The 360° Upsc Debate | How effective is the Women’s Reservation Bill? | UPSC Current Affairs News

The One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment Bill, 2023 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 19, 2023. The proposed legislation aims to earmark 33% of the overall seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies specifically for women. The proposed legislation seeks to augment the representation of female Members of Parliament (MPs) to a total of 181, beyond the existing count of 82. Additionally, it intends to elevate the number of female members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to over 2,000, exceeding the current figure of 740.

Legislative bills proposing amendments to the Constitution with the aim of reserving parliamentary and state legislative assembly seats for women were introduced in the years 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2008. The initial three Bills became void due to the dissolution of their respective Lok Sabhas. The 2008 Bill was introduced and subsequently passed by the Rajya Sabha, however its validity ceased upon the dissolution of the 14th Lok Sabha. The Joint Committee of Parliament conducted an examination of the 1996 Bill, whereas the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice conducted an examination of the 2008 Bill.

What Data Says?

“Based on data provided by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, India’s ranking in women’s representation stands at 148th out of a total of 193 countries”

In the 17th Lok Sabha, women comprise 15% of the overall membership, although in state legislative assemblies, women represent an average of 9% of the total members. According to the 2015 Report on the Status of Women in India, it was observed that the level of female representation in state assemblies and Parliament remains significantly inadequate. It is worth noting that there is a significant underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions inside political parties.

Based on data provided by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, India’s ranking in women’s representation stands at 148th out of a total of 193 countries. This ranking is in comparison to the global average of 26.5 percent. Likewise, the level of women’s representation in state assembly is notably inadequate, varying from a mere 3.1 percent in Nagaland to a relatively higher 23.1 percent in Bihar. Both international and domestic empirical evidence strongly indicate that gender reservations play a crucial role in facilitating women’s political involvement. Electoral quotas are implemented in over 130 nations, as evidenced by the Gender Quotas Database, which indicates that 21 out of 25 countries boasting parliamentary representation exceeding 40 percent for women have adopted various types of gender quotas. Research conducted in several countries, including Rwanda, Argentina, Mexico, and Nigeria, has shown that women in positions of power tend to prioritise the interests and concerns of women to a greater extent.

Argument 1-Women’s Reservation Bill helps achieve political empowerment

“The enactment of the Bill will confer power upon women and foster the advancement of gender equality within society”

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman asserts that the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, also known as the Women’s Reservation Bill, holds significant importance as a means to attain political empowerment. The Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam is a significant milestone in legislative history, as it aims to enhance women’s empowerment and facilitate increased involvement of women in political and governmental spheres. By virtue of the legislation’s implementation, India finds itself on the precipice of a future characterised by enhanced brightness and inclusivity, with a particular emphasis on empowering women (Nari Shakti) as the driving force behind this transformative process. This transforming journey also represents a significant shift in societal perspectives, as women are no longer passive recipients but rather active participants and influencers in shaping the future of the nation.

According to Flavia Agnes, the enactment of the Bill will confer power upon women and foster the advancement of gender equality within society. In India, women encounter a multitude of discriminatory practices, acts of violence, and systems of oppression. These include, but are not limited to female foeticide, child marriage, dowry-related issues, domestic abuse, sexual assault, harassment, honour killings, human trafficking, and disparities in wages. The proposed legislation aims to establish an enabling atmosphere for women to express their grievances and assert their entitlements. Additionally, the initiative aims to foster increased participation of women in the public sphere, encouraging them to assume positions of leadership and confront the prevailing patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes that impede their full potential.

Flavia Agnes expresses optimism over the potential of the Bill to enhance the calibre and efficacy of governance and policymaking in India. Research findings indicate that female lawmakers exhibit higher levels of responsiveness, accountability, honesty, and collaboration compared to their male counterparts. They also exhibit a propensity to prioritise matters pertaining to health, education, welfare, environment, and social justice, all of which hold significant importance in the advancement of human progress. The Bill anticipates that the augmentation of female representation in Parliament and assemblies will result in policies and regulations that are characterised by inclusivity, progressiveness, and overall societal benefit.

Numerous researchers assert that the notion of gender quotas effectively bolstering gender equality in the realm of politics and governance finds its most persuasive substantiation in the case of India’s local urban and rural bodies. India now exhibits an impressive proportion of women politicians at the local level, amounting to approximately 62 percent or 1.375 million individuals, which is a remarkable figure on a global scale. The implementation of quotas has undeniably facilitated the inclusion of Indian women in local political offices. Furthermore, the implementation of gender reservations in India’s local politics not only signifies the most advanced gender quota policy globally but also encompasses the largest empirical study in the field of politics.

According to Farzana Afridi, the implementation of women’s reservation in Parliament and state legislatures is expected to have secondary effects on the augmentation of women’s participation in the labour force over an extended period of time. The available evidence derived from the implementation of gender quotas in panchayats indicates that the presence of women political leaders has a mitigating effect on entrenched gender stereotypes, particularly in relation to societal and domestic roles. The increased visibility of women in the public sphere has been found to have a positive impact on younger women, as it serves as a role model effect, elevating their goals. Women also have the ability to engage and thrive in traditionally male-dominated industries, as well as assume leadership roles. It is not only socially acceptable, but also feasible for women to have a presence beyond the confines of their homes.

