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Why Does The Parliament Feel So Threatened By The Women’s Reservation Bill?

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SansadUnplugged logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #SansadUnplugged, a campaign by Young Leaders for Active Citizenship India and Youth Ki Awaaz where your elected representatives engage directly with you on key policy issues that matter. Find out more and engage with those you vote for here.

We are living in an era where slogans like, Bhartiya naari padey sab par bhaari, (An Indian woman is enough to tackle everyone) are quite common. Women these days are considered as an epitome of strength. With time, they have successfully taken over the professional, as well as the domestic world.

At a time, when women are becoming strong and independent, it seems peculiar that they have negligible participation in the parliament and the functioning of the government. Why is it so? Do those in power think that women aren’t capable enough to enter politics? Do they think that women can’t manage to work for the progress of our country?

I would ponder over these questions all the time, and luckily, I got a chance to have a conversation with Dr. Ranjana Kumari, who is a social activist. Dr Kumari is the Director of Centre for Social Research (CSR). The centre works for the well-being of women and also for promoting women empowerment. Dr. Kumari’s special emphasis is on the Women’s Reservation Bill, which she believes, if passed, would definitely have a positive impact on the miserable conditions of the majority of Indian women.

The History Of The Women’s Reservation Bill

The Bill seeks to reserve 33.33% of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha, and in all the state legislative assemblies. It was introduced by the UPA-I government in May, 2008 and was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010. It lapsed as the Lok Sabha never voted on the bill.

Similar bills were introduced in 90’s but like the one introduced by the UPA-I government, they also lapsed due to the dissolution of their respective Lok Sabhas.

Having a woman representative for at least one term would be a very huge step towards the betterment of our country and it would also create socio-political awareness among women.

During my conversation with Dr. Kumari, I asked her some questions with regards to the Bill. According to her, the main reason behind the continuous lapsing lies in history itself. When the Bill was first introduced in 1996, women were not much active in politics. The education and literacy rate among women was comparatively low, and women had no freedom and confidence in speaking in public. Those who had the confidence were silenced by the society. She further added that there is a huge difference between the social conditions of modern-day women, and those of the 90’s. She believes that with time, people in power will understand the worth of women, and the Bill will definitely find its place in the Lok Sabha.

The Women’s Reservation Bill will have a very positive impact on the lives of women of this country. It will provide a strong voice to them. Another impact of this Bill would be the increase in women’s participation in politics. Currently, how many women politicians are seen? And out of these, how many are actually a part of the functioning government?

Very few! Mamata Banerjee is the lone Chief Minister of any of the states of India. Out of 29 states, only 1 state is under the governance of a woman.

When Indian women have already shown their excellence in sports, by clinching medals in Asian Games 2018, and Gold Coast CWG, then why not in politics?

More advantages of the Bill include better sanitation and health facilities for women, better provisions for their safety, their socio-economic conditions. Most importantly more women will become cognizant of their rights.

Some people find the Women’s Reservation Bill inappropriate or unimportant due to certain factors. One such argument is that the Bill would divert the attention from larger issues such as criminalisation of politics and inner party democracy. This Bill threatens the general category too, as the reservation for women and SC/ST together would be 55%, and this would decrease the majority of the general caste seats in the Parliament.

However, not only women but also other sects of the society will be benefitted through this Bill. Some believe that the Bill might be misused, which to some extent is true, but higher authorities will always be present to check on such matters.

The major aim of this Bill is not to overpower the male section, the only objective is the requirement of equality, which has been denied to women since the colonial era. It’s been established over and over again that all that women want is equality.

Coming back to my conversation with Dr. Ranjana Kumari, she stated that according to her, if women start raising their voices, and instead of working in small groups they unite and contribute for the cause, the Bill would be seen in a different light. On CSR’s website, I came across this #Timefor33Percent. I inquired her about it and she conveyed that the movement aims to collect and unite people in order to raise awareness of the Bill.

As this article moves towards the conclusion, it is crucial for us to understand that gender-equality is the need of the hour. We might overpower each other but unity and equality is the sole essence of democracy.

Tell us your thoughts and observations on this Bill. Your article will contribute to the way your elected representatives are presenting bills, defining policies and creating change in the Parliament. Response article will be shared with respective Member of Parliament, and in many cases - suggestions are included in the drafting of future policies.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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