, “Explained | On reservation for women in politics”, The Hindu, March 2023, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/explained-on-reservation-for-women-in-politics/article66624358.ece
4 Pradhan, S. K., & Dutta, G. (2008, October). Empowerment of Women in India through Panchayati Raj System. THE INDIAN JOURNAL OF SOCIAL WORK, 69(04).
5 Fauzia Khan, Indian Politics Has a Clear Gender Imbalance. That’s Why We Need the Women’s Reservation Bill., The Wire, Jul 2022, accessed at Indian Politics Has a Clear Gender Imbalance. That’s Why We Need the Women’s Reservation Bill. and Women in National Parliaments, As of 1st February 2019, Inter-Parliamentary Union, accessed at: http://archive.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm
6 Radhika Santhanam, “Explained | On reservation for women in politics”, The Hindu, March 2023, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/explained-on-reservation-for-women-in-politics/article66624358.ece
7 State/UT Wise Seats in the Lok Sabha, Ministry of External Affairs, accessed at: https://mea.gov.in/Uploads/PublicationDocs/19167_State_wise_seats_in_Lok_Sabha_18-03-2009.pdf
8 Jyotika Aggarwal, “The Women Reservation Bill: Yes or No?”, Law Justify, https://lawjustify.wordpress.com/2020/07/27/the-women-reservation-bill-yes-or-no/
9 Pragmatic bias impedes women’s access to political leadership: https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2112616119