THIS ARTICLE IS WRITTEN BY PRIYANSHI PUROHIT ,BA LLB(Hons.),1ST YEAR,FROM UNIVERSITY: DHARMASHASTRA NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY JABALPUR.
The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, commonly known as the Women’s Reservation Bill, marks a historic moment in India’s journey towards gender equality. This bill, which provides for reserving one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for women, has finally seen the light of day after over two decades of debate.
Key Features of the Bill
The Women’s Reservation Bill provides for reserving seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies. Some of the key features include:
Reservation in Lok Sabha: The Bill provided for inserting Article 330A to the constitution, which borrows from the provisions of Article 330, which provides for reservation of seats to SCs/STs in the Lok Sabha. This reservation will be allotted to different constituencies in states and union territories through rotation. Additionally, one-third of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will also be reserved for women candidates belonging to those categories.
Reservation in State Assemblies: The bill inserts Article 332A in the Constitution, mandating reservation of one-third of total seats in state legislative assemblies for women. Similar to Lok Sabha, one-third of SC/ST reserved seats in assemblies will also be allotted to women candidates hailing from these communities. Apart from this, one-third of all seats filled through direct elections in state assemblies will be reserved for women.
Reservation in Delhi Assembly: The bill amends Article 239AA pertaining to the National Capital Territory of Delhi. It states that the Parliament may provide for reservation of seats for women in the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
Commencement and Rotation: The reservation will come into effect after delimitation is undertaken on the basis of the first census published after the commencement of the bill. Reserved constituencies will be allotted through rotation after every delimitation exercise, for a period of 15 years.
The demand for reservation of seats for women is not new. It dates back to 1996, when the ﬁrst Women’s Reservation Bill was introduced during the tenure of Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
However, with the government lacking a majority, the Bill could not be approved at that time. Yet, the attempts continued:
- 1996: The ﬁrst Women’s Reservation Bill was introduced in Parliament.
- 1998 – 2003: The government tabled the Bill 4 times but failed to get it passed.
- 2009: The government tabled the Bill again amid protests, but it lapsed.
- 2010: The Union Cabinet passed the Bill and the Rajya Sabha approved it. However, it did not pass in the Lok Sabha.
- 2014: The Bill was expected to be tabled in the Lok Sabha but did not ultimately come up.
After multiple attempts over 20+ years, the Women’s Reservation Bill has ﬁnally been approved by both Houses of Parliament in 2023. This historic moment is the culmination of efforts by successive governments to increase the representation of women in legislative bodies.
Why is Women’s Political Representation Important?
Women have remained underrepresented in Indian legislatures historically. Reserving seats for them will have multiple benefits:
Promotes Gender Equality: Reserving seats for women will address the gross underrepresentation of women in Parliament and state assemblies.The women’s reservation bill is a significant step towards achieving gender equality in political decision-making.
Women as Effective Leaders: Studies have shown that women panchayat leaders invest more in public goods related to women and child care. Women MLAs and MPs can bring similarly diverse perspectives to policymaking at the state and central level.
Right to Self-Representation: Lack of proportionate representation limits women’s ability to influence policies that impact them. The bill will enable better self-representation of women’s interests.
Leads to Women Empowerment: More women leaders in legislatures will inspire greater participation of women in public life. Young girls will have more role models to emulate.
Brings New Perspectives: Women leaders often champion issues like gender-based violence, women’s health, and education. Their presence will make legislatures more responsive to women-centric concerns.
Arguments Against Women’s Reservation
While many have welcomed the bill, some concerns have also been raised:
Violates Merit: Some argue that reserving seats for women will lead to candidates getting elected on the basis of gender rather than merit. However, this does not
consider the underlying gender bias in politics that has kept women out despite their merit.
Women Not a Homogenous Group: Critics state that women cannot be likened to disadvantaged groups like SCs/STs that have faced historical discrimination. However, the underrepresentation of women itself points to deep-rooted gender bias that necessitates reservations.
Infringes Equality: Few contend that reservation contradicts constitutional principles of equality. But affirmative action is required precisely to address the inequality women face in accessing political power.
Perpetuates Tokenism: There are apprehensions that women candidates will be reduced to token representatives of their gender. But experience from panchayats shows that women can be effective leaders if given the opportunity.
Challenges in Implementation
While the passage of the bill is historic, translating it into practice also poses some unique challenges:
- The reservation will come into force only after the delimitation exercise post the next census. The timeline for this remains uncertain.
- There are demands for extending the reservation to OBC women also. The current bill is silent on quotas for OBC women.
- Patriarchal attitudes may hinder women from taking leadership roles. Awareness generation and attitudinal change measures are vital.
- Issues like violence, inadequate family support, lack of finance deter women’s entry into politics. Social and institutional support systems are needed.
- Reforms like proportional representation, preferential voting and party level quotas should accompany the reservation policy for better outcomes.
The Women’s Reservation Bill opens the doors for meaningful participation of women in political decision making. But it is only the first step. Concerted efforts on multiple fronts are essential to strengthen women’s leadership at all levels and fulfill the promise of gender equality enshrined in our Constitution. The effective implementation of this historic legislation paves the way for a more representative and vibrant democracy.