As we celebrate another International Women’s Day, it can be said that women in India, through their own unrelenting efforts and with the help of Constitutional and other legal provisions, are trying to find their place. And it is a heartening sign that their participation in government as well as in the private sector of the nation is improving day by day. But it is extremely important to identify, understand and eradicate the patriarchal notions against women still existing in our society.
Since Independence, the representation of women in Lok Sabha has grown at a very slow pace. Women formed only 4.4% of the first Lok Sabha constituted in 1952, which rose to merely 12.15% till 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Hence, we can how poorly we have fared in terms of sending our women MPs to parliament. There has been a huge increase in the presence of women in other public spheres but unfortunately, politics remains an exception.
Women’s Reservation Bill seeks to reserve 1/3rd of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies. Introduced by the UPA-I government in May 2008, it also provides that one-third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes be reserved for women of those groups. Similar Bills have been introduced thrice before in the 90’s and early 2000’s (1996, 1999 & 2002) but all of them unfortunately lapsed with the dissolution of their respective Lok Sabhas.
Some opponents of the bill argue that it would perpetuate the feeling of the unequal status of women since they would not be perceived to be competing on merit. This is complete hogwash and a baseless argument as everywhere else (in all other fields) women are competing on merit and excelling, except in politics because they are not given enough chances and opportunities. Hence, it is not about women competing on merit but giving ‘representation’ to women members in the highest decision-making body of the country.
Although equality is enshrined in the Constitution, it is not the reality. Therefore, vigorous affirmative action is required to improve the statistics of women in the law-making process. Also, the policy of reservation is all about giving adequate ‘representation’ for generating a sense of empowerment and for increased redistribution of resources in favour of the groups which benefit from the policy.
The Women Reservation Bill will be a gamechanger for all women in society. It will enhance their self-esteem, confidence and decision-making ability. It will provide a strong voice to them as well as result in increased participation in politics. But the million dollar question is – will it become an election agenda in 2019 elections? Will any political party give a strong assurance on the passage of the bill in their election manifesto? How much importance our political parties give to the Women’s Reservation Bill is to be seen in this election season.