Women’s Reservation Bill (WRB)

By Amigos IAS

Recently, the Union Cabinet cleared the women’s reservation Bill, which seeks to provide 33 per cent quota to women in Parliament and state legislatures.

Background

  • Discussions about greater representation of women in politics began before Independence.
  • In the 1970s, the issue gained momentum in independent India.
  • In 1971, a committee called CSWI was formed to examine the status of women in India.
  • The committee’s report, “Towards Equality,” highlighted the failure of the Indian state in ensuring gender equality.
  • Following this report, some states began announcing reservations for women in local bodies.
  • In 1987, a committee chaired by Margaret Alva recommended reservations for women in elected bodies.
  • These recommendations led to the 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts, mandating one-third reservation for women in Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies.
Timeline of the Women Reservation Bill
  • 1996 –The WRB was 1st introduced in 1996, and was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee, however, the Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha and had to be reintroduced.
  • 1998 –The Bill was reintroduced and yet again, it failed to get support and lapsed.
  • 1999 –The Bill was reintroduced by the NDA government in the 13th Lok Sabha and was subsequently introduced twice in the year 2003.
  • 2004 – The UPA government included it in its Common Minimum Programme and finally tabled it, this time in Rajya Sabha to prevent it from lapsing again, in 2008.
    • Few recommendations made by the 1996 Geeta Mukherjee Committeewere included in this version of the Bill.
  • 2010 –The Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha and lapsed in the Lok Sabha, since then the demand for reservation for women in legislative bodies is not new.
Challenges in passing the bill
  • Heated debates and sexist taunts have hindered the passage of the WRB.
  • The demand for a quota within a quota, particularly for OBC women, has not been incorporated, leading to opposition.
  • Lack of political will and ability to pass the bill.
  • Critics argue that the WRB diverts attention from other electoral reform issues.

Status and Issues related to Women Reservation in India

  • Many states have low representation of women legislators in their assemblies.
  • Women’s representation in Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) across all state assemblies in India is even lower, with the national average at 9%.
  • Women hold just 14% of parliamentary seats even 75 years after Independence.
  • India ranks 143 out of 193 countries in women’s representation in parliament.
  • India’s ranking in women’s political representation has fallen, trailing behind countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
    • Pakistan (20%), Bangladesh (21%), and Nepal (34%) have higher women’s representation.
  • Patriarchal backlash has hindered progress in women’s political representation.
  • Politics is often considered a male-dominated profession, discouraging women from entering it.
  • Female candidates have been made to contest elections as “namesakes” for their husbands.

Importance of the bill

  • Addresses systemic gender inequality and barriers that women face.
  • Emphasizes the need for representation of women across caste groups.
  • Gender quota is essential to increase women’s representation in positions of power.
  • Studies on panchayats show positive effects of reservation on women’s empowerment and resource allocation.
Global Examples
  • Countries led by women have demonstrated effective governance and gender equality policies.
  • Scandinavian countries prioritize gender equality and women’s representation in leadership.
  • Rwanda’s predominantly female leadership has contributed to healing after genocide and social reforms.
  • Norway implemented a quota system for corporate boards to have 40% women representation.
  • New Zealand is among a few nations with at least 50% female representation in their parliament by 2022.

Way Forward

  • According to Babasaheb Ambedkar, Women’s progress is a measure of a community’s progress.
  • India’s large female population presents significant potential if women’s participation is encouraged.
  • Women’s reservation can jump-start the democratic process and empower a significant portion of the population.

 

Focus on women’s welfare and empowerment

·       Recent measures include reducing the price of domestic cooking gas cylinders and extending the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) to more poor households.

·       Previous initiatives like Swachh Bharat, Jal Jeevan Mission, and women-centric schemes such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana have been launched.

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