How to get more women into parliament?
As part of its 100-day action plan, the Congress-led UPA government is pushing for the Women’s Reservation Bill, which seeks to reserve 33 per cent seats in parliament for women.
The UPA has also promised to give women 50 percent seats in local government institutions like the village council, up from the 33 percent of seats currently reserved for them.
That measure has been in place for over a decade and a half. But has it done any good?
Initially, it was feared that elected women would be no more than “dumb dolls”, manipulated into endorsing decisions taken by their husbands and other family members.
But a government-sponsored study in 2008 of elected women representatives in village councils has shown encouraging results.
“A sizeable proportion of women representatives perceive enhancement in their self-esteem (79%), confidence (81%) and decision-making ability (74%),” says the study.
So is extending reservation for women in parliament such a bad idea?
There are voices both in support and opposition.
Those supporting the move just have to point to India’s position on the gender-related development index (GDI) — 138 among 156 countries.
Nearly everyone says more women are needed in the legislatures. But the issue is how to get them there.
Reserving 181 of the existing 543 seats could pose a few problems.
In case the seats are selected at random before an election, here’s what an online petition opposing the reservation bill says:
“Two-thirds of the incumbent members will be forcibly unseated in every general election and the remaining will remain in a limbo till the last moment…politics will become even less accountable than at present.”
Some say women may be put up as proxy candidates and since a seat would be de-reserved after 15 years, lawmakers would not be able to build a following in a particular constituency.
Of course, the 33 percent quota can also be met by increasing the number of Lok Sabha (lower house) parliamentarians to 815.
This could be done by creating new constituencies or through double-member constituencies.
This would mean a new parliament building — the present one doesn’t have the seating capacity.
Besides, a six-year long delimitation exercise just got over before the elections.
Another option is to make it mandatory for parties to field a certain number of women candidates.
But there are misgivings women will be fielded from constituencies where they are expected to lose, just to get around the quota requirements.
Some say there needs to be a quota for the backward-class within the quota for women.
This begs the question if women should be treated as a uniform category and who will reservation empower.
A recent story in Outlook magazine said two-thirds of women MPs ride to the parliament merely on family connections.
Others have opposed the reservation bill on the grounds it may not necessarily empower women.
Columnist Shobhaa De remains opposed to reservation:
“I believe in a level playing field and not on reservations, as these prove to be counterproductive. I would rather that women be better educated and at par with men.”
The Women’s Reservation Bill has been introduced in parliament at least thrice without being put to vote.
At the same time, it is worth noting that the proportion of women in the new Lok Sabha is the highest ever.
It crossed the measly ten percent mark in this election!
Is there a way of getting more women into politics that will get everyone’s support?