By Vasudha Kapoor:
It has not been long since the hopes of women, and all those who espoused the women’s reservation bill was given a new life after a long journey of 14 years, when the Women’s Quota bill which provides for 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies was passed by the Upper House of the parliament in March, 2010. The battle of greater representation of women initiated with regular punctuations of frayed tempers and war of words which sometimes got physical, reached its next phase when the reservation bill was introduced in the 15th Lok Sabha, with a considerable chance to create legislative history, but to the discontent of many supporters of the cause, the ‘fair sex’ got an unfair deal.
Before forming any opinion and criticizing this move of our leaders, let’s address the basic question -Â Why India needs the women reservation bill? ‘Nine out of ten parliamentarians in India are men’, says the Oxfam India Policy. Such dismal figures reveal the lasting grip of unfavorable social norms. Women’s disadvantage on a complex set of social and economic factors effectively keeps them at the margin of the political set-up.
Detractors of reforms often argue that women lack the basic experience required to lead a political agenda. Despite many challenges, a growing body of evidence proves that reservation for women in local political bodies, as a matter of fact, has worked. Findings from a randomized study (The Power of Political Voice: Women’s Political Representation and Crime in India) suggests that in the medium-term, the introduction of the reservation for women at local level leads to a significant increase in the reporting of crimes. Data across India points at a significant increase in reported crimes against women during the period following the introduction of the reservation.
Why, in spite of all the advantages, the ambitious Women’s reservation bill has failed to get the nod this time too, though Sonia Gandhi was the UPA chairperson and Sumitra Mahajan was the speaker. Aren’t the eighteen years of rigorous journey enough to fulfil one of the major commitments made by the political parties to the nation?
This is the same government which, at one time, makes a huge hue and cry when incidences like ‘Nirbhaya Case’ and ‘Rape of Badaun Sisters’ occurs and, on the other hand, most instinctively rejects the Women’s Quota bill on the inappropriate grounds of the requirement for a fresh revision. Doesn’tÂ this faithfulness towards the belief of ‘empowerment without power’ clearly show the ‘double-standards’ of our leaders?
In order to obtain a public opinion, Gram Vani conducted a campaign on the need for Women’s Reservation Bill at Lok Sabha level. The campaign, which aimed to highlight the dismal participation of Indian women in politics, and educate people about the need for having the Women’s Reservation Bill passed at Lok Sabha level, reached out to more than 9 lakh people. It was found that 87% of the people supported Women’s Quota bill. While many appreciated the concept which has initiated the entry of women in the political sphere, some even highlighted the instances where women’s reservation has come across to be a completely meaningless process as the elected women representatives have become puppets in the hands of their husbands and family members, reducing their status to mere signing authorities. (Women’s Reservation Bill: A Mobile Vani Network Campaign)
Taking all the pros and cons in consideration, a need for change in societal mindsets and political grooming of the women is strongly recommended so that they participate in the elections wholeheartedly to compete and win, and not merely as a formality. Otherwise, the idea behind providing women reservation at the Lok Sabha level would not fulfil its purpose of increased political participation of women in nation building.
After decades of delays and posturing, it is time to pass the bill. Looking at the statistics, one can easily figure out that the gender imbalance at state and central level is too stark to risk further confrontations and stalemates on a revised bill. The lapse of the bill has been disappointing, so the fresh legislation is being eagerly awaited so that the immediate need of the hour is met with.