She additionally argues that the enhanced political representation of women in India has urgent consequences for alleviating the limitations on women’s labour force participation, both directly and indirectly. The implementation of political reservation for women has a significant impact on enhancing the long-term viability of women’s political and administrative careers. There is a higher probability of increased female participation in the political arena, with the opportunity for progression from involvement in community matters to securing positions in both state and national legislative bodies.

The reservation policy for women sarpanches in Gram Panchayats provides evidence suggesting that female political leaders are inclined to emphasise and accentuate matters that are in line with the preferences and concerns of the voting population. These matters primarily include sanitation, education (specifically anganwadis), and health. The heightened focus on delivering crucial public services has the potential to decrease the amount of time women spend on mundane household tasks, such as fetching water, gathering firewood, and caring for children. This, in turn, allows women to pursue productive employment opportunities either within their homes or outside of them. In a similar vein, when female political leaders articulate apprehensions pertaining to public safety and the maintenance of law and order, in addition to highlighting policies that incorporate a gender perspective into the planning of urban infrastructure and transportation, there exists the potential to enhance the physical mobility of women. Consequently, this could result in improved access to employment opportunities located at greater distances from their residences.

Argument 2-Why is Women’s Reservation Bill linked with delimitation?

“The legislation does not provide a certain timeframe; rather, it solely constitutes a commitment, even if this commitment has the endorsement of the legislative body”

Neerja Chowdhury asserts that the Bill establishes a connection between women’s reservation, the next Census, and the subsequent delimitation process. When will the implementation of 181 seats reserved for women, constituting one-third of the current Lok Sabha’s total strength of 543, materialise as a tangible political phenomenon? The question in question remains unresolved. In the year 2029, this represents the earliest possible time frame for this occurrence. Which of the two options, 2034 or another year, is most probable? The legislation does not provide a certain timeframe; rather, it solely constitutes a commitment, even if this commitment has the endorsement of the legislative body.

In an article by Amitabh Sinha and Deeptiman Tiwary published in the Indian Express, it is highlighted that the government has faced criticism from opposition parties for associating the implementation of women’s reservation with delimitation. These parties argue that there is no valid rationale or necessity to establish a connection between these two matters. In the last parliamentary discussion of the Women’s Reservation Bill, no such connection was established. The administration appears to have multiple purposes in mind by making the women’s reservation contingent on delimitation. The process of delimitation is expected to result in an increase in the number of both Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies. In the given situation, the implementation of a policy to reserve one-third of seats for women is expected to have minimal impact on the existing representation of male legislators. This phenomenon may potentially result in increased societal acceptance of the concept of reserving political positions for women.

As per Angellica Aribam’s analysis, the present legislation fails to incorporate provisions for women’s reservation in the Rajya Sabha and state legislative councils. The current composition of the Rajya Sabha exhibits a comparatively lower level of female representation in comparison to the Lok Sabha. The concept of representation is a fundamental principle that should be manifested in both the Lower and Upper Houses. It is imperative for the government and members of Parliament to deliberate upon strategies to address this gap and devise suitable procedures to prevent any portion of the populace from being inadequately represented. Undoubtedly, the forthcoming legislation is anticipated to possess a multifaceted nature.

In her thorough examination of the deliberations held within the Constituent Assembly, a proposal put forth by Purnima Banerjee emerges as a potentially viable solution. Banerjee recommends that, with regard to the current representation of women in the Assembly, any vacancies arising from the departure of female members should be filled by women themselves. The context in question pertained to the Constituent Assembly and was subsequently denied. In contemporary society, wherein the principle of sufficient representation is widely regarded as a fundamental aspect of democratic governance, the aforementioned clause would serve as a commendable initial measure for implementing reservation in the Upper House. This provision should not only encompass women but also those belonging to Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), and other minority groups.

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The southern states have always maintained that they should not face repercussions for their implementation of family planning measures. In the recent parliamentary session, Kanimozhi, a prominent leader of the DMK party, expressed a similar concern, emphasising that the issue of delimitation has become a looming threat. She said delimitation was now “a sword hanging over our head”. “If delimitation is going to happen on population census, it will deprive and reduce the representation of the south Indian states. Why should the implementation (of women’s Bill) be connected to delimitation?” she said while reading a statement from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin. “There is fear in the minds of the people of Tamil Nadu that our voices will be undermined,” she said.

Another aspect of criticism pertains to the potential diminishment of legislators’ merit and ability. The potential negative impact on the quality and effectiveness of government may arise from the practice of reserving seats for women solely based on their gender, as proposed in the Bill. In certain cases, women may get nominations from male relatives or patrons who exert influence over their decision-making processes. There is a possibility that female applicants may exhibit deficiencies in terms of experience, education, abilities, and vision, which could potentially hinder their ability to fulfil their responsibilities efficiently. Furthermore, this phenomenon could potentially result in enduring disparities, as individuals might be viewed as lacking the ability to compete based on their own merits.

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