India Insight

How to get more women into parliament?

June 11, 2009

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?

Comments
5 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

I think governament should empower women in all other aspects before providing any reservation in legislature.The fruits of benefit should reach women whose voice unheard in the past 61 years i.e rural women and illetirate.

Posted by gokul | Report as abusive
 

Given the women’s right to seats in parliament, they may not speak. Given right to speak, they may not vote and given right to vote, the men will make sure they vote as powerless minority. Women’s lib in this part of world is like dragging an elephant uphill.

Posted by Yamayoko | Report as abusive
 

Reservations to employment under the government were instituted on the assumption that within a given time span, the under-privileged and down-trodden in our caste and class ridden society would reach a level play ground and be able to compete with others without handicap. There is no argument as to the fallacy of this assumption. Government after government has been extending this Constitutional provision in every which direction as per political expediencies of the time. The real down-trodden remain exactly where they were when the country became independent. And now similar kind of dumb idea of reservations for women in Parliament is being talked about as if this is going to change the permanent wrinkles in our social fabric. I personally feel that women have to form their own political force, say, as a national political party and fight elections as regular citizens with full-fledged rights and not as weaker sex who can be lured into compliance with the lolly-pop of doles like reservations. Education of women has been bandied about but no mention is made of the ‘empowering’ kind of education. It may take sometime – say 5 to 10 years for the first crop of real women citizens to emerge from this proposed force if women who are educationally, financially and socially equipped to lead the first wave are ready to come forward and work. So long? So what? How far has our infamous womens’ reservations bill progressed despite all the annual hot air, publicity and lip sympathy it has been accorded by all parties who occupy the Parliament in India? With stalwarts like Mulayam Singh, Laloo, etc., doing their bit, women in India have lots of time to work on forming the real second front, now that BJP, Left and other paper tigers are in the final throes of their existance in the Indian political scene. Go, girls, go and grab the power that is your due and take responsibility for your own honour! Yours sincerely here is not the only male ready and willing to help!

Posted by Lt.Cdr Francis (Retd) | Report as abusive
 

Interesting piece! I think India is in a fix now, we have somehow accepted that reservation is a panacea for all societal problems, which is not true. We have to get out of it, and the best way could be to do away with all sorts of reservation in a phased manner.

Posted by Rahul Mishra | Report as abusive
 

There has been hue and cry about women reservation bill and some modifications in it for a long time now but i think that such a law itself should not exist. A person (in this case a Man) who has worked for his constituency throughout life will suddenly find that he is not allowed to contest election from that constituency because it is reserved for women. This is really ridiculous in democracy and is definitely biased against men. Shortcuts are not always good. If women want to come to parliament then they should fight in a democratic way with men. This will give them more respect. NCW and other women organizations are misusing the enormous power being bestowed to them and even the media now are acting irresponsibly. When the OBC quota was introduced the media was responsible enough to show both sides of it. But now even they are biased and are blaming politicians in delaying the passage of the bill. This is a sad situation wherein talent and people’s will are given a second seat. The advocacy of such a law shows immaturity and lack of responsibility on the part of its supporters. I hope such a law should not be passed so that any capable PERSON can contest election from the constituency of his/her choice.

Posted by Utpal Kumar | Report as abusive
 

